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Children Tend to Bring More Joy than Misery

New research has found that parents are happier than people who are not parents.

In the study, “In Defense of Parenthood: Children Are Associated With More Joy Than Misery,” researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of California-Riverside, and Stanford University say that while the findings contrast sharply with popular beliefs, parenthood comes with “relatively more positives than negatives, despite the added responsibilities.”

The researchers also note that the study dovetails with emerging evolutionary perspectives that suggest parenting may be a fundamental human need.

“This series of studies suggest that parents are not nearly the ‘miserable creatures’ we might expect from recent studies and popular representations,” said University of British Columbia psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn.

Over three studies, the researchers tested whether parents are happier overall than their childless peers, if parents feel better moment-to-moment than nonparents, and whether parents experience more positive feelings when taking care of children than during their other daily activities. The consistency of their findings, based on data and participants in both the U.S. and Canada, provides strong evidence challenging the notion that children are associated with reduced well-being, the researchers said.

A key factor in that parental happiness is age and marital status, the researchers note.

“We find that if you are older — and presumably more mature — and if you are married — and presumably have more social and financial support — then you’re likely to be happier if you have children than your childless peers,” says co-author Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at UC-Riverside. “This is not true, however, for single parents or very young parents.”

Fathers, in particular, expressed greater levels of happiness, positive emotion and meaning in life than their childless peers.

“Interestingly, the greater levels of parental happiness emerged more consistently in fathers than mothers,” says Dunn. “While more research is needed on this topic, it suggests that the pleasures of parenthood may be offset by the surge in responsibility and housework that arrives with motherhood.”

The researchers also found that the stresses associated with single parenthood did not wipe out the greater feelings of meaning and reward associated with having children.

“We are not saying that parenting makes people happy, but that parenthood is associated with happiness and meaning,” Lyubomirsky says. “Contrary to repeated scholarly and media pronouncements, people may find solace that parenthood and child care may actually be linked to feelings of happiness and meaning in life.”

Source: University of British Columbia

Children Tend to Bring More Joy than Misery

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Children Tend to Bring More Joy than Misery. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 18 May 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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