Study of the Day: Maybe Parents Actually Are Happier Than Non-Parents

New research in Psychological Science suggests that mothers and fathers experience greater levels of joy and derive more meaning from life.

Study of the Day
Kiselev Andrey Valerevich/Shutterstock

PROBLEM: Several studies have linked parenting to reduced happiness. In 2004, for instance, much attention revolved around a paper in Science showing that working mothers in Texas enjoy parenting less than watching TV, shopping, or preparing food. Do parents really find little joy in raising their kids?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by S. Katherine Nelson looked into the correlations between parenting and well-being. They conducted three trials: a large, nationally representative survey to explore whether parents are happier overall than non-parents; a week-long experience-sampling experiment to periodically check whether parents feel better on a moment-to-moment basis than non-parents; and individual episodic surveys to examine whether parents experience more positive feelings when taking care of their kids than during their other daily activities.

RESULTS: Age and marital status appear to influence parental happiness. Moms and dads who were older and married tended to be happier than their childless peers -- an association absent among most single or very young parents. Interestingly, fathers in particular expressed greater levels of happiness, positive emotion, and meaning in life than their childfree counterparts; and their scores were also more consistent than the mothers' scores.

CONCLUSION: Parents experience greater levels of happiness and meaning from life than non-parents.

IMPLICATION: Parenthood comes with relatively more benefits than drawbacks. Co-author Sonja Lyubomirsky notes in a statement, "We are not saying that parenting makes people happy, but that parenthood is associated with happiness and meaning.

SOURCE: The full study, "In Defense of Parenthood: Children Are Associated With More Joy Than Misery," is published in the journal Psychological Science.

Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This wildly inventive short film takes you on a whirling, spinning tour of the Big Apple

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Health

Just In