There’s been no shortage of research recently “proving” that little bundles of joy aren’t really all that joyful. Last summer, New York magazine caused a stir announcing that parents hate parenting.
Research seemed to back that up, leaving moms and dads wringing our hands and talking about how satisfying parenting can be, even if moment to moment it makes us miserable.
Now a new large-scale study shows some promise for parental happiness. While young people are happier without kids, parents over 40 are happier than their child-free peers. They’re also much happier than younger parents.
Researchers looked at self-reported happiness data from over 200,000 people in 86 countries. The New York Times reports that they found the expected dip in happiness among young parents, but a glimmer of joy for older ones:
Whether it is a function of exhaustion, bickering over diapers or something inherently unpleasant about raising little children, the data doesn’t say, but parents under 30 are decidedly less happy than their child-free peers. Then, once parents hit 40, the relationship reverses and people with children are cheerier than those without.
Even better: the researchers found that more kids bring more happiness. Bigger families really are better, or at least happier, once the parents reach a certain age.
The data don’t account for the age of the children involved, which begs the question: are people happier when they wait to have kids, or do parents become happier as their children grow older?
Personally, I vote for option ‘b’. As blissful as the baby years were, they were also the most exhausted, turbulent, high-stress years of my life. My kids are 3 and 6 now, and already parenting them is so much easier. Easier doesn’t necessarily mean happier, but I do feel I’m becoming a happier mom as my kids get older.
I started parenting young, and 40 is still a ways out on the horizon for me. Who knows how happy I might be then?
On the other hand, option ‘a’ has merit, too. I think people who waited till their 30s to have kids often seem happier than I was doing it in my mid-20s. That has more to do with life circumstances than age: they’re settled in marriages and homes, they’re financially secure, they’ve put down roots in careers. There’s less change going on all over their lives, and they have more resources to put into enjoying their kids.
What do you think? Why are older parents happier parents? Is it because their kids are older, or because they waited longer to have them, or just something about the stage of life the parents are in? Have you been happier with your kids as you – and they – grow older?
Photo: Dave Haygarth