Do parents have a happier life than non-parents? The role of gender attitudes

Nicoletta Balbo, Università Bocconi
Bruno Arpino, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

This paper aims to investigate whether there is a causal relationship between parenthood and subjective well-being, studying the effect of first childbirth on an individual’s life satisfaction. Specifically, we aim at answering to the following research question: Is an individual who has a child more satisfied than his/her childless counterpart who has the same socio-economic characteristics and attitudes? Existing longitudinal studies only look at parents, not comparing them with their non-parent counterparts. At the same time, previous studies do not take into account that people might have different values, attitudes and expectations about childbearing. These cultural differences might shape how life satisfaction is affected by parenthood. We therefore adopt a longitudinal approach, within which we compare parents with their childless counterparts, who share not only the same socio-economic characteristics but also the same attitudes. Using the British Household Panels Survey and engaging in a propensity score matching, we show that parents are significantly more satisfied than non-parents. This effect is found to be stronger among men than among women. However, the positive effect of childbearing seems to be mostly limited to the year before childbirth, which can be interpreted as a strong anticipation effect. Almost no long-lasting positive effects on life satisfaction after childbirth are found. We moreover find that more traditional women are those who benefit more from childbearing in terms of increased life satisfaction. Mothers with more gender egalitarian attitudes show a decrease in life satisfaction in the long-run compared to non-mothers with the same attitudes. Life satisfaction of women who have adaptive gender attitudes is barely affected by childbearing.

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Presented in Session 72: Fertility and happiness