European Journal of Population

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 387–411 | Cite as

Parenthood and Life Satisfaction in Europe: The Role of Family Policies and Working Time Flexibility

  • Matthias Pollmann-SchultEmail author


The life satisfaction of parents residing with dependent children varies greatly between countries. This article examines how country-level characteristics—the provision of family allowances and formal child care, and the level of working time flexibility—account for these cross-national differences, using data from the European Social Survey from 2004 and 2010 for 27 countries. Parents report greater life satisfaction in countries that offer generous financial benefits to families, high child care provision, and high working time flexibility than parents residing in counties with low levels of support. Results also show that these national contextual factors are associated with lower levels of financial strain and work–life conflicts among parents. These findings suggest that the mitigating effect of family benefits, child care provision, and working time flexibility on the psychosocial and financial burdens of parenthood is a key mechanism in the association between national contextual factors and parental life satisfaction.


Children Cross-country comparison Life satisfaction Policies Family stress 



This study was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), Grant Number: PO 1569/5.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


  1. Aassve, A., Goisis, A., & Sironi, M. (2012). Happiness and childbearing across Europe. Social Indicators Research, 108(1), 65–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aassve, A., Mencarini, L., & Sironi, M. (2015). Institutional change, happiness and fertility. European Sociological Review, 31(6), 749–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alesina, A., Di Tella, R., & MacCulloch, R. (2004). Inequality and happiness: Are Europeans and Americans different? Journal of Public Economics, 88(9–10), 2009–2042.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Argyle, M. (2003). Causes and correlates of happiness. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (Vol. 353–373). New York: Russel Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  5. Billingsley, S., & Ferrarini, T. (2014). Family policy and fertility intentions in 21 European countries. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(2), 428–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bird, C. E. (1997). Gender differences in the social and economic burden of parenting and psychological distress. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59(4), 809–823.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Daukantaite, D., & Zukauskiene, R. (2006). Swedish and Lithuanian employed women’s subjective well-being. International Journal of Social Welfare, 15(Suppl. 1), S23–S30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Evenson, R. J., & Simon, R. W. (2005). Clarifying the relationship between parenthood and depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46(4), 341–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fenwick, R., & Tausig, M. (2001). Scheduling stress family and health outcomes of shift work and schedule control. American Behavioral Scientist, 44(7), 1179–1198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fortin, N. M. (2005). Gender role attitudes and the labour-market outcomes of women across OECD countries. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 21(3), 416–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gallie, D., & Russel, H. (2009). Work family conflict and working conditions in Western Europe. Social Indicators Research, 93(3), 445–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Glass, J., Simon, R. W., & Anderson, K. G. (2016). Parenthood and happiness: Effects of work–family reconciliation policies in 22 OECD countries. American Journal of Sociology, 122(3), 886–929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grzywacz, J. G., Carlson, D. S., & Shulkin, S. (2008). Schedule flexibility and stress: Linking formal flexible arrangements and perceived flexibility to employee health. Community, Work and Family, 11(2), 199–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hank, K., & Wagner, M. (2013). Parenthood, marital status, and well-being in later life: Evidence from SHARE. Social Indicators Research, 114(2), 639–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hansen, T. (2012). Parenthood and happiness: A review of folk theories versus empirical evidence. Social Indicators Research, 108(1), 26–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hansen, T., Slagsvold, B., & Moum, T. (2009). Childlessness and psychological well-being in midlife and old age: An examination of parental status effects across a range of outcomes. Social Indicators Research, 94(2), 343–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jones, R. K., & Brayfield, A. (1997). Life’s greatest joy? European attitudes towards the centrality of children. Social Forces, 75(4), 1239–1269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Keizer, R., Dykstra, P. A., & Poortman, A.-R. (2010). The transition to parenthood and well-being: The impact of partner status and work hour transitions. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(4), 438–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Knudsen, K., & Wærness, K. (2008). National context and spouses’ housework in 34 countries. European Sociological Review, 24(1), 97–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kohler, H.-P. (2012). Do children bring happiness and purpose in life? In E. Kaufman & W. B. Wilcox (Eds.), Whither the child? Causes and consequences of low fertility (pp. 47–75). Boulder, London: Paradigm Publisher.Google Scholar
