Parents Are Happier Than Non-Parents
In this country, we pay a lot of attention to research studies. While you personally may not think about research studies, they have an effect on your life because it informs laws and social policies, views and perspectives, debate and dissent.
The conventional wisdom is that there is a “parental happiness gap”—that parents are not as happy as non-parents, that parenting is all joy and no fun. Why wouldn’t that be the case? All parents can remember the days when we didn’t have children—we had fewer worries and were more carefree. Late nights were because we wanted to close the bar down, not because of comforting a sick baby or furiously waiting up for a teenager breaking curfew.
Then some research comes along that debunks all we thought we knew about the “parental happiness gap.” Two researchers, Chris Herbst and John Ifcher, decided to take a new look at earlier studies on the phenomenon. They examined happiness trends and expanded the definition of parent to include any adult living with a minor child. The people who got thrown into the mix here are people who chose to have children: adoptive parents, stepparents, relatives who take in children, and anyone else who willingly took on the responsibility of raising a child.
What Herbst and Ifcher found is that while parents seem to be just as happy as they did in the 1980s, the happiness of non-parents has fallen. Parents are happier relative to non-parents. Ifcher explained the results to The Atlantic, “What we believe is going on is that there is a general negative trend in happiness among adults—[but] that negative trend is not happening for parents.” Herbst said, “It doesn’t matter how old the child is in the household: Parents with kids in any of these age groups are becoming happier.”
Herbst and Ifcher have three theories as to why parents are becoming happier and what it means for American society. This is what they had to say.
First, “Parents are more likely to spend time with friends, get the news, be interested in politics, think people are honest, have faith in the economy, be trusting. We think that parents remain better attached to society, and we think the linchpin of that attachment is kids.”
Next, “The social safety net has begun to favor parents more over time than non-parents. Parents may have more money in their pocket, and more money translates to more happiness.”
Finally, “The composition of parents and non-parents looks different. Who is choosing to become a parent and who is choosing to remain childless have changed. Parents look a lot different today.”
Herbst and Ifcher’s study resonates with me. My husband and I had children under pretty ideal circumstances. We owned a home, we had jobs, and we both experienced the fullness of adulthood with attachments. All of our children were wanted and planned—no accidents or surprises. My experience as a parent is likely very different from a teenager with no job having a baby.
Of course, being a parent doesn’t mean that I’ve never felt unhappiness, but like everybody on earth, happiness comes and goes. I was happy before children, but I would say that having them has expanded my daily pleasure in many tangible and intangible ways.
Related:The Happiness Exercise
What do you think? Does having kids make us happy? If you have children, are you happier because of them? Share your thoughts below.