Parenthood and Happiness: Effects of Work-Family Reconciliation Policies in 22 OECD Countries

AJS. 2016 Nov;122(3):886-929. doi: 10.1086/688892.


The recent proliferation of studies examining cross-national variation in the association between parenthood and happiness reveal accumulating evidence of lower levels of happiness among parents than nonparents in most advanced industrialized societies. Conceptualizing parenting as a stressor buffered by institutional support, we hypothesize that parental status differences in happiness are smaller in countries providing more resources and support to families. Our analyses of the European Social Surveys (ESS) and International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) reveal considerable variation in the parenthood gap in happiness across countries, with the U.S. showing the largest disadvantage of parenthood. We also find that more generous family policies, particularly paid time off and childcare subsidies, are associated with smaller disparities in happiness between parents and non-parents. Moreover, the policies that augment parental happiness do not reduce the happiness of nonparents. Our results shed light on macro-level causes of emotional processes, with important implications for public policy.

MeSH terms

  • Family Leave*
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development
  • Organizational Policy
  • Parenting*
  • Parents
  • Workplace*