Do Children Bring Happiness—or Misery?

Usually, both. A happiness researcher explores the relationship between parenting and well-being.

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Evolutionary psychologists tell us that wanting offspring is hardwired, but for most of us, the decision to have a child is intensely personal—and has become all the more daunting in recent years thanks to several high-profile research studies that have suggested that parents are miserable and stretched to the limit.

Along with a team of social psychologists, Katie Nelson and I decided to take a closer look at the relationship between parenting and well-being. Contrary to recent media messages, the findings turned out to be rather mixed. Some studies using large-scale nationally representative datasets find that parents are happier and more satisfied than their childless peers, some studies find no difference, and some studies find the reverse. The more we scrutinized the literature, the more convinced we became that the question of whether parents are happier than nonparents is not a very meaningful one. Rather, it depends on the parent…and the child.

(POLLWhat Do You Think of the Childfree Life?)

Our analysis revealed that certain types of parents (e.g., young parents and parents with small children) are particularly unhappy, while other types (e.g., fathers, married parents, and empty nesters) report especially high life satisfaction, happiness, or meaning. In other words, whether or not children go hand in hand with happiness depends on many factors, including our age, marital status, income and social support, as well as whether our children live with us  and have difficult temperaments. Whether we ourselves were securely attached to our own parents is even a factor.

For example, in our own research with a large sample of U.S. adults, my team found that, compared to older parents, parents ages 17 to 25 were less satisfied with their lives than their peers without kids. However, all types of parents reported having more meaning in life than did their childless counterparts, suggesting that the rewards of parenting may be more ineffable than the daily highs (or lows).

(MORELife Without Kids)

Some might argue that parents are deluding themselves: Having sacrificed time, money, and selfhood to parenting, they persuade themselves that, of course, their children make them happy. To rule out this explanation, we decided to unobtrusively measure parents’ actual day-to-day experiences of parenting. Parents randomly beeped throughout the day reported more positive emotions than nonparents, and parents reported more positive emotions and meaning when they were taking care of their children than when they were doing other activities, like working or eating.

My four children range from 3 months to 14 years, so I can attest firsthand to the truism that kids are the source of our greatest joy and our greatest sorrow. Children give our lives purpose, infuse fun and pride into our lives, and enrich our identities. At the same time, they are also vectors for worry, anger, and disappointment; they deprive us of energy and sleep; and they strain our finances and our marriages. Not surprisingly, research suggests that the downsides of parenting are more evident when kids are very young or teenagers, and when we lack the resources (monetary, social, developmental) to manage them. Keep these findings in mind when deciding to have a child, and consider that 94% of parents say that it is still worth it, despite the costs.

To read the full TIME cover story “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children,” subscribe here. Already a subscriber? Click here.

111 comments
CardenasNaida
CardenasNaida

My name is Mr Cardenas,my wife was having affair with a senior secretary in her office. I love this woman so much that i would not want to share her with any body. i told her to retire from the job and i would take care of all her needs  but she would take it because she is been embraced by everybody in her office, this normally leads to quarrel every-time. i tried all i can to please her and she will promise to be good , some days later she will turn back to her normal way.
 i was nearly loosing out, i could not focus in my job, my whole life was full of sorrow and i was thinking i should kill the other man my self and put an end to all this until i saw a testimony from a blog on how DR EDIONWE could cast a love spell to bring lovers back no matter what is behind the disappointment. so i decided to write him via email. edionwesolutiontemple@yahoo.com and now all my wishes are exactly as i wanted. She told me everything that has happened secretly in the past and i forgave her as DR EDIONWE instructed me to and she loves me and care for me as i ever wanted. i know there are many spells that do not work but i want to assure all you out there no matter what you have been trough to have faith and believe that this is the final solution to your problem.
 Even if my job is taking most of my time, the little free time i have , i will share the good news to everyone in the world because i know that with love brings happiness and hope for a long life.

