Does having children make us happier?

In many parts of the world, the prevailing belief is that having children is the key to happiness, and that people who don’t have them don’t feel fulfilled. But is this really so? The answer to this question is both simple and complex, and the level of satisfaction you experience in life, whether you decide to have children or not, depends on many complex factors.

Let’s first look at the simple answer: no, you don’t need to have children to be happy and feel fulfilled. Studies of women who choose not to have children show that most feel they have a good sense of identity and individuality. They do not feel defined by their role in the family and feel that they have more freedom and control over their body, their life and their future. Childless women also report greater economic stability, although it is not necessary to have a higher socioeconomic status to be satisfied with the decision not to have children.


Most of those who decide not to have children are happy with their decision


Man reading a book with his daughters

Alex Garcia / Own

Women and men who don’t have children also experience less stress on average and report greater satisfaction with their marriages.

There is little research about single men and their experiences of being childless, and even less research about the childless experiences of transgender or transgender people. strange. But a study of men who decided not to have children found that most were satisfied with their decision and glad to have more freedom in their lives. Only a few regretted their decision, especially since they would not have an inheritance.

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However, there is a risk that childless men will experience decreased overall life satisfaction in old age if they lack social support.

The paradox of fatherhood

Things get a little more complicated when we look at the decision to have children. While there is no doubt that parents can feel happy and satisfied with their lives, the satisfaction they feel from this decision often develops over time and may also depend on many factors beyond their control.

Father and son

Many parents experience a temporary decline in well-being after the birth of their child; satisfaction comes

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Many parents initially experience a temporary decline in well-being after the birth of a child—a phenomenon known as the “parenting paradox.” This is because a newborn baby can interfere with many basic needs such as sleep, eating well, and seeing friends. This may cause dissatisfaction.

Heterosexual women also report greater unhappiness when becoming mothers than men. This may be because the burden of care often falls disproportionately on women.

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Juan Manuel Garcia

phubing of parents and children

But having a good family and social support system, an equally active and involved parent, and living in an area where policies support work and family can offset the stress and costs of parenthood.

This likely explains why Norwegian women do not report a loss of happiness when they have children, since Norway has many family-friendly policies that allow both parents to raise children and pursue careers.

Although having children can be difficult, that doesn’t mean the step can’t lead to happiness, joy, and more meaning in life. The experience of parenthood and motherhood can even lead to a profound form of well-being called eudaimonic well-being. We are talking about the feeling of living a worthy life, which is different from short-term happiness.

Both men and women can experience positive eudaimonic well-being when they become parents. But in the case of women, the increase in eudaimonic well-being they experience also depends on how balanced parenting tasks are with their partner.

Face with regret

Father takes his son to school

Father takes his son to school

Getty Images

Another big concern people have is whether they will regret not having children. Fortunately, studies of childless older people show that many have high life satisfaction and resilience in the face of poor mental health.

It seems that the main key to happiness in the decision to have or not have children depends on whether you are in control of this issue. When we feel that we have chosen our path, we tend to accept our decisions and be happy with them.

But what if this opportunity was taken away from you and you wanted to have a child but couldn’t? Can you be happy then? Our research shows that the answer is a resounding yes. We examined the impact of not having children on 161 women who wanted to have children but were unable to do so for various reasons, such as lack of a partner or infertility. Participants ranged from 25 to 75 years old.

It turned out that, on average, the well-being of participants did not differ from the well-being of the general population. While 12% languished (that is, they felt like their lives had no clear direction), 24% were psychologically thriving, that is, they had the highest level of mental health. The rest had a moderate level of well-being.

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Maite Rius

Father and daughter enjoying at home.  We sit on the bed and read a book together.

Interestingly, for some, the struggle to have a child led to post-traumatic growth. It refers to the positive psychological changes that occur after a traumatic event. Women with the highest levels of well-being said that being able to focus on new opportunities in their lives, beyond motherhood, helped them improve their well-being.

Studies of men who were unable to have children due to infertility show that many experienced sadness as a result, although this sadness decreased with age. However, as with women forced into childlessness, finding ways to redefine their identity and role in society outside of parenthood has helped many find meaning and satisfaction in their lives.

So, does fatherhood or motherhood make us happier? Does not having children make us unhappy? The answer to these questions is not as simple as it seems. The happiness and satisfaction we experience depends on many factors, many of which are beyond our control. While it is true that how we choose to give meaning to our lives is a key factor, as is the social support we have to provide to our parents and the political climate that surrounds us.

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This article was originally published on The Conversation.


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