Why American parents have the biggest “happiness gap”
The United States is home to the biggest “happiness gap,” a new study found.
The “happiness gap” refers to the variance in happiness between couples who have children and those who do not. The study, published in the American Journal of Sociology, analyzed and compared data from 22 countries including Russia, Australia, New Zealand and countries in Europe. They found that in the US, parents are less happy than their childless peers and attributed the large gap to a lack of work-life balance and flexibility.
“Pressures from employers to ‘do more with less’ and advances in technology make it challenging for employees to fully disconnect from work at the end of the day,” says Dr. Brittany Lakin-Starr, a psychologist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “It is easy to join a conference call from home or check emails from a Hawaiian vacation. While this may be helpful in a pinch, it should not be the expectation. Not having a distinctive split between work and home life can lead to poor work-life balance for couples with and without children.”
Yet, striking this work-life balance for parents can be even more challenging because when their day job ends, child-related tasks begin, adds Dr., Lakin-Starr. Even with fathers taking a more active role in raising a child, mothers often still do the majority of child-related care and housework. This “second shift” adds additional pressure to already busy schedules.
Interestingly, the study also revealed that in countries with more standardized paid leave and vacation policies, couples with children may be even happier than those who do not have kids. In addition, benefits such as flexible work time and subsidized child care were found to increase the happiness of parents more than receiving child allowances or monthly payments.
“Jobs that require evening hours, do not offer flexible scheduling and have expectations of finishing work from home make it hard for families to find time to connect with each other and leave children competing for parents’ attention,” says Dr. Lakin-Starr. “For example, families are having dinner together less often, losing a valuable ritual that creates connection and strengthens emotional bonds.”
To increase work-life balance and happiness, Dr. Lakin-Starr recommends:
- Setting boundaries around work and home by designating specific times to check work emails or be logged into work accounts.
- Creating “no work” and “no electronic” times at home and taking time to connect with each other.
- Communicating with your partner about when you need a break; making time to nurture yourself both individually and as a couple (e.g., working out, reading, meeting friends for lunch, taking up a hobby); taking a few minutes each day to connect with your partner; and scheduling regular date nights.
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