10/08/2013 05:56 pm ET

One More Time: ARE Parents Happier?


Add one more study to the pile of evidence that seeks to prove or question the relative happiness of parents.

For most of this century researchers have put forth conflicting studies, proving that those of us with children were either happier or less so than those without. “All Joy And No Fun,” Jennifer Senior titled her compilation of studies showing parenting didn’t make people happy. (Her book of the same title is due out this spring.) Not so fast, reported a march of researchers since then, which found the opposite. And then there were the nuances and permutations: fathers are happy, but not mothers; parents of young children are less happy than those whose kids have grown.

The Pew Research Center weighs in today with an analysis of government data that has something for everyone. To those who argue that parenting brings happiness, this latest research proffers that American parents of children under the age of 18 find “much more meaning in the time spent with children than in the time spent at work.” But to those who believe that there is an inverse relationship between parenting and happiness, there is the parallel finding that these “parents find caring for their children to be much more exhausting than the work they do for pay.”

So we are enriched by our kids, but all that enrichment can be tiring? Makes sense to me.

Here are some of the specifics:

Parents who describe child-care experiences as “very meaningful”: 62%
Parents who describe paid work as “very meaningful”: 36%
Percent who rate child-care activities as “very tiring”: 12%
Percent who rate paid work “very tiring”: 5%
Parents who report being “very happy” while caring for children: 35%
Parents who report being “very happy” while doing paid work: 19%

The results are based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, specifically its “time diaries.” Respondents enter real time information about what they are doing during different segments of each hour, and indicate their emotional state while doing it.

So, what is your emotional state while reading this piece about various levels of happiness? Do the findings jibe with emotions in your own life? And I have one further question -- who said that happiness is the purpose of parenting anyway?


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