ModelsIncorpora
ModelsIncorpora

Perhaps people that are happier and more settled in life are more likely to have children?  The major obstacle of any research into the happiness levels of parents vs. non parents is that people are not randomly assigned to either group.  People that choose to have children very likely have different personalities to those that don't, and this in itself would impact on their reported happiness down the track.   

Picture two women in identical external circumstances.  One is anxious and wants the perfect husband, a great figure and financial security and worries about her ability to care for a child.  The second one is comfortable in her own skin, is happy for a "good enough" relationship and has a high ability to cope with stress.  The first woman is more likely to be single and the second is more likely to settle down and have kids.  But given that the second woman may well be happier before she even has kids, is the cause of her happiness the children or the fact that she is fundamentally different to the first woman? 

george999
george999

Some people are just short-sighted, not having kids because they are difficult to raise is just a stupid excuse. I'm 24 and when i look to my future i cant imagine it without having a family around me, with kids and everything, how will you live when you're older with nobody around to care for you, because family is family, it's your own blood, these emotions you feel around your own kind doesnt compare with those felt among friends, even though they are very clsose to you. 


When you will become older i bet that you will feel a void inside your life, and regret that you didnt passed your genes, and that you were greedy and wanted to enjoy all for yourself, i believe that in life every great achievement and joy comes with great sacrifices, maybe i think this way because i was educated as such, just to choose not having kids because you want the time all for yourself and choose "small" moments of joy, instead of sacrificing some of your time and benefit after from your kids love and appreciation is a thing that is worth sacrificing ... 


Sorry for my english if i made some mistakes because it isnt my native tongue

WimpyPete
WimpyPete

This argument against kids that they are just difficult and cost something of us seems to be not just an argument about kids but pretty much about anything of any value in life. It is true that it is easier not to have kids, in fact its easy not to have any relationships or a job or go to school. If you want an easy comfortable life then don't bother with any of that stuff. But the question seems to be whether or not there are things that are worth sacrifices; things which are a higher and more lasting good which are worth sacrificing more immediate short term goods for. Personally I believe the desire for a successful career or not having to change diapers is out weighed by our far deeper desire to love and be loved. And to respond to MelissaGillespie's comment, to need these things doesn't make something wrong with us, it makes us humans who are wired for love and meaning and who find them in these very things.

MSD2178
MSD2178

Also, I don;t understand why so many people comment on how great parenting is on websites that clearly focuses on how much parenting sucks. I mean do you guys just stumble across it when you are googling "I love my child so so much" or " Parenting is best thing that has EVER happened to me". I'm wondering because when I google those terms nothing about hating parenting ever comes up!

MSD2178
MSD2178

So the people who have come out in drones to comment about how great parenting is, are parents of young kids. Where are all the parents of teenagers, parents whose kids are in college etc.?  Or does that not matter? Your baby will not be a baby for long and then the real trauma starts! Wait and watch!

homer498
homer498

Why even ask the question?  People can't be honest about having made the awful mistake of having children.  Who wants to admit that they threw away the best part of their life in exchange for paying through the nose to take care of some spoiled brat.  Give me a break.  At 47, if I had, had the choice of being stupid enough to have started smoking at 15, or of having kids at 25.  Pass the cigarettes!  At least people can be honest about how stupid smoking is.  98% of parents will tell you what a "blessing" their little disasters are.  It's what Physchologists call a self-delusion for the purpose of self preservation. 

MelissaGillespie
MelissaGillespie

If you need children or a religion to give your life meaning, there's something wrong with you. 

teg_76
teg_76

Being a parent is by far the best, most fulfilling, and hardest thing that has ever happened to me.  I love it and am so thankful to God for my son and my daughter who is due in three months.  

Parenting is not for everyone though and I understand those that choose not to have a child.  It is not a decision that should be made lightly.

