Politics and happy parents

So, among the more interesting social science findings is the one that parents are less happy than their non-parent peers (here’s a post I wrote about it many years ago).  Kids, damnit!  Of course, part of that could be the difference between moment-to-moment happiness as opposed to life satisfaction.  And, also, whether the parents are married or not.

Anyway, interesting new study reported in the NYT that looks at the issue cross-nationally and concludes that politics and policy really matter:

Based on data from 22 countries and two international surveys of well-being, researchers found that American parents face the largest happiness shortfall compared to people who don’t have children. The happiness gap between parents and nonparents in the United States is significantly larger than the gap found in other industrialized nations, including Great Britain and Australia. And in other Western countries, the happiness gap is nonexistent or even reversed. Parents in Norway, Sweden and Finland — and Russia and Hungary — report even greater levels of happiness than their childless peers.  [emphases mine]

The researchers, led by the University of Texas sociology professor Jennifer Glass, looked for factors that might explain the international differences in parental happiness, and specifically why parents in the United States suffer a greater happiness penalty than their peers around the world.

They discovered the gap could be explained by differences in family-friendly social policies such as subsidized child care and paid vacation and sick leave. In countries that gave parents what researchers called “the tools to combine work and family,” the negative impact of parenting on happiness disappeared.

“We comprehensively tested every other alternative,” said Dr. Glass, the lead author of the study, which will be published in the American Journal of Sociology in September. “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.”

Notably, the researchers found that economic differences, whether a parent was married or partnered and whether the pregnancy was planned or unintended had no impact on the happiness gap. They also considered the impact of other family-friendly social policies, such as extended maternity and paternity leaves, flexible schedules and even policies that gave money to parents in the form of a child allowance or monthly payments.

Paid parenting leave has “nowhere near as big an effect as these other two policies, “said Dr. Glass, while the other policies didn’t have a significant impact on the happiness gap. Policies that made it less stressful and less costly to combine child rearing with paid work “seem to be the ones that really matter.”

Hmmm, if there was only something we could learn from this for the U.S.  And as for this happy parent, being a college professor is a terrific occupation for combining child-rearing with paid work.  I guess that’s why these guys make me so happy.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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