New parents are wont to extol the upsides of parenthood, but research has shown that people without children are often happier than those with. But what is it that accounts for this happiness gap? According to a new study from the Council on Contemporary Families, it has to do with the infrastructure of support that parents receive in the countries where they live, and in that department, America ranks at the bottom.
Researchers led by the University of Texas sociology professor Jennifer Glass looked at factors like the rate of unplanned parenthood, the cost of raising children, and workplace policies on issues like paid parental leave to determine why moms and dads in America are unhappier than their counterparts in places like Australia and Great Britain.
"What we found was astonishing," wrote Glass. "The negative effects of parenthood on happiness were entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations. And this was true for both mothers and fathers." Glass and her colleagues determined that in countries with more generous social policies, or what they refer to as “the tools to combine work and family”—meaning things like paid vacation and sick leave as well as subsidized childcare—unhappiness among parents all but disappeared.
"We comprehensively tested every other alternative," Glass added. "The two things that came out most strongly in explaining the variation were the cost of care for the average 2-year-old as a percent of wages and the total extent of paid sick and vacation days."
Glass made sure to stress that it's not the actual children who cause parents in the United States to be unhappy. The root of the problem is the stress created by the lack of a decent social infrastructure. "Parental happiness does in fact determine our fertility rates; it does determine the types of bills we get for stress-related diseases," Glass added. "When you have a system that is not very efficient in supporting parents, you can expect to have problems motivating people to have children and care for them."
To learn more about this fascinating dilemma, pick up a copy of Why Have Kids? and let us know: Do you still plan on having kids after reading this study?