Along with freedom and liberty, the pursuit of happiness is central to American life, and in recent decades, entire industries have formed around mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. We know, though, that happiness, and the right to it, is not distributed equally across the population; American men report higher rates of happiness than women, as do White Americans when compared to their Black counterparts. While scholars often point to structural constraints like racism and inequality as the primary drivers of this gap, a new study in the open-access journal Socius suggests that parenting also plays a key role.
Like others studying the phenomenon of happiness in relation to gender and race, authors Jennifer Augustine and Mia Brantlay draw on data from the American General Social Survey to examine how the experience of parenting affects self-reported happiness among White and Black mothers and fathers. Several trends emerged from the data. White mothers appear to be less happy than their non-parent counterparts, while no gap in happiness was found between Black mothers and non-parenting Black women. As for men, there was no happiness gap between White fathers and non-parents, while Black fathers were much more likely to report being very happy than were their non-parent peers.
The authors present several potential explanations for these trends, including evidence that Black women are much more likely to view themselves as role models for their children and to spend more time with their children, and that Black mothers tend to experience higher levels of community support than do mothers in White communities. As for the dads, one explanation may be that fatherhood helps alleviate the growing social disconnectedness found among young single men, and that shifting gender norms allow fathers to more easily partake in enjoyable family activities. Black fathers specifically may be less likely to view their ability to provide financially as being synonymous with being a good parent and instead embrace an alternative model of fathering that focuses on the parent-child relationship. Taken together, these findings help to combat many of the uniquely negative stereotypes and challenges facing Black mothers and fathers, highlighting the pathway to happiness that the experience of parenting may provide.