Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenthood and Life Satisfaction: Why Don't Children Make People Happy?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenthood and Life Satisfaction: Why Don't Children Make People Happy?

Article excerpt

One of the most frequently cited reasons for having children is the expectation of diverse emotional rewards of parenthood (Schoen, Kim, Nathanson, Fields, & Astone, 1997). Almost all empirical studies on the association between parenthood and subjective well-being, however, have ascertained that parents of minor children are no happier or are even less happy than childless people. McLanahan and Adams (1987) concluded in their widely cited review that "no [scholar] has found that parents are better off than nonparents on any of the conventional measures of well-being" (p. 243). Severalstudies on the association between parenthood and life satisfaction published in the 1990s and 2000s confirmed McLanahan and Adams's conclusion (e.g., Evenson & Simon, 2005; Nomaguchi & Milkie, 2003). In a recent survey of the literature on this issue, Hansen (2012) noted that "most cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence suggests ...thatpeople are better off without having children" (p.29).

Many scholars in the field of family research, such as Bird (1997), Evenson and Simon (2005), Nomaguchi and Milkie (2003), McLanahan and Adams (1987), Twenge, Campbell, and Foster (2003),andVanassche,Swicegood,andMatthijs (2013), have claimed that parenthood is both rewarding and burdensome and that the posi- tive and negative effects of children offset each other. This hypothesis has been described as the cost-of-children hypothesis (Hansen, 2012) or the demand-reward perspective (Nomaguchi, 2012). Empirical studies, however, have largely focused on the burdensome aspect of parent- hood. Previous research has shown that par- enthood is associated with increased marital conflict (Nomaguchi & Milkie, 2003), depres- sion (Evenson & Simon, 2005), decreased mar- ital satisfaction (Keizer, Dykstra, & Poortman, 2010; Twenge et al., 2003), and decreased sat- isfaction with one's financial situation (Stanca, 2012).Incontrast,asNomaguchi(2012)recently pointed out, explicit empirical research that focuses on the rewards of parenthood has been limited. To understand the psychological conse- quences of parenthood, however, it is important to recognize not only the burdensome aspects but also the beneficial aspects thereof and to grasp the ways in which they offset each other.

This study contributes to the literature on parental well-being by investigating how financial and time costs of children act as suppressors of parents' life satisfaction. Although the cost-of-children hypothesis has been proposed in the research on parenthood as the primary reason why parenthood does not enhance life satisfaction, I am aware of no study to date that has examined how and to what extent the costs and benefits of parenthood offset each other. Drawing on the basic arguments of the value-of-children approach, I hypothesized that (a) parenthood on its own has a positive effect on life satisfaction, (b) these life satisfaction- enhancing effects are offset by child costs, and (c) the impact of children on life satisfaction varies according to the family context. Some family circumstances, such as single parenthood or parenthood in dual-earner households, have been shown to be particularly burdensome and stressful (Simon, 2008), whereas others, such as having newborns or toddlers in the household, may be exceptionally rewarding. In the present studyItookdiversityamongparentsintoaccount by considering the number and age of children, the marital status of parents, and the employment arrangements of parents. Because the main objective of this study was to scrutinize the counteracting forces of child costs and child benefits, my analysis focused on parents with children under the age of 18 years living at home.

It should be noted that in the empirical analysis I used data from Germany and that the benefits and costs of children may vary between different normative and institutional settings. In contrast to the United States, where most adults believe that parenthood is pivotal for developing and maintaining emotional well-being and that childlessness leads to feelings of loneliness and emptiness (Simon, 2008), adults in Germany hold more ambivalent views of parenthood and are less likely to consider children as central to their personal fulfillment (Sobotka & Testa, 2008). …

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