Parenthood Can Taste Bitter or Sweet, Depending on Your Age

Filed under: In The News

parenthood happiness study

Kids make parents happier as Mom and Dad age. Credit: Getty

Parenting, it turns out, is like wine. It gets better with age.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found having babies often bums out people in their 20s. They can't party as much, and all that money spent on diapers keeps them from buying an awesome new dirt bike.

Aw, maaaan!

However, a press release from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, the largest demographic research body in Europe and one of the largest in the world, says people's attitudes change as they grow older. By the time they hit middle age, this idea of having little ones to love (and who will love them in return) seems pretty awesome, too.

According the release, people older than 50 can't get enough of kids. Researchers found older parents were generally happier than their childless peers -- no matter how many kids they had running around the house.

By contrast, researchers discovered, the happiness of 20-somethings takes a dip even after one child comes into the picture, and dips more and more as each new baby comes along.

Parents in their 30s are just as happy as childless couples -- until they have four or more children. In their 40s, parents are happy until they have more than three children.

Then, people hit 50, and suddenly there's always room for one more. Or two. Or three.

"Children may be a long-term investment in happiness," demographer Mikko Myrskylä of the Max Planck Institute says in the release.

Myrskylä worked with Rachel Margolis from the University of Pennsylvania on the report published in the latest issue of the journal Population and Development Review, and the researchers say their data on parental happiness is global.

Thirty-somethings in Germany are likely to have the same level of happiness regarding children as a similar demographic in the United States.

In the release, Myrskylä says the study debunks the fairytale notion that children universally bring happiness.

"Seeing the age trend of happiness independent of sex, income, partnership status and even fertility rates shows that one has to explain it from the perspective of the stage of parent's life," he says.

But there is one dynamic -- independent of age -- to consider.

The study suggests older parents with numerous children are particularly happy in former socialist states. That's because those countries have less developed social welfare systems, and parents depend more on their grown children for financial support.

Researchers collected data from more than 200,000 men and women and men from 1981 to 2005. According to the release, this is the largest international survey ever to include questions concerning happiness and parenting.

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