June 20, 2016

In the US, a negative correlation between happiness and parenthood

The happiness of those who have children is significantly less than that of those who do not, with policies on holiday and sick leave some of the main factors behind it, according to new research.

The study, to be published in the American Journal of Sociology, revealed that in terms of what is being called the “parenting happiness gap”, American parents had a gap of 13%, the largest gap in a group of 22 other developed countries including Hungary, Norway, Spain, Russia, France, and Portugal, in which happiness gains for parents were found.

Jennifer Glass, who led the research team at the University of Texas, said: “As social scientists we rarely completely explain anything, but in this case we completely explain the parental happiness gap.” The study also explained: “the parental deficit in happiness was completely eliminated, accomplished by raising parents’ happiness rather than lowering nonparents’ happiness”.

The research showed that multiple factors affected the parenting happiness gap, and that the combination of a number of policies over a long period of time that allowed for financial stability, leisure, and other means of childcare, made the difference.

Using surveys dated prior to the recession, such as the 2007–2008 International Social Surveys and the 2006 and 2008 European Social Surveys, the study employed a three-item policy index that incorporated paid leave for mothers, paid holiday and sick leave, and the flexibility of work, and following this, explored the connotation of basket policies, both collectively and individually, on closing the happiness gap.

The study found that for countries high on the index, there was no gap, or that parents were happier than non-parents, and that countries low on the index were less happy. Moreover, they found that paid vacation, sick leave, and subsidized childcare impacted the improvement of the gap most.

The study also found that the results were not wholly conclusive due to the different scales at which countries gauged their happiness, and noted that in Sweden, which has good parental leave policies, that the parents there are generally happier than their non-parental counterparts.

Lead researcher Glass concluded: “People want to have more children when you make it possible for them to be effective parents and effective workers.”

Robert MacCulloch has written for IZA World of Labor about the use of “happiness data” in evaluating economic policies. He writes that happiness data “allow us to track the well-being of the whole population, and also sub-groups like the employed and unemployed people, and correlate the results with relevant policy changes.”

Related articles:
Can “happiness data” help evaluate economic policies? by Robert MacCulloch
Childcare subsidy policy: What is can and cannot accomplish by Erdal Tekin
Happiness as a guide to labor market policy by Jo Ritzen
Measuring the cost of children by Olivier Donni