  21. Kohler, H.-P., Behrman, J. R., & Skytthe, A. (2005). Partner + children = happiness? The effects of partnerships and fertility on well-being. Population and Development Review, 31(3), 407–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kohler, H.-P., & Mencarini, L. (2016). The Parenthood Happiness Puzzle: An Introduction to the Special Issue. European Journal of Population, 32(3), 327–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Luppi, F. (2016). When is the second one coming? The effect of couple’s subjective well-being following the onset of parenthood. European Journal of Population, 32(3), 421–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Margolis, R., & Myrskylä, M. (2011). A global perspective on happiness and fertility. Population and Development Review, 37(1), 29–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Margolis, R., & Myrskylä, M. (2015). Parental well-being surrounding first birth as a determinant of further parity progression. Demography, 52(4), 1147–1166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mattingly, M. J., & Sayer, L. C. (2006). Under pressure: Gender differences in the relationship between free time and feeling rushed. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(1), 205–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Matysiak, A., Mencarini, L., & Vignoli, D. (2016). Work–family conflict moderates the relationship between childbearing and subjective well-being. European Journal of Population, 32(3), 355–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McLanahan, S., & Adams, J. (1987). Parenthood and psychological well-being. Annual Review of Sociology, 13, 237–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mikucka, M. (2016). How does parenthood affect life satisfaction in Russia? Advances in Life Course Research, 30, 16–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Misra, J., Budig, M. J., & Boeckmann, I. (2011). Work–family policies and the effects of children on women’s employment hours and wages. Community, Work & Family, 14(2), 139–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Misra, J., Moller, S., Strader, E., & Wemlinger, E. (2012). Family policies, employment and poverty among partnered and single mothers. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 30(1), 113–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mollborn, S. (2007). Making the best of a bad situation: Material resources and teenage parenthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(1), 92–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Moller, S., Huber, E., Stephens, J. D., Bradley, D., & Nielsen, F. (2003). Determinants of relative poverty in advanced capitalist democracies. American Sociological Review, 68(1), 22–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Musick, K., Meier, A., & Flood, S. (2014). How parents fare: Mothers’ and fathers’ subjective well-being in time with children. Los Angeles: California Center for Population Research (PWP-CCPR-2014-010).Google Scholar
  35. Myrskylä, M., & Margolis, R. (2014). Happiness: Before and after the kids. Demography, 51(5), 1843–1866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nelson, S. K., Kushlev, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being? Psychological Bulletin, 140(3), 846–895.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nomaguchi, K. M. (2012). Parenthood and psychological well-being: Clarifying the role of child age and parent-child relationship quality. Social Science Research, 41(2), 489–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nomaguchi, K. M., & Milkie, M. A. (2003). Costs and rewards of children: The effects of becoming a parent on adult’s lives. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(2), 356–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. OECD. (2014). OECD family database. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  40. Offer, S., & Schneider, B. (2011). Revisiting the gender gap in time-use patterns multitasking and well-being among mothers and fathers in dual-earner families. American Sociological Review, 76(6), 809–833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ono, H., & Lee, K. S. (2013). Welfare states and the redistribution of happiness. Social Forces, 92(2), 789–814.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pettit, B., & Hook, J. (2005). The structure of women’s employment in comparative perspective. Social Forces, 84(2), 779–801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pollmann-Schult, M. (2014). Parenthood and life satisfaction: Why don’t children make people happy? Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(2), 319–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rizzi, E. L., & Mikucka, M. (2015). The happiness-parenthood link in a context of limited state support: The case of Switzerland. FORS Working Paper Series, paper 2015-3. Lausanne: FORS.Google Scholar
  45. Ross, C. E., & Mirowsky, J. (1988). Child care and emotional adjustment to wives’ employment. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 29(2), 127–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ross, C. E., & Van Willigen, M. (1996). Gender, parenthood, and anger. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58(3), 572–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schieman, S., Milkie, M. A., & Glavin, P. (2009). When work interferes with life: Work-nonwork interference and the influence of work-related demands and resources. American Sociological Review, 74(6), 966–988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sobotka, S., & Testa, M. R. (2008). Attitudes and intentions toward childlessness in Europe. In C. Höhn, D. Avramov, & I. Kotowska (Eds.), People, population change and policies. Lessons from the Population Policy Acceptance Study (Vol. 1, pp. 177–211). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stanca, L. (2012). Suffer the little children: Measuring the effects of parenthood on well-being world-wide. Journal of Economic Behavior & Oranization, 81(3), 742–750.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Steiber, N., & Haas, B. (2009). Ideals or compromises? The attitude–behaviour relationship in mothers’ employment. Socio-Economic Review, 7(4), 639–668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tanturri, M. L., Mills, M., Rotkirch, A., Sobotka, T., Takács, J., Miettinen, A., et al. (2015). State-of-the-art report: Childlessness in Europe. Families and Societies Working Paper Series 32.Google Scholar
  52. Umberson, D., & Gove, W. R. (1989). Parenthood and psychological well-being: Theory, measurement, and stage in the family life course. Journal of Family Issues, 10(4), 440–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Winslow, S. (2005). Work–family conflict, gender, and parenthood, 1977–1997. Journal of Family Issues, 26(6), 727–755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Human SciencesMagdeburg UniversityMagdeburgGermany

Personalised recommendations