The cheerful family scene you see in the image above seems idyllic, but it may not be very realistic. For years researchers have been stating that becoming a parent may make you less happy — miserable in fact, but it’s always been highly debated, until possibly now. New research, soon to be published in the American Journal of Sociology, states that parents are often found to be less happy than their childless peers, a phenomenon researchers call the “parenting happiness gap.” The researchers, led by Jennifer Glass at The University of Texas, looked at comparative data via well-respected social surveys from 22 European and English-speaking countries to find out why parents pay a “happiness penalty.” In good news, Glass and her team found that not all parents are doomed to pay said happiness penalty. In bad news, the researchers found that out of all 22 countries studied, parents in the U.S. experienced the largest happiness shortfall among parents compared to non-parents, and the U.S. parent happiness gap was significantly larger than the gap found in Great Britain and Australia. Why are U.S. parents so much unhappier than other parents? Keep reading to find out.
Clearly putting a finger on why U.S. parents are less happy than childless individuals is tough business. Cultural differences, how people define “happy” and how people self-report happiness all play a role in a study like this. However, after looking at all the possible causes of parental unhappiness, including issues such as unplanned pregnancy, family size, and child raising costs, the researchers found that only one factor glaringly stood out as affecting the parenting happiness gap. Glass notes:
What we found was astonishing. The negative effects of parenthood on happiness were entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations. And this was true for both mothers and fathers. Countries with better family policy “packages” had no happiness gap between parents and non-parents.
The researchers found that countries with strong family-friendly policy packages were able to completely eliminate the parental deficit in happiness. The researchers further found that family policy, such as guaranteed minimum sick pay, less expensive quality childcare, and vacation days make everyone happier, not just parents.
To sum up, it’s no wonder the United States has such a large parent happiness gap. Compared to other countries, the United States puts almost zero value on parental leave, maternity leave, quality childcare, and other strong family policies that allow parents to work and raise a family while avoiding major stress and costs. Parenting is already hard. Weak family policy is the icing on the cake and it’s bringing U.S. parents down big time. What do you think we could do to improve parent happiness? Let us know in the comments.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.