Sleep deprived and miserable in their marriages – that's what many of the voluntarily childless see as the parent's lot. But they may be off the mark, according to two new studies that suggest parents may be happier than their childfree counterparts today.
"Parents have become relatively happier than non-parents over the past few decades," Chris Herbst, a co-author of the one of the studies, told USA Today.
Prof. Herbst, who teaches at Arizona State University, led a study of two surveys of 120,000 American adults conducted between 1972 and 2008. The surveys found that while parents were more despondent than non-parents between 1985 and 1995, those sentiments flipped between 1995 and 2008.
The other study looked at longitudinal data from 52,000 British and German parents, following them for five years before the birth of their child and then for four years after the birth. This data suggested that while happiness levels occasionally dropped after childbirth, typically they did not plunge below the point they were at before baby came along.
"We find no evidence that parental well-being decreases after a child is born to levels preceding the children, but we find strong evidence that well-being is elevated when people are planning and waiting for the child, and in the year when the child is born," note the study authors.
The European study also suggests that age shapes the experience, with younger parents suffering a "downward happiness trend." Postponing parenthood was correlated with more bliss after the birth – although the study's authors insist they aren't encouraging women to wait to "very high ages" to have their first child.
The study also reveals a law of diminishing returns: while happiness spikes substantially with the first child, by the second infant it only jumps a little, and may take a dip with the third.
Sorry, third child.
Are you happier than your childfree friends? Or are you hankering for their free time?