EmilyR
EmilyR

I love being a parent. I have a very sweet, thoughtful 4 year old boy, a 20month old gleeful baby girl full of passion and life, and a sweet little one about 18 weeks old that sweetly kicks and jumps around in utero.  :)  I am 28 years old.  I work a part time job out of my home and a part time job as music director.  Motherhood has been the most fulfilling part of my life and I can say I truly enjoy being a mom!  It's not always easy, but I think of it as an investment: it is very intense up front, but the more I put in now, I can even see pay offs now as they're growing.  I'm really thankful to be a mom.

ClickWatchWrite
ClickWatchWrite

This is why I have a dog -- I get the emotional ups and downs, I get the company, I get to be nurturing and give another living thing joy and peace, but there's way less at stake. Oh, and it's a 15-year commitment, max.

rayhend
rayhend

Most parents I know are unhappy; miserable even. All they seem to do is complain about every aspect of parenting.

PaMillar
PaMillar

Having children is not like in our parents day, when the woman was able to raise her child herself.  Now you have to work & give the rearing responsibility to others, which can be scary.  My husband & I chose not to have kids because we had no one to look after them.  I don't regret it because I am able to have 3 vacations a year & was financially able to retire at 58! 

ljphilly10
ljphilly10

If parents are so happy, why are so many US kids addicts and lost kids? Come on Time. Fairy tales are for Disney. Try a little journalism again. I realize you have to sell product but likely the parents who are buying are too busy to buy the lies anyway. 

ljphilly10
ljphilly10

If so many parents are so fulfilled, why are so many parents so bitter? 

frau_wyler
frau_wyler

Having children is wonderful, and it is also hard. I will never understand people who say that it is selfish NOT to have children- selfish in relation to whom? We (who have children) choose to have children, we do not do it for their benefit at all, the choice is purely selfish. But we make the choice, we enjoy it, and we try our best to ensure that they will be happy too. www.frauwyler.blogspot.com

frau_wyler
frau_wyler

Great article that explains the contradiction- parenting, like love and anything that is worth doing, is bitter sweet.

cybermars
cybermars

All kid haters, you also brought misery when you came in this world as a kid...just sayin' ;)

TroyOwen
TroyOwen

I don't have kids. If we were able to discipline them properly I may have thought about it with a few different women.

I don't have the patients for it, I can so see myself back handing it when it gets too lippy, and then going to jail.

So in my case they would be misery.

G19
G19

@george999 No, it doesn't always work that way George. I'm 65 without any kids, and I feel as happy now as I did 25 years ago. Everyone is different. Maybe some regret not having any kids, but there are plenty around that do not regret it.

bazookajoe65
bazookajoe65

@george999 when you get older you will realize you can truly have friends that feel more like family than some family members.

Kabuto
Kabuto

@george999 The other people who commented made good points but I'll shoot for my own as well. It's a little annoying when the majority of people act like everyone is supposed to have kids, after all, that's why we're here, right? Well to me, I'd rather strive for things I myself actually want for my own life instead of forcing something upon myself for the sake of being "normal". If that's the case, I would do other popular things such as smoking, drinking and engaging in one night stands but I don't. People need to accept the fact that not everyone may wants kids and they're not bad or abnormal for feeling that way. Not everyone would make a good parent and maybe some people just don't have the desire for them, besides it's not like a few people not having kids will severely hurt the world seeing as tons of people are still having kids, most probably for the wrong reasons. I don't know about other people but I'd rather feel that my life has more meaning than just becoming a baby factory.

Another thing is how when a lot of people have kids, their lives become wrapped around them or the opposite. Like one friend I had on FB who actually had pictures of himself before he had kids but after he had a kid, he became all about his kid and the only pics I ever see is of his kid.

jondawson917
jondawson917

@george999 my friend, you bring a lot of insight to this discussion. There is a degree of fulfillment from having children, sharing your lives together, and passing on some of the knowledge that you've learned to them.

However, there is no guarantee that your children will take care of you when you're older. This idea is somewhat of an old-world thought inherited from a time when families were so interdependent. In the 20th and 21st century with daycare, fast food, and iPads to keep our kids entertained, grandparents fall by the wayside.


