One minute we’re unhappy, the next we’re happy. Which is it?

A month or so back I did a post about the latest study showing that parents are less happy, more depressed, and have less satisfying relationships than childless couples. Turns out, though, that the results of that study–and many others that reached similar conclusions over the past few decades–may have been wrong. So it looks like we’re actually happier than people without kids. Hmm.

The recent study followed several thousand couples in the 4-5 years before they became parents and for 4-5 more years after their baby arrived. ”We find no evidence that parental well-being decreases after a child is born to levels preceding the children, but we find strong evidence that well-being is elevated when people are planning and waiting for the child, and in the year when the child is born,” says the study’s lead author, Mikko Myrskylä of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany.

But here’s an interesting twist. The research shows that parents were indeed less happy than non-parents in the decade 1985-95, but from 1995 to 2008, parents were happier. What’s happened, suggests co-author Chris Herbst of Arizona State University, is that happiness among non-parents has declined, thus making parents happier in comparison. I’m not sure whether that’s good news or bad.

There are a few other interesting tidbits here:

  • Age makes a difference. Those who become parents at younger ages have a downward happiness trend, while postponing parenthood results in a higher happiness level after the birth. However, co-author Rachel Margolis of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, says the risk of involuntary childlessness increases with age.
  • The number of children makes a difference. ”The first child increases happiness quite a lot. The second child a little. The third not at all,” says Myrskylä.

 

Whatcha think?