Ubiquitous images of beaming young mothers bouncing babies on their knees would suggest you can boost your happiness by having children. But a new study suggests otherwise, particularly when new parents are young.
The study found that parents under 30 were less happy than couples with no children, according to a report published in the March issue of Population and Development Review. And the more children a young family had, the less happy the parents were.
Other studies have shown that having kids doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. What’s interesting in this study is the change that occurs after age 30. The negative impact of kids diminished as parents got older. And the trend completely turned around for parents in their 40s and beyond. These older parents’ happiness grew with the increasing size of their broods.
“It may be that younger parents have a lot going on in their lives,” said Rachel Margolis, a study co-author and a demographer who is working on her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. “They may be be less happy because they are over-tired and have less money.”
The new findings are based on surveys of more than 200,000 people aged 15 and older from 86 countries. All were asked to rate their happiness and asked the number of children in their families.
One thing the researchers can’t know is whether the older parents were happy because they were done, or close to done, with child rearing – the “whew, I just managed to raise four kids and they turned out OK” effect – or whether the older parents were happy because they raised a family later in life, after they’d accomplished many of their other goals.
“We don’t have information on the age at which people became parents,” Margolis says. “That’s a subject for future research.”
Also, says Margolis, the younger people in the study had fewer peers doing the parenting thing. Older parents are surrounded by people who have made the same choice.
What do you think? Do kids make you happier as you get older?