U.S. Parents Far Unhappier than People Without Kids—and Here’s Why
Many of us see parenthood as a deeply meaningful and enriching experience, and wouldn’t change our situation for anything. But are we parents happy?
Not so much, according to new research, which shows that parents’ happiness in the U.S. lags well behind that of our non-parent peers. What’s more, this “happiness gap” is greater in the U.S. than in the other 22 industrialized countries studied. The report, by researchers at Baylor University, the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University, begs the question: Why? And the researchers suggest the reason—which probably won’t surprise you.
The answer, in three words: work life accommodations. To be more specific, a dearth of family-friendly policies in the American workplace, like paid sick and vacation days, flexible work hours and paid parental leave. “The United States, without any standard paid leave available to mothers or parents—or any standard vacation or sick leave to support raising a dependent child—falls strikingly behind all other countries we examined in terms of providing for parents” happiness and overall well-being,” said Matthew Andersson, Ph.D., co-researcher and assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University.
Conversely, the research, to be published in the American Journal of Sociology in September, found that the happiness gap between parents and non-parents is smaller in countries where mandated family-friendly policies are available—in fact, these parents might be slightly happier than non-parents. Still, while some say that these workplace family supports mean non-parents lose out, the research shows that everyone in countries that offer these benefits has improved happiness. The study also shows that having resources to manage work and family commitments, such as flex, makes parents happier than receiving child allowances or monthly payments.
At Working Mother, we’ve been committed to raising the bar on family-friendly workplace benefits for more than 30 years, and initiatives like our annual Working Mother 100 Best Companies and the new 20 Companies to Watch are aimed at pushing companies—and the government—to up their work life policy game. When workers don’t have access to paid leave, flexible scheduling, telecommuting and other accommodations, not only do parents and families suffer, society does too.