Survey finds parents of toddlers are ‘the happiest of all,’ but is that true?

Eve Dugdale
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Lifting my head off the pillow to yell: “Go back to sleep, it’s not morning yet,” I grimace.

It’s unlikely my toddler will do as I ask and after six hours of broken sleep, the inevitable trudge to the kitchen to make breakfast and answer one thousand questions before 6am awaits.


It’s at times like these when I miss my old life. The carefree days when I’d sleep, felt sane, when I had clean hair and my go-to outfit wasn’t leggings.

So I was really interested in the findings of recent research that revealed parents of toddlers have higher-than-average happiness scores.

Research by the National Centre for Social Research suggested that the value of parenthood and stronger social bonds outweighs the lack of sleep and financial pressures associated with having young children.

The findings revealed that having a child under five years old adds 3.3 points to a person’s happiness score. The index gives people a score out of 100, with the average non-parent scoring 62.2, while a parent of a child under five scores 65.5. This group ranked the best out of all with an average score just above that of the “Working Baby Boomers” (over 55s with no children). “Child-free Generation X” scored almost four points below the national average.

It’s something single nurse Bindi Chowdury can understand. She says: “My friends say I have a good life. I do a job I enjoy, go out to nice places and go on a lot of holidays. But friends my age are going away with their husbands and children and I would love to do that. I really feel like I’m missing something now.”

Doctor Saliha Afridi, a Clinical Psychologist at the UAE’s Lighthouse Center for Wellbeing says it’s important to see the survey results in context.

She says: “Often we just hear about the conclusion of the studies while not really knowing too much about the methodology, factor, and variables that led to those findings. The research findings on the happiness of parents versus childless couples has been varying. A lot of the research has found that couples who are childless are happier about their lives and their relationship than those who have children. Also there are other factors such as income, religion, age, education and better health that could account for some of the couples with children who are happier. Typically people with the aforementioned factors tend to be happier and they also tend to have children. When those factors were controlled, research actually finds no difference between parents and childless couples.

“Another good question to ask is how did they define happiness? Is it having a life of purpose, a life of pleasure, a life where one feels they are living their highest potential? Depending on how they measured happiness will determine the outcome of this study. Parents often feel like their life has more meaning but they may not feel that they are living their full potential or having a life where they are engaged in pleasurable activities.”

Doctor Afridi says understanding that happiness is determined by choice - choice equals freedom and freedom equals happiness for most individuals – is vital.

She adds: “If I chose to have a child and I have a child then I will be happy. The same also goes for couples who want to have a child and cannot have one due to infertility issues or financial ability to support a child - they are probably going to be less happy than other childless couples.

“Finally, we know from research that happiness is based on having deep attachments with the people in your life and that could be friends, family, nieces and nephews or children. It is important to know that children will not determine long-lasting happiness, it is having a deep intimate relationship with those children that will.”

One person who proves this to be true is Emma Smart. As a woman in her thirties who doesn’t have children, according to the survey findings she would be on the least happy end of the spectrum. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Emma says: “From personal observations of friends who had kids in the last five years, I would not say they were happier, they love their kids but at a cost of their happiness related to their relationship, financial means, freedom and lifestyle. Honestly, I think people with kids are not entirely honest about how they feel due to a combination of guilt for not feeling completely happy as a parent and fear of judgement by others for openly saying that having kids has affected their happiness.

“Being child-free, I think people are possibly more honest with me than they would be with someone who has children as I may be less likely to judge, that or they are trying to appease me in some way by saying having kids is a bit rubbish.

“I have never regretted mine and my partner’s decision to be child-free. I love our two-person family unit and we live unconventional lifestyles that would not suit having children. Environmentally, bringing more people into the world is not something either of us could justify either. We are so fortunate that we have four nieces with whom we love spending time with.”
Emma’s sister Clare is a mum-of-two who admits she was probably happier before having kids but says that has more to do with other lifestyle changes.

She says: “We relocated to London from Dubai, have the financial stress of only one income now, no freedom to leave the house on our own without two kids and their paraphernalia, loss of identity as a professional and also the impact to my career from my deciding to stay home and not work. There’s also the strain on my relationship with my husband, the loss of time for self - even just to try and look half decent - or time to go to the gym. However, and it’s such a cliché, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. My babies are my world and I feel blessed to be able to stay home with them while they are still little. I really wanted children and know that had it not happened I’d be really sad about that. I love the support we get from our family. Not only because it gives me a break but also because I love seeing my family get so much pleasure from spending time with my kids.”

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