For myself as a married man with one child, I don't expect him to take care of me when I am older. I haven't taken care of my father of 66 yrs who also didn't take care of his father of 87 yrs.


Although it may be ideal for adult children to take care of their young, it shouldn't be imposed on them by guilt.

SusanNercher
SusanNercher

@george999 Children are not therapy for people who feel a void inside their lives. Many parents feel a void in their lives either because they don't have a good relationship with their children or their children have disappointed and/or even hurt them. Not having kids because they are difficult to raise is a great excuse, not a stupid one. There are so many lost, abandoned and abused kids in the U.S. and so many kids live in poverty. Then there are the kids who wind up in prison. Having children because you want to pass on your genes is a stupid excuse for having them because children are not breeding experiments. They are human beings who will need a lot of time and attention for years. It's not about the parent's feelings and achievements, it's about the children's right to a stable, loving, nurturing life. Furthermore, the world is becoming more crowded and polluted and the resources are becoming scarcer. Don't have children just so you can feed your own ego. If you have children for the wrong reasons, then not only will you regret it when you are older but your kids will regret it when they grow up as well and the dysfunctional pattern will continue.

SusanNercher
SusanNercher

@WimpyPete You don't bring a child, who didn't ask to be born, into this world just so you can feel loved. Having children is not about fulfilling your needs, it's about fulfilling your children's needs. You should already feel loved and happy when you become a parent and of course you should have the psychological, emotional, mental, physical, financial and social resources needed to provide the children with the best lives possible. You don't have children to feel complete; rather, you should feel complete when you decide to become a parent. If you are broke, frustrated, lonely, lost and unloved, a child will not make you happy; rather, the work, sacrifices and sleep-deprivation will only make your life worse. Psychological and financial problems become worse after having children, not better. Having children is not a cure for your demons and you shouldn't rely on a dependent child to give your life meaning.

SusanNercher
SusanNercher

@EmilyR Children are "investments" who provide "payoffs" according to you? It sounds like you are describing some business transactions. Being a parent is about what you can do for your children, not about the "payoffs" that children will give you. When your children grow up and have lives of their own, what are you going to do with your life? Do you expect your children to live their lives around you and give you payoffs?

Openminded1
Openminded1

@PaMillar I retired at at 51 with two kids and still take two cruises a year and the best part my adult kids now still call me everyday and take cruise with there mom and me, My wife was a flight attended when my son was born she quit flying and stayed home we do not regret one moment even thru the hard times of life. to each there own.

SusanNercher
SusanNercher

@cybermars So......we should have kids so we can be miserable as some kind of payback for making our parents miserable? I don't understand the purpose of your statement. If you believe kids bring misery, then don't have kids. Considering the fact that about half of all pregnancies were unplanned, it looks as if too many people didn't think about the consequences of their actions. Just sayin.

ljphilly10
ljphilly10

@cybermars Just because you don't have them doesn't mean you hate them. I worked with delinquent kids for years. Don't want to come home to kids after work. Nothing made more sense than that to me. Nothing could have made me change my mind. It would not have been fair to the little tykes either to have a burned out mom like you see so often everywhere, fried and phoning it in. 

My nephew just tweeted "My mom just asked me 'what do you want from the liquor store? #bestmomever!'" I'm like file that under things my mom never said to me and would never say to me if you even put a gun to her head. He's in college, but come on. Parenting fail, America. His brother is in high school, and he'll be of course drinking that. And if I slapped his mother, I'd be arrested. And they give me a hard time about not having kids. Probably because they know I would have not been such a mess. 

EmilyR
EmilyR

@TroyOwen Troy, your comment about patience: the really neat thing is that your patience really grows with each baby. I think that's why they're so cute when they're young- even though it's 4am and you're getting up for the 3rd or 4th tim eto feed them, you look at that one so sweet and content lying in your arms, full belly, secure, in peace, and oh. . :) Those moments also get you through the trying toddler years. Patience grows. Parents don't have kids to grow in viritue, but it sure does help make you a better person!

