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PsychNotes Index

More PsychNotes: Parenting

January 4, 2016       
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Is It True that Parents are Less Happy than Non-parents?
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

You may have heard reports in the media stating that non-parents are happier than parents. However, that is a simplification of the true nature of this question. The answer is much more complex and depends on a number of factors (Nelson et al., 2014).

1) Child problems. When parents experience more frustration or worry related to their children they report lower levels of happiness. Such negative emotions may be particularly associated with problems the child may have or if the child has a more difficult personality style.

2) Strain. Under certain conditions children cause increased strain including physical, financial, and marital. For instance, younger children and children with problems may increase sleep disturbance in parents causing greater fatigue. In addition, parents may have less quality time for one another and more conflict due to disagreements over children.

3) Parental demographics. The nature of the parent's circumstances can affect happiness. Single parents are less happy most likely due to greater demands. Mothers are less happy than fathers perhaps for the same reason. Parents with a higher socioeconomic status (SES) experience more time strain, conflicting roles, and less meaning placed on child-rearing leading to a decreased sense of well-being. Older parents are more established with greater resources and more positive emotions associated with parenthood.

4) Employment status. When parental employment is based on choice and is associated with increases in self-worth and identity rather than increased demands it contributes to greater well-being.

5) Adequate social support. Social support may reduce the negative influence of some of the other factors. For instance, more support from family or friends may reduce the strain parents experience due to the demands of raising children.

6) Age of children. Younger children are more demanding of time, energy, and finances. Adult children can be more supportive. Thus, as children age, parents report greater well-being.

7) Parenting style. Intensive parenting which is consistent with the current demands of Western culture reduces happiness of parents. However, relaxed parents who take care of their own needs and desires to a greater extent experience a higher level of well-being.

8) Parental attachment. A more secure attachment style is associated with greater parental well-being. The secure attachment style may be related to the parent's own up-bringing which also impacts the quality of the marriage.

As you may see from this list, depending upon who is asked and what point in their parental life they are, the answer about happiness, well-being, and satisfaction can vary considerably.

Nelson, S.K., Kushlev, K., Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The Pains and Pleasures of Parenting: When, Why, and How Is Parenthood Associated With More or Less Well-Being? Psychological Bulletin, 3, 846–895. DOI: 10.1037/a0035444


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Dr. Monica Frank



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