The Parenthood “Happiness Penalty”: The Effects of Social Policies in 22 Countries
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A large body of research has established that parents are less happy than nonparents. The main explanation for this “happiness penalty” is that stressors associated with parenthood – time and energy demands; sleep deprivation; work-family conflict; difficulty finding high-quality, affordable child care; and financial strain – may outweigh the personal gratification that parenthood can bring. But is it always true that parents are less happy than nonparents? These stressors can be alleviated with public policies such as paid time off, child care subsidies, and work schedule flexibility. Using data from the 2006 and 2008 European Social Survey (ESS) as well as the 2007 and 2008 International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), the authors investigate the impact of these policy solutions across 22 European and English-speaking countries on self-reported happiness for parents and nonparents. Because levels of happiness may vary across countries for cultural and other reasons, the researchers measure the cross-national variation in the difference, or gap, in happiness between parents and nonparents. In addition to exploring the impact of individual family-friendly policies, they also create a comprehensive policy index (CPI) that combines the availability of these policies into a single indicator to determine the impact of the policy “packages” on the happiness gap between parents and nonparents.