A new study, due to be published in the America Journal of Sociology in September, has found that your degree of happiness as a parent can be attributed to one very interesting factor; the country in which you live.
Yep, using data from over 22 countries researchers found that parents in the United States of America experienced a larger ‘gap’ in their reported level of happiness than their non-parent counterparts living in the same country. The gap noted was significantly larger than other Western countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, both of which still still experienced a noticeable gap between those with, and those without kids.
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However, in some western countries like Norway, Finland, Sweden, Hungary and Russia parents were actually found to be happier than non-parents. There was no happiness gap reported whatsoever.
The idea of a happiness gap is nothing new. Research has shown time after time that having children does not make a person happier. It’s actually often the opposite. The ‘happiness gap’ is a term coined by researchers which is used to describe the gap that exists between parents and non-parents. Studies indicate that those with children often pay what’s called a ‘happiness penalty’ when they step into their new role of mum or dad.
So what’s the deal? Well, it would be easy to assume that the happiness gap is a result of things like parental relationship, income, living conditions, schooling or even whether or not the pregnancy was planned. But that’s not the case according to this study.
Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas, Jennifer Glass, says that the key to parental happiness was found to be directly linked to the country's family friendly policies. She says "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. Countries with better family policy ‘packages’ had no happiness gap between parents and non-parents,”
Speaking to the New York Times, Glass said that the research team ensured they tested every other alternative in their quest to determine the difference in reported levels of happiness in parents all over the world. "“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.”
The study is interesting because it compares policies related to things like maternity leave and child care arrangements and found that in countries like France who have long standing policies which support working parents, levels of happiness were significantly higher.
In comparison to Australia's child care policies which see parents pay a significant portion of their wage, not to mention the huge waitlists and fees just to gain a place, France's "Family Allowance Fund" pays working mothers between 16 and 28 weeks full time salary as well as funds to pay for childcare should a mother choose to return to work. Their childcare workers are paid well, and trained properly. French parents also have a wider range of childcare options available to them and a more flexible approach to work hours.
Interestingly, the Unites States is the only country that does not have a mandated maternity leave policy in place for expectant mothers. It was also the country who reported the largest happiness gap.
The study also found however that solid family friendly policies also had an impact on non-parents in society, a finding researchers say they did not predict.
"That more paid sick leave and vacation time would make non-parents happier was no surprise, but we were a little puzzled that lower child care costs would show an effect on non-parents,” Dr. Glass said.
She says the reason was because of what economists call an indirect benefit. This means that all members of society are better off when governments invest in the future of the labour force, and all members of society experience the negative effects of them failing to do so.