How Not Having Children Affects Your Happiness

Are people who choose not to have children any less happy, or perhaps happier, than those who do have children?

Are people who choose not to have children any less happy, or perhaps happier, than those who do have children?

Couples who choose not to have children are just as happy as those with children, a survey suggests.

Happiness in this study was measured in terms of life satisfaction.

Life satisfaction is an overall judgement about one’s life as opposed to moment-by-moment happiness.

In this sense, child-free couples are judging their lives as just as satisfying as those with children.

The term ‘child-free’ is intended to convey the idea of choice about child-bearing, explained Dr Jennifer Watling Neal, the study’s first author:

“Most studies haven’t asked the questions necessary to distinguish ‘child-free’ individuals — those who choose not to have children — from other types of nonparents.

Nonparents can also include the ‘not-yet-parents’ who are planning to have kids, and ‘childless’ people who couldn’t have kids due to infertility or circumstance.

Previous studies simply lumped all nonparents into a single category to compare them to parents.”

The conclusions come from a survey of 1,000 adults in Michigan.

Dr Zachary Neal, study co-author, explained the results:

“After controlling for demographic characteristics, we found no differences in life satisfaction and limited differences in personality traits between child-free individuals and parents, not-yet-parents, or childless individuals.

We also found that child-free individuals were more liberal than parents, and that people who aren’t child-free felt substantially less warm toward child-free individuals.”

The researchers were surprised by the number of child-free couples in Michigan, Dr Jennifer Watling Neal said:

“We found that more than one in four people in Michigan identified as child-free, which is much higher than the estimated prevalence rate in previous studies that relied on fertility to identify child-free individuals.

These previous studies placed the rate at only 2% to 9%.

We think our improved measurement may have been able to better capture individuals who identify as child-free.”

Child-free couples are happier

Other studies have suggested that child-free couples are happier, especially in the United States.

The happiness gap between parents and non-parents is greatest in the US across 22 industrialised countries.

This could be down to policies that are relatively unsupportive for families.

Many parents will naturally disagree with the finding that non-parents are happier.

One reason parents feel that children make them happier is the happiness boost from having a first and second child (but not a third — by then it is commonplace).

One study has found that it provides a happiness boost equivalent to getting married or getting a new job.

It is this increase in happiness early on that gives the impression that having children is linked to more happiness.

The boost is relatively short-lived, probably lasting only through the first year of the child’s life.

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Neal & Neal, 2021).

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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