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Empty Nesters Are Happier Than Childless Adults, According to Science

Best Life logo Best Life 8/19/2019 Diana Bruk
a man holding a frisbee: Want to keep your marriage strong? Take any opportunity to spend time together. “Just going to the grocery store together should be treated like a date,” says Barbara’s husband, Bill. © Provided by Best Life

Want to keep your marriage strong? Take any opportunity to spend time together. “Just going to the grocery store together should be treated like a date,” says Barbara’s husband, Bill.

You’ve probably seen a lot of headlines in recent years saying that single, childfree women are happier than those who choose to have a family. But a new study published in the journal PLoS One is debunking that myth. According to the latest findings, older adults who have children are happier than those who are childless, with one important caveat: their kids don’t live at home when they grow up.

The researchers behind the study from Heidelberg University in Germany asked more than 50,000 adults over the age of 50 from 16 European countries questions regarding their wellbeing and mental health. They found that parents tended to be happier than non-parents in their twilight years, but only if their kids had moved out.

“The results suggest that the finding of a negative link between children and wellbeing and mental health may not generalize to older people whose children have often left home already,” the study authors conclude. “As stress associated with balancing the competing demands of childcare, work, and personal life decreases, once people get older and their children leave house, the importance of children as caregivers and social contacts might prevail.”

Granted, happiness is notoriously difficult to scientifically evaluate, and it’s worth noting that the difference in happiness levels between older parents and non-parents is not terribly extreme: Respondents were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied), and parents scored an average of a half point higher than non-parents. Still, author Christoph Becker told New Scientist, “Children’s role as caregivers, financial support, or simply as social contact might outweigh negative aspects of parenthood.”

While it’s not groundbreaking to suggest that having kids can make people happier later on in life, the caveat that they need to move out is significant given that there are currently more young adults living at home with their parents than with a romantic partner or spouse for the first time in over a century. So if you’re looking to really enjoy your golden years, it might be time to ask your kids to fly the nest. After all, science says so.

And for some inspiration on what to do with your newfound freedom, check out The Worst and Best U.S. Cities for Retirement.

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