In the last few years we have seen studies out there asking whether parents are happier than people without children.  On January 16, USA Today reported on three more such studies. There’s some bad and good news about these and other studies. Let me explain.

A recent article in the journal Psychological Science reported that in a study with over 6,900 individuals collected between 1982-1999 that overall, “parents (and especially fathers) report relatively higher levels of happiness, positive emotion, and meaning in life than do non-parents.”

A second study with 329 adults found “greater well-being and more positive emotions among parents.” The third study had 186 parents with at least one child 18 or younger living at home, and “found more positive emotions when parents were caring for their children than when they weren’t.”

Basically in one study the dads were happiest, in the other two, parents were happier than non-parents.

My reactions when I read studies like these include bad and good news. When asked if I want the bad or the good news first, I always say the bad, so here goes~

flawedThese and many studies like them have a problem. The bad news is they do not differentiate between non-parents who want children and don’t have them, those who want kids but don’t want them yet, and those who have no kids by choice.  Lumping all people who have no children together without separating out why they do not have children makes for flawed research. Why are they lumped together?

One likely reason is non-parents are assumed to be a group that does not have children yet. I have read a lot of this kind of research, and there often seems to be the hypothesis that those with children will be happier – it will fall in alignment with the pronatalist assumption that having and raising children is the key to happiness and fulfillment in life.

The good news – not all studies like this have this result.  Some studies tell us that those with no children are happier. But the best good news is that when you look across all studies like this there is no one conclusion.  Some studies say parents are happier. Others- those with no children (whatever the reason) are happier. What conclusion can one draw? Maybe parenthood is not “the” variable to measure for determining happiness!

Until “non-parents” are better defined in studies, I say take the results with a grain of salt. Better yet, step outside pronatalist dogma and don’t look to parenthood as the key to fulfillment. Find out what purpose means to you first, then determine how raising children, if at all, fit into that picture!

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