Parenthood and happiness: effects of work-family reconciliation policies in 22 OECD countries

Jennifer Glass, University of Texas at Austin
Robin Simon, Wake Forest University
Matthew Andersson, University of Iowa

In contrast to widespread cultural beliefs that parenthood improves the health and happiness of adults, research finds that parents report lower levels of emotional well-being than non-parents in many developed countries. However, we currently do not know whether the parenthood penalty in personal happiness is smaller in economically advanced countries where public policies intended to reduce the stress associated with parenthood are more generous. Drawing on Link and Phelan’s (1995) argument about social conditions as fundamental causes of health inequalities, we examine whether the disparity in happiness between parents and nonparents is smaller in countries that provide more resources and social support to families than in countries that provide less assistance. Our analyses reveal that the parenthood gap in happiness is greater in the U.S. than in the other 21 OECD countries in our sample; they also indicate that larger disparities in happiness between parents and non-parents are due to less generous family policies, especially subsidized child care and paid leave. Our results shed light on macro-level causes of micro-level emotional processes and have important implications for public policy.

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Presented in Session 51: Labour force participation and family