The pains and pleasures of parenting: when, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?

Psychol Bull. 2014 May;140(3):846-895. doi: 10.1037/a0035444. Epub 2014 Feb 3.


The relationship between parenthood and well-being has become a hot topic among scholars, media, and general public alike. The research, however, has been mixed-some studies indicate that parents are happier than nonparents, whereas others suggest the reverse. We suggest that the question of whether parents are more or less happy than their childless peers is not the most meaningful one. To reconcile the conflicting literature and expand understanding of the emotional experience of parenthood, we present a model of parents' well-being that describes why and how parents experience more or less happiness than nonparents (i.e., mediators of the link between parenthood and well-being). We then apply this model to explain when parents are more likely to experience more or less happiness (i.e., moderators of parents' well-being, such as parent age or child temperament). Supporting our model, we review 3 primary methodological approaches: studies comparing parents and nonparents, studies examining changes in well-being across the transition to parenthood, and studies comparing parents' experiences while with their children to their other daily activities. Our review suggests that the relationship between parenthood and well-being is highly complex. We propose that parents are unhappy to the extent that they encounter relatively greater negative emotions, magnified financial problems, more sleep disturbance, and troubled marriages. By contrast, when parents experience greater meaning in life, satisfaction of their basic needs, greater positive emotions, and enhanced social roles, they are met with happiness and joy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Pleasure*