Previous research has widely addressed the gap in well-being between parents and non-parents. While cross-sectional studies have regularly reported lower well-being levels for parents compared to non-parents, more recent longitudinal studies largely support a short-term positive effect with a back-to-baseline adaptation. However, whether, why and how the presence of children may affect how well-being evolves in older age is still largely unclear.
We propose to combine a holistic view on the development of well-being over the aging process with a transition centered approach analyzing the effects of adverse life events. The aim is to uncover whether or to which extent possible differences in the trajectories of parents vs. childless can be accounted for by parents’ different exposure to or coping with adverse life events or circumstances. For instance, developing a chronic illness or experiencing progressing health related limitations will likely entail a decline in well-being – but possibly less so, if a child is around and supportive.
Using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and employing group-specific FE growth curve modelling, we investigate how well-being evolves over age, conditional on parental status and accounting for selection into parenthood and whether trajectories differ between parents and childless. We find that, from age 50 onwards, parents’ life satisfaction develops somewhat less favorable compared to that of childless, but this difference is not significant. This finding remains unaltered when measures for health and related limitations are included. However, fathers react significantly less negatively to limitations than childless men. Accordingly, in the absence of children they would face a significantly steeper decline in life satisfaction.
The project is conducted in cooperation with Gerrit Bauer (LMU Munich) and Martina Brandt (TU Dortmund).