Will Having Children Make You Miserable?

Will having children make you miserable?

Will not having children make you miserable?

Will having children make you happier?

Will not having children make your happier?

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a clear-cut answer, because although there’s been tonnes of scientific research on this subject, there are so very many factors that come into play which makes getting an overall measurement so difficult and as a result, some studies say overall: yes, some say overall: no. It depends on how you measure it and which variables you do or don’t control for. Fortunately, there are some useful takeaways I have found from the research, I’ll list them below.

Being poor, unmarried, divorced or having an unplanned pregnancy leads to greater depression

Minton & Pasley (1996)

Divorced fathers reported feeling less competent and less satisfied than nondivorced fathers but perceived the father role to be more salient.

Cunningham & Knoester (2007)

Single parents reported higher rates of depression and alcohol abuse than married parents.

Keeton, Perry-Jenkins, & Sayer (2008)

For mothers, higher levels of depression 6 months into parenthood were predicted by having less family income, being married, and having unplanned pregnancies. For fathers, higher levels of depression 6 months into parenthood were predicted by low family income and being unmarried. Working a greater number of hours predicted increases in depression for fathers. Increases in sense of control significantly predicted declines in parents’ depression over time.

Having a child with a “difficult” temperament increases rates of depression in parents

Cutrona & Troutman (1986)

Child’s difficult temperament was associated with lower parental self-efficacy and higher rates of depression.

Fatherhood can make you happier and sadder at the same time

Chalmers & Meyer (1996)

Fathers reported greater happiness, pride, excitement, and being loved after the birth of their child than during pregnancy.
Fathers also reported heightened difficulties after the birth of their child, including insufficient sleep, difficulty calming their child, sexual problems, worries about the future, and coping with visitors.

Holding traditional views about the division of labor made for happier husbands but unhappier wives

L. K. White, Booth, & Edwards (1986)

The presence of children had a significant negative effect on marital happiness. Holding traditional views about the division of labor was positively related to husbands’ marital happiness but negatively related to wives’ marital happiness.

Having greater social support decreases depression

Bost, Cox, & Payne (2002)

Parents who reported greater social support reported less depression across the transition to parenthood.

Childless elders aren’t psychologically worse off

According to a 2010 study in Aging and Mental Health:

“Compared to parents, childless elders with a disability generally do not receive less care or have worse psychological well-being.”


The best study to read to get a sense of all this, is this meta-analysis:

“Some parents, such as those who are young, are single, have relatively young children, have children with problems, or are noncustodial parents, experience relatively low levels of happiness.
By contrast, fathers, married parents, and parents who are older at the birth of their first child experience relatively high levels of well-being”

So, from a happiness point of view, should you have children? Well, if you’re lacking in age, social supports, money and a marriage that looks like it will last another 40 years… it would seem that your best bet would be to get those things before having children as otherwise they will probably make you unhappier.

But It strikes me that a lot of the benefits people experience from parenting, people could experience without parenting. A greater sense of pride and purpose could be achieved through being a more active member of your community, volunteering more or getting a more meaningful job, for example. And the greater pleasure experienced from spending time with a child could instead be spent on other activities one enjoys, especially since parents ranked spending time with children as only their 9th most pleasurable experience.

So is parenthood a death sentence to your happiness? Not if you’re a bit older, have social supports, money, a marriage that will withstand the hurricane that is children, and provided your child doesn’t have a “difficult” temperament and  that it was actually planned.

And is non-parenthood a death sentence to your happiness? Not if you get your sense of purpose and fun from other activities.

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