Since 85% of Americans become parents it’s about time we had an answer. Are parents or non-parents happier? The answer is, wait for it, drum roll…it depends. Sorry for the let down, but just like parenting there is no one size fits all answer, instead it depends on a multitude of factors.
Studies abound on both sides of the argument, which explains the contradictory media headlines. Some paint a bleak picture of parenting as lots of hard work and stress filled with few personal benefits, while others proclaim the increased lifetime satisfaction that comes with raising children. Recent large-scale studies have found a more nuanced and complicated reality.
When looking at parents, many studies have tended to clump all parents into one category and all non-parents into another category and then compare the two groups. What is needed is to tease apart different factors, like age of parents, number of kids, age of kids, economic stability, gender, marital status and more. When these areas are teased apart a more accurate picture of parental happiness and satisfaction emerges.
For example, one of the most comprehensive studies examined over 200,000 parents in 86 countries and found:
– Parents under 30 were less happy than their non-parenting peers and that each additional child decreased their happiness.
– Mothers and Fathers 30-39 feel as happy as their childless peers until they have 4 children or more.
– From age 40-50 parents with one to three kids were happier than their childless peers.
– From age 50 and on, parents were happier than non-parents regardless of how many kids they had.
Even with this large-scale study noted above, two additional studies have contradicted it.
– One study found that non-parents were as happy as parents in the later years if they had higher incomes, reached higher educational levels, had better health and were religious.
– The other study found that for married couples and married women in particular, children increase life satisfaction and that life satisfaction continues to climb with the number of children.
So basically the studies above leave the impression that parents are happier and feel greater life-satisfaction in the long run unless non-parents have attained significant financial and personal levels of success, and then happiness and satisfaction even out. There are also studies that break down the variables even further such as those that examine personal happiness in relation to the age of the children. Those studies generally find that younger children and adolescents are more challenging than children aged 6-12 years old. All these discrepancies between studies indicate that ultimately there are many factors that influence parental and personal happiness.
So why is it important to assess parental happiness? Because it allows us to reflect upon our own sense of happiness and to examine the many factors that many influence it. Knowing what makes us happy or not happy allows us to make changes. Not only does it feel good to be happy, but our happiness affects the way we parent and impacts our children. If you find yourself feeling less happy than you would like, tease apart different aspects of your life to pinpoint exactly which areas need improvement. Some areas to examine are, economics, career, health, leisure time, relationship with kids, age of kids, educational level, living situation, marriage/partnership relationship, friendships, extended family, and goals.