The "happiness penalty" between parents and non-parents in the U.S. — that is, in which nonparents report being happier than their counterparts — is wider than in any of the other 21 countries researchers have analyzed. Now those researchers say they've managed to pinpoint exactly why, and it all boils down to family support policies.
"As social scientists, we rarely completely explain anything, but in this case we completely" do, lead researcher Jennifer Glass tells Quartz. The researchers write that what they found "was astonishing": When there are good family support policies such as parental leave and paid vacation in place, "the parental deficit in happiness was completely eliminated, accomplished by raising parent’s happiness rather than lowering nonparents' happiness."
The Chicago Tribune reports a slew of factors were considered, including unplanned parenthood, guaranteed paid sick days, the flexibility of work schedules and a country's GDP — things that allowed researchers to confirm that more unexpected pregnancies, bigger families, or living in a richer country weren't the drivers. "The negative effects of parenthood on happiness were entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations."
Further, those countries with the best policy "packages” had no happiness gap between parents and non-parents. Quips the Tribune, "It's almost like trying to raise children and earn a living in a country with zero weeks of guaranteed paid leave and childcare that costs as much as college is draining. Who knew?"