The Quick Report

Can Not Having Kids Make You a Happier Adult?


There are two opposing beliefs concerning having children and personal happiness as an adult. One group believes that having children is central to happiness. They believe that not having kids leads to unfulfilled lives.

The other group believes that not having children makes them happier. They claim their lives aren’t lacking fulfillment.

Which group is correct? Researchers took up this question of children and life fulfillment, analyzing numerous studies to find the answer. But that answer turned out to be complicated. A lot of variables are involved and these factors are complex.

Let’s look at both groups and their perspective on the argument on child rearing and fulfillment. There is also a third group we will explore, those who wanted children but could not have them.

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Group 1: Having Kids and Life Fulfillment

For many people, life is about family. Naturally, you might assume that people with this perspective might automatically see happiness and fulfillment in having a child. However, it’s more complicated than that.

The Parenthood Paradox

Even people who want children may experience a temporary decrease in well-being. This occurs initially after having a child. This is known as the “parenthood paradox.”

There are many reasons for this. Babies come with responsibilities. These responsibilities interfere with many of the basic needs of the parents. They lose sleep, don’t eat well, and may not be able to see friends. The burden of these interferences from parenting can bring discontentment.


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Women may have more discontentment than men. This is logical since the burden of care for an infant disproportionately falls on women.

However, active and equally involved co-parenting, as well as family support, can offset these stresses. They can be offset even further with good social support and supportive work policies for parents.

Results for Men and Women: Joy and meaning

Researchers found that those parents who wanted children found happiness and fulfillment in life. 

Psychologists call this “eudaimonic well-being.” This is a type of well-being described as the feeling of having lived a life worth living. This is distinct from short-term happiness. 

Both men and women can experience eudaimonic well-being when they become parents. However, researchers found that the level of eudaimonic well-being for women was dependent on how well their partner balanced the parenting duties.

Group 2: Not Having Kids and Life Fulfillment

What did researchers find out about the people who say not having children makes them happier and they feel no loss of fulfillment? The answer for this group was simple. No, they didn’t need to have children to be happy and fulfilled.

Results for Women

Researchers found that of women who were child-free by choice, most had a good sense of identity and individuality. They didn’t feel defined by their role within the family. The women also felt they had more freedom and control over their bodies, life, and future.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the child-free women reported greater financial stability. However, researchers also found that higher socioeconomic status wasn’t a major factor in deciding not to have children. In other words, they felt being childless was right for them regardless of their status.

Interestingly, researchers found that women in Norway didn’t report a loss of happiness when they had children. Researchers think this may be due to the family-friendly policies the country has enacted. Laws in Norway make it possible for both parents to raise children while maintaining careers.

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Results for Men

One study of men who were purposely child-free were the most satisfied with their decision. They were happy having more freedom in their life. 

Only a few men expressed regrets about being child-free. The majority of those specified their regret was due to not leaving a legacy.

Researchers also found that in older age, men who lack social support may experience a reduction in overall life satisfaction.

Results for Women and Men

For both child-free women and men, they reported being less stressed on average. They reported greater satisfaction in their marriages.

The research showed that child-free older adults reported high satisfaction with life and resiliency against poor mental health.

What researchers took away from the studies was that the biggest factor in the decision to have or not have children was whether a person felt in control of that decision. In other words, when people choose their own path, they tend to accept their decisions and are happier about them.

3. Group 3: Inability to Have Kids and Life Fulfillment

There is a category that falls in between the previous two: Not having a child because you didn’t have a choice. In other words, people who wanted a child but were unable to have one for any of numerous reasons. 

Can those people still be happy and feel fulfilled? The research showed the answer to this dilemma was resoundingly, “yes.”

Researchers found that the well-being of people in this situation was essentially no different than that of the general public. While 12 percent felt aimless in their lives afterward, 24 percent were flourishing by psychological standards. This means they reported the highest level of mental health. The remaining percentage experienced moderate levels of well-being.

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Post-Traumatic Growth

Researchers also discovered an interesting result they defined as “post-traumatic growth.” This refers to those who experienced positive psychological changes in their lives after experiencing an otherwise traumatic event. In other words, those who went through the traumatic experience of not being able to have a child when they desperately wanted one.

Women who experienced post-traumatic growth were those who were able to focus on new possibilities in their lives outside of being a parent. These women reported the highest levels of well-being.

The studies also looked at men who were unable to have children due to infertility. Many of them experienced sadness as a result. However, the sadness reduced as they got older. Some men found ways to re-frame their identity and role outside of fatherhood. These went on to find meaning and fulfillment in their life.