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According to a study done for the Council on Contemporary Families that studied 22 countries (European and English-speaking destinations), the United States has the largest deficit in terms of happiness when comparing parents and people without children. Utilizing the International Social Surveys of 2007 and 2008, and the European Social Surveys from 2006 and 2008, researchers from the University of Texas, Baylor University, and Wake Forest University found that most countries dealt with some pretty unhappy parents while a few, including Norway and Hungary, had more caregivers who were actually happier than nonparents. What’s that really all about?

Well, the study’s findings seem to come about not because, as some would assume, having a child is this soul-crushing thing that zaps you of all your time, money, and energy; but rather, it’s because of the lack of policies set up to provide affordable child care and opportunities for employees to spend time with their kids. Parents from the United States were the most unhappy due to the lack of policy changes that could be most beneficial, including a focus on “the duration and generosity of paid parenting leave, the number of annual paid sick and vacation days guaranteed by law, the cost of child care for the average two-year old as a percent of median wages, and the extent of work schedule flexibility offered to parents of dependent children.”

Without some flexibility with these things, many mothers and fathers find it hard to balance their work responsibilities and their familial obligations. As researchers pointed out, countries that had pretty solid policies to help working parents found no gap in happiness for those with kids and those without. In fact, they found that policies that were beneficial for nonparents, including guaranteed minimum paid sick leave and vacation days, helped parents and made everyone happier. The same was true for certain countries that offered less expensive out-of-pocket costs for child care. Fathers reported that their happiness was more likely to be impacted by child care costs, and mothers said their happiness was most affected by time policies, including paid sick and vacation days, allowing them more or less time to be at home with their families.

So to summarize, the better the packages and policies that benefit working moms and dads, the happier they are. When they aren’t so accommodating for parents, you see the large gap in happiness between those with and without children. The less stressful balancing work while raising children is for parents, it seems, the happier everyone is.

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