Why large families are so happy

New study finds that parents with 4 or more children are the happiest. Why?

Why large families are so happy

Parents in big families are the happiest, or at least that’s what a new Australian study says.


The study, which was conducted by Dr. Bronwyn Harman at the Edith Cowan University, finds that parents with four or more kids are the happiest parents.

Dr. Harman, who expects the full study will be published next year, spent five years collecting data and trying to understand different kinds of families in Australia. She took time out of her busy schedule crunching data to answer some questions from Motherly.

Motherly: Why do you think families of four are happiest?

We think it is because they purposively planned to have a large family, and while they report stressors such as chaos, noise and financial difficulties, this is outweighed by the joy the family brings to the household.

Motherly: How is your study different from this 2014 Canadian study that found parents of 2 kids are happiest?

There seem to be cohort effects, that is, what works for Canada is different to what works in Australia. Also, we are not saying that parents of 4+ kids are happier than parents of two kids. That's not what we measured. It's a different focus.

Our study looked at different cohorts of parents in Australia, such as single dads, single moms, stepparents and parents who identify as LGBT. One of the cohorts we looked at was parents of large families, which we defined as families with 4+ children (given the average in Australia is 1.3 children). Our study showed parents of large families reported the highest life satisfaction, of all the cohorts we looked at. People (laypeople) have interpreted this to mean that parents of 4+ children are happier than parents of, say 2 children, or 3 children, and further extrapolated that parents of 8 children must be deliriously happy. However, that's not what we measured. We didn't look at cohorts of parents of 1 child, 2 children, 3 children, 7 children, etc. and we therefore cannot say, with this study, that parents of 4 or more children are happier than parents of 2 children (for example).

Motherly: What was the most surprising finding of your study?

Our study covered several cohorts. Probably the most surprising finding for us was that parents who identify as LGBTQI report only marginally less life satisfaction than parents of 4+ kids. Additionally, parents who identify as LGBTQI reported the highest resilience, self-esteem and social support (followed closely by parents of 4+ kids on these dimensions). This is surprising given the recent political framework we have in Australia towards same sex marriage (Tony Abbott, who, until [September 15], was our Prime Minister, is very vocally against same sex marriage).

Motherly: What is something you found in your study that has so far been overlooked?

The whole thing! We looked at what factors of resilience, self-esteem and social support contribute to life satisfaction amongst different cohorts of families in Australia plus we examined the experiences of those families (i.e., what is it like to be a single mom/ single dad/ stepparent etc. in Australia?)

Motherly: Given how much you feel was overlooked, what other findings would you like to see highlighted?

Another point of particular interest was that while single mothers report low life satisfaction, single fathers also find life especially difficult.

Motherly: What's one thing you'd want young moms to know as they start and raise families?

There is no such thing as doing it "right.” You can never be that perfect mom you hear about or read about, she's a myth. This is for two reasons. Firstly, we are all human and make mistakes. Secondly, by whose standards are we measuring what is "right?” What is right for some is not right for others. So don't sweat the small stuff. The kids don't remember the small stuff anyways :)

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