Does having children make us happy?

The prevailing belief in many parts of the world is that having children is the key to happiness, and that people who do not have children do not feel fulfilled. But is it really so? The answer to this question is both simple and complex, and how satisfied you feel in life, whether or not you decide to have children, depends on many complex factors.

Let’s look at the simple answer first: No, it is not necessary to have children to be happy and feel fulfilled. Studies of women who are childless by choice show that most women feel they have a good sense of identity and personality. They no longer feel defined by their role within the family and feel that they have more freedom and control over their bodies, their lives, and their future. Childless women also report greater economic stability, although being of high socioeconomic status is not necessary to be satisfied with the decision not to have children.


The vast majority of people who decide not to have children are satisfied with their decision


A man reads a book with his daughters

Alex Garcia/On

Women and men who do not have children also are less stressed, on average, and report greater satisfaction in their marriages.

There have been very few studies of single men and their childless experiences, and even fewer studies of transsexuals or men’s childless experiences. Weird, But a study of men who had decided not to have children showed that the majority were satisfied with their decision and happy to have more freedom in their lives. Only a few regretted their decision, especially because they would have no 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.

paradox of parenthood

Things become a little more complicated when we look at the decision to have children. While there is no doubt that parents can feel happy and fulfilled in life, the satisfaction they feel with this decision often evolves over time, and may also depend on a number of factors that they Can’t control.

father and son

Many parents experience a temporary decline in health after having children; satisfaction comes m

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Many parents initially experience a temporary decline in health after childbirth, known as the “parenting paradox”. This is because many of a newborn’s basic needs may get in the way, such as sleep, good food, and meeting friends. This could be a recipe for dissatisfaction.

Heterosexual women also report more unhappiness with motherhood than men. This may be because the burden of care often falls disproportionately on women.

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juan manuel garcia

harassing parents and children

But good family and social support, an equally active and involved co-parent, and living in an area with policies that support work and family can reduce the stress and costs of parenthood.

Perhaps this explains why Norwegian women do not report a lack of happiness when having children, as Norway has many family-friendly policies that make it possible for both parents to raise children and have careers.

Although having children can be difficult, that doesn’t mean that this step can’t bring joy, happiness, and greater meaning to life. The experience of fatherhood and motherhood can also lead to a deeper form of well-being called eudaimonic well-being. It is about the feeling of living a meaningful life, as distinct 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 regrets

A father takes his son to school

A 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 adults show that many of them have high life satisfaction and resilience despite poor mental health.

It seems that the main key to being happy with the decision of whether or not to have children depends on whether you have control over the matter. When we feel we have chosen our path, we accept our decisions and are happy with them.

But what if that option was taken away from you and you wanted to have a child but couldn’t? Can you be happy then? Our research shows 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 not finding a partner or infertility. The age of the participants ranged between 25 and 75 years.

It was found that, on average, participants’ well-being did not differ from that of the general public. While 12% were depressed (that is, they felt their lives had no clear direction), 24% were psychologically thriving, meaning they had the highest levels of mental health. The rest experienced moderate levels of well-being.

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mayte rius

Father and daughter enjoying at home.  Sitting in bed and reading a book together.

Interestingly, for some people the struggle to have a child resulted in post-traumatic growth. It refers to 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 possibilities in their lives other than motherhood helped them improve their well-being.

Studies of men who are unable to have children due to infertility show that many experienced grief as a result, although this grief diminished with age. However, like involuntarily childless women, finding ways to redefine their identity and role in society outside of parenting helped many find meaning and satisfaction in their lives.

So, does fatherhood or motherhood make us happier? Does the lack of children make us sad? The answer to these questions is not as easy as it seems. The happiness or satisfaction we experience depends on many factors, many of which are beyond our control. While it is true that the way we choose to give meaning to our lives is an important factor, the social support we receive as parents and the political environment around us is also an important factor.

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This article was originally published on The Conversation.


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