Having children does make you happier... but only once they've left home
Parenting / 20 August 2019, 2:30pm / VICTORIA ALLEN
London - Parents are happier than those without children… eventually.
For the joy comes only after they have flown the nest, according to a study.
It found that while their children are still at home, parents are more likely to suffer depressive symptoms and be dissatisfied with life as they juggle family responsibilities and work.
But after they have grown up and left, they can provide social contact that boosts their parents’ wellbeing and mental health, according to the study of 55 000 people aged over 50.
Dr Christoph Becker, first author of the research from the University of Heidelberg in Germany, said: "Parents on average had a higher life satisfaction and fewer depressive symptoms if their children were not living in the same household.
"Unfortunately, our dataset does not include enough information to tell us directly what causes this finding. Our best guess is that the stress involved in raising children reduces average life satisfaction.
"Once children are older, have moved out and lead more independent lives, positive effects such as their role as social contact and caregivers might prevail."
Earlier this year it was reported that unmarried, childless women are the happiest group in the population, while previous research has shown that parents have worse wellbeing than couples without children.
To test this in the new study, researchers examined the responses of people in 16 European countries asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 0-10.
They were also asked about their quality of life, with questions such as how often they felt family responsibilities prevented them from doing what they wanted or how regularly they felt their life had meaning.
To judge depressive symptoms, they were asked whether they had trouble sleeping, felt sad or struggled to concentrate.
The results showed parents had worse wellbeing when their children lived at home, but better wellbeing than non-parents after their offspring had moved out.
Those who were able to discuss important issues and problems with their children or family also appeared to have fewer depressive symptoms.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, says: "As stress associated with balancing the competing demands of childcare, work and personal life decreases, once people get older and their children leave the house, the importance of children as caregivers and social contacts might prevail."
Last year Professor Nicholas Wolfinger, from the University of Utah in the US, looked at the connection between children and happiness over 40 years.
His research found that older parents with children at home were about 5% less happy than those with an empty nest.