Openminded1
Openminded1

@TroyOwen That fits with your profile even more reason for you to move in with john D. The smoke moron in his double wide in west Va., with his mom and dad and the cancer cats. I am sure you have been with a lot of woman who smell as bad as you and all that smoke. It was good of you not to bring kids in to this world. What a moron.

Bill65437
Bill65437

Pppffffttty!!!! There is always one. For every "Openminded1". I'll show you 99 others with a lousy experience. Openminded's comment is almost as useless as my reply

SusanNercher
SusanNercher

@Openminded1 @PaMillar Then you are in the minority. Most people with kids are not able to retire in their 50s, especially nowadays. Too many parents are working to help pay their children's student loans, to support their children and even their grandchildren. There is no way they can afford to take cruises or do anything else they want to do.

cybermars
cybermars

@ljphilly10 @cybermarswhat you're saying is not very different from what I am saying. The problem is with parents not kids. Too many depressive people around who would blame anything including their kids for their own failures. Kids or no kids they would be miserable. Its just the way they approach life. Because if you are a positive person, I cannot see how could you whine about your child. 



TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@EmilyR   @EmilyR  I'm glad you like your kids and have the temperament. Really, many parents do not.

I may have at one time, I have 5 siblings. But I enjoy my solitude now.

My  brother has a 1 year old, he loves the kid dearly, so you may be correct.

Myself, I would rather be on my own. Have a nice day though! : )

Bill65437
Bill65437

Not a moron, (troyowen) while crass, he had the foresight to make the right call. The morons are the ones "actually" living in the double wide backhanding their children

ming
ming

@Openminded1 @TroyOwen why are you attacking  Troy, because he does not fit with how you think things are to be?  He is right to say who the hell asked you.  If you want a kid, have it otherwise leave others the hell alone

TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@Openminded1 Who the hell asked you?

I was just being honest, there was no reason to attack me. 

And kids are a pain, my brother just had his kid get hit by a car in a parking lot!

Her fault, but it didn't make him feel any better. Just worry and pay. Worry and pay. Worry and pay.

And NO, I don't think second hand smoke is dangerous, I lived with smokers for my childhood and had no ill effects.

Your a jerk.

SusanNercher
SusanNercher

@cybermars @ljphilly10 People who have kids for the wrong reasons and who have romantic, unrealistic expectations about parenthood are the ones who become kid haters. Just because you reproduce doesn't mean you are a kid lover. In fact, those who choose not to have kids for whatever reason show more love and compassion for kids than those who bring kids into this world for the wrong reasons and under the wrong circumstances......just sayin'

SusanNercher
SusanNercher

@Openminded1 @ming@TroyOwen Bet you wish you had a girlfriend instead of a child that is driving you crazy. Such bitterness. I hope you don't act this way with your child.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@TroyOwen @Openminded1 You smoke refer too, that is illegal troy you never no who is whatching do not get a citation or worse get arrested. I am going to guess you are in texas maybe ark, or missouri.

TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@Openminded1  Your an idiot, one pic means nothing.

I was on vacation, you don't even know what I was smoking!

FYI I smoke a pack every 3 days or so.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@TroyOwen By the way I am 63 and never smoked in my life and I stack my lings against you and will out run you I am sure and I have you by 16 years.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@TroyOwen @Openminded1 some times your picture shows you smoking, is that the only pics you have when you are smoking. You smoke 24/7 i can tell you are a 2 pack a day min kind of smoker.

TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@Openminded1 See there? You know NOTHING about me.

I ride my mountain bike all the time.

 Sure I'm 47, but not in bad shape. 

And I do smoke sometimes. 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@TroyOwen @Openminded1 Well you are still alive but if I were you i would get a chest x-ray for those lungs i am sure you have not had one . Trying running a couple of blocks then listen to your breathing, then you will get that x-ray i am sure.