|Source: Tim Coulson|
One of the most striking and counter-intuitive findings from psychology and sociology studies in the past thirty years is that having children does not make us happy. Of course, this doesn’t mean that if you have a child you will be miserable. Millions of us can attest to the fact that children can and do bring joy to our lives.
But, based on averages, study after study has indicated, quite clearly, that there is a meaningful difference in happiness between people with children and those without – and the childless among us are happier.
What do the researchers actually say?
This recent news article reports on more data indicating that parents are less happy than non-parents. One of the researchers stated:
"I'm absolutely confident in saying that across these large data sets, parents do not enjoy better mental and physical health than non-parents. In fact, the evidence clearly points in the opposite direction: Parents report lower levels of happiness, higher levels of depressive symptoms and assess their physical health as poorer than persons who never had children.
"The stress of parenthood is enormous. Parents do not do better than non-parents. Parents do worse."It’s all pretty bleak isn’t it.
Does parenting really suck that much?
As with most questions, it’s a little more complicated than this general quote suggests. Research indicates that happiness differs for different groups of parents.
Dads seem to be happier than mums. Dads are also generally happier than people without kids. Mums are generally about as happy as people without kids, but they’re not quite as happy as dads. But single mums and young mums appear to drag the average down considerably. These two groups of parents are, on average, much less happy than dads, mums who are partnered, and people without kids. So when samples of parents have single mums and young mums in them, they bring down the overall average happiness of the whole group. It ends up well under the happiness of non-parents.
I believe that there are a few reasons (fairly obvious, perhaps), that this might be:
- Lets start by dealing with the young mums and single mums who are least happy:
Mums in these two groups are often sacrificing everything to care for children, and are doing so with fewer financial resources and less social support. And if they’re not sacrificing everything, they’re trying to do everything! Life is exhausting, stressful, and less stable in these conditions.
It’s no wonder these two groups report being comparatively unhappy on average.
- When relationships are intact, there are some reasons mums might still be less happy than dads (and roughly as happy as non-parents):
- Some fathers are simply unsupportive. They don’t collaborate with their wives. They say how it is and that’s it.
- Some fathers are never home. They’re always working or pursuing their own interests.
- Mums often lose touch with their own interests. The demands of running a household, chasing kids, doing the extra-curricular activities things, and often working at least part-time as well can crowd out the ‘nice things’.
- Mums have more pressure (self-imposed and from society) to be great mums. This pressure makes parenting less, rather than more, enjoyable.
“Go for it”Or something in between?
“You’re crazy! Why would you ruin a perfectly good life with that?”
The correct answer is probably, ‘It depends.” If you are doing it alone or feeling unsupported, or are very young, chances are that kids will only make things tougher. Of course, circumstances can change, and what was once great may not be so nice any more. And this is still based on averages. Someone will always come along and show that the research doesn’t apply to them.
But if you have good support, a stable income, and a bit of ‘margin’ built into your life to give you space when you need it, then chances are that kids will make you happy. Not all the time, but
So should people simply stop having children if they want to be happy?