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Are parents happier than their childless peers?
For the last five years or so, I’ve answered that question with a resounding “no.” Statistics (not to mention anecdotal evidence) led me to believe that parents tend to be more stressed and less happy.
In some ways, this seems understandable, even obvious. Folks without kids can go to yoga or hang out with friends without having to find a babysitter (or negotiate with a spouse). Childless people don’t panic over stranding their kids at school when a meeting runs late, or lay awake at night worrying about how to keep the kids’ health insurance, or feel overwhelmed by mountains of laundry and plastic toys and permission slips.
But now three new studies throw a wrench in the previous research. The studies, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, find that parents report higher levels of happiness, positive emotion, and have more “thoughts about meaning in life.”
Some parents, that is.
Young parents and single parents don’t fare as well: Unmarried parents are unhappier than people without kids, as are parents under 26 years old. (Parents over age 63 don’t differ from their childless peers.)
Then there’s the gender gap. While it’s true that parents on average report greater happiness and satisfaction with their lives than their childless peers, this is actually because fathers are driving the averages up. Mothers don’t show a big uptick in happiness by having kids. It’s really the dads that are happier.