Work, Children and Life Satisfaction

October 14, 2012 by Ken Nowack

“You can learn many things from children.  How much patience you have, for instance.” 

Franklin P. Jones

It is common in most of my coaching engagements to hear my clients share perceptions of high levels of work–family balance challenges and work stressors. Perceptions of stress are often quite high, with 40 to 60 per cent of all clients reporting very high levels caused by both work and home pressures and challenges1.

The most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households show that the average partner in a “wife role” does 31 hours of housework a week while the average “husband” does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one (I wonder when I’m asked to clearn the bathroom again because it “really doesn’t look like I did it” helps to counteract this statistic).

So, does having children make you psychologically healthier, happier and less prone to depression?

Or, does it make more sense just to be the best aunts and uncles you can and remain childless throughout life?

One recent review of over 100 research studies found that parents report significantly lower marital satisfaction than non-parents. In a recent meta-analytic review of the subject, only 38% of mothers of infants have high marital satisfaction, compared to 62% of childless women2. Other findings included:

  • A significant negative correlation between marital satisfaction and number of children (d = -.13, r = -.06)
  • The effect of parenthood on marital satisfaction is more negative among high socioeconomic groups, younger birth cohorts, and in more recent years

In general, parents are approximately 7% less likely to report high levels of well-being than partners/couples who are childless3.

A study by Florida State University professor Robin Simon and Vanderbilt University’s Ranae Evenson found that parents have significantly higher levels of depression than adults who do not have children. Even more surprising, the symptoms of depression do not go away when the kids grow up and move out of the house4. Additionally, empty-nest parents were not less distressed than their childless counterparts with respect to depression in their 2005 findings.

Evanson and Simon’s analyses were from the the National Survey of Families and Households, which was based a national sample of 13,000 U.S. adults. Using 12 items from the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, the researchers went beyond looking at emotional well-being and researched the relationship between parenthood and symptoms of depression.

So how can you raise your level of happiness if you have kids? Maybe just pray–in Brook’s 2008 book one surprising finding was that religious people are on average almost twice as likely to be happy as non-religous people….Be well…..

  1. Nowack, K. (2008). Coaching for Stress: StressScan. Editor: Jonathan Passmore, Psychometrics in Coaching, Association for Coaching, UK, pp. 254-274 []
  2. Jean M Twenge, W. Keith Campbell and Craig A. Foster, “Parenthood and Marital Satisfaction: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 65 (August 2003): 574-583 []
  3. Brooks, A. (2008). Gross national happiness: Why happiness matters for america and how we can get more of it. New York: Basic Books []
  4. Simon, Robin W. (2008). “Life’s Greatest Joy?: The Negative Emotional Effects of Children on Adults.” Contexts []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, and is a guest lecturer at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Wellness

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