Two new studies presented at the Population Association of America’s annual meeting have found that parents are happier than their childless counterparts, making previous research to the contrary questionable. Could the immeasurable love you feel for your children outweigh the sleepless nights, endless washing and nights in after all?
Mikko Myrskylä of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, co-author of one of the two studies based on longitudinal data from British and German parents reported that:
We find no evidence that parental well-being decreases after a child is born to levels preceding the children, but we find strong evidence that well-being is elevated when people are planning and waiting for the child, and in the year when the child is born.
The study found that prior research had not considered modifying sociodemographic factors and individual personality differences which made previous findings problematic. This research was based on couples from around the world from 1972 to 2008, and found that parents between 1995 and 2008 were happier than nonparents, compared to parents from 1985 to 1995 who were found to be unhappier than nonparents. I’m not sure why this change might have occurred after 1995 – better economic conditions perhaps?
Interestingly, given my post last week which identified that more educated women are choosing to have families, the studies found that age, education and the amount of resources at your disposal make a significant difference to parental well-being and happiness. That makes sense given that it is likely to be less stressful to have children when you have less financial stress. However, in saying that, surely you get to a point where you’re so used to an easy lifestyle that kids are a major shock to your normal routines and finances. Researchers were also careful to warn that the risk of involuntary childlessness increases with age, with co-author Rachel Margolis of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario commenting in USA Today that “The results are not meant to encourage women to wait to very high ages to have a first birth,”.
One thing the study doesn’t comment on is the happiness in old age when you have children – surely grandparents are exponentially happier than their lonelier childless counterparts? A few of my friends who work in hospitals with elderly people often comment that the number of people who don’t have any children to look after them or visit them is surprising and sad. A number of elderly people attempt to stay in hospitals longer than they need to just for the company, causing problems for hospital staff. So perhaps this is another thing to take into consideration over and above these study results in your decision whether or not to start a family!