Before you tell your intimate partners, “It’s not you, it’s me,” take a look at the media reactions to two new reports from the Council on Contemporary Families released this month, one on parenting the other on sex, and both relating to policy.
Journalists at several outlets including New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and AlterNet reported that there was a reason—that didn’t justify blaming parents—to explain the “happiness gap,” or the fact that parents in the United States, particularly when compared to parents in other countries, were less happy than non-parents. According to CCF expert Jennifer Glass, “The negative effects of parenthood on happiness were entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations. And this was true for both mothers and fathers. Countries with better family policy ‘packages’ had no happiness gap between parents and non-parents.” Boston Globe writer Duggan Arnette identified “paid sick and vacation leave, child care costs, and work schedule flexibility,” or lack thereof, as specific factors that were shown to influence the “happiness gap.”
Yet the happiness gap is not a universal problem, and some countries have addressed it. Quartz journalists Solana Pyne and Michael Tabb created a video that compares the United States to 22 other countries in terms of parent and non-parent happiness, as well as the availability of various kinds of social supports. The narrator says that “if you’re a working parent,” the reason for the happiness gap “is basically what you’d think.” The happiness gap will seem less inevitable, and its solutions more achievable, however, after seeing visuals comparing the presence of specific policies in countries in which parents are just as happy, if not happier than non-parents, with the absence of those policies in the United States, where the happiness gap is the largest.
What about romantic relationships? Emma Lousie-Pritchard of Cosmopolitan UK reported that, “To have more sex, couples have to agree to this one, brilliant rule.” That rule is dividing household work equally between men and women. CCF expert Sharon Sassler reported that couples in which men did between one-third and 65% of the housework tended to have more frequent sex. As personal as this sounds, though, there are still policy implications in that progressive work-family policies are a twofer: they are both family-friendly and promote equality in couples.
The notion of the policy twofer was made by Fusion’s Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy. She cited a Department of Labor report to connect Glass and colleagues’ findings on parental happiness with couples’ relationship satisfaction: “families with fathers who take more leave also share chores and childcare more equally between mothers and fathers. So paid leave and equitable paternity leave policies not only give dads the time to be parents, but cause a trickle-down effect of creating greater gender equity.”
Taking turns and “get[ting] out the toilet bleach and your sexiest pair of rubber gloves” might be good relationship advice, but improved work-family policies will make it easier for couples to do so equitably, and still have the time and money to spend with their children.
Read the full reports here:
“Parenting and Happiness in 22 Countries,” by Jennifer Glass, Robin Simon, and Matthew Andersson.