New research suggests that having kids doesn’t make parents unhappy — but the cost of raising them might

The financial burden of having children can affect parents' happiness.

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The financial burden of having children can affect parents’ happiness.
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  • Studies have shown that adults become less happy around the time they have children.
  • But new research suggests that their dip in happiness is because of the financial burden of having children, not the children themselves.
  • It costs about $250,000 to raise a child to the age of 18 in the US.

Having kids doesn’t always make parents happier. In fact, research has shown that in general, having kids actually makes parents less happy.

But a recent study may have finally found the cause of their unhappiness: money.

After accounting for the financial strain that parenthood brings, it turns out having children doesn’t reduce parental happiness, but increases it, authors David Blanchflower and Andrew Clark wrote in a working paper published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The researchers surveyed about a million European respondents over a 10-year period ending in 2018, asking them to rate their life satisfaction throughout the decade on a scale from one to four. They also asked, “During the last twelve months, would you say you had difficulties to pay your bills at the end of the month?”

The respondents’ happiness levels dipped around the times they had children.

But the cause of this drop in happiness was clear: financial struggles, not the act of having children itself. It costs about $250,000 to raise a child to the age of 18, according to a Merrill Lynch report last year, and some European countries reported similarly high figures.

“When we started asking the question ‘Do you have difficulty paying your bills?’ I could see it all anew,” Blanchflower told Business Insider. “By simply looking at that one little variable, we could flip the data and see things differently.”

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Blanchflower cited the rising costs of childcare as one of the biggest strains on new parents’ budgets, along with student loans and underemployment among young people. Weekly childcare costs in the US have soared to $143, according to the most recent data.

“Children are expensive, making it difficult for some parents to pay the bills,” Blanchflower wrote in the paper. “Our findings illustrate how you can flip the notion that children make parents unhappy. Once you control for a household’s financial circumstances, including any difficulties that parents may have, the negative impact of children on life satisfaction disappears and becomes positive.”

In other words, kids raise their parents’ happiness “as long as they do not lead to difficulties in paying the bills,” he wrote.

The authors also found that children in their teenage years bring less happiness to their parents than kids under the age of 10, and single parents are generally less happy than those in two-parent families.