Children aren't key to women's happiness: study

NEW YORK Tue May 8, 2007 4:06pm EDT

A mother pushes her baby on a stroller past a group of people in Shanghai in this 2003 file photo. Although they won't receive flowers or candy on Mother's Day, women who have not had children seem to be just as happy in their 50s as those who did go down the family path. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

A mother pushes her baby on a stroller past a group of people in Shanghai in this 2003 file photo. Although they won't receive flowers or candy on Mother's Day, women who have not had children seem to be just as happy in their 50s as those who did go down the family path.

Credit: Reuters/Claro Cortes IV

NEW YORK May 8 (Reuters Life!) - Although they won't receive flowers or candy on Mother's Day, women who have not had children seem to be just as happy in their 50s as those who did go down the family path.

In fact the loneliest, least contented and most vulnerable women were found to be mothers who were single, divorced or widowed in middle age, according to new research.

Being healthy and having a partner gave a bigger boost to women's happiness and well-being than being mothers, with education, work and relationships with family and friends also important factors.

"Among this group of women in their 50s the childless women are very similar to the moms in terms of their psychological well-being," said Tanya Koropeckyj-Cox, a sociology professor at the University of Florida and the lead author of the study.

"That is striking given that these would have been the mothers of the baby boom, so even among that group it doesn't seem to make a big difference," she added in an interview.

The findings are based on two surveys of nearly 6,000 women aged between 51 to 61 years old that were conducted in 1992 and from 1987-1988.

"Whether you are socially integrated or have concerns about paying the bills -- those things play a more direct role in shaping psychological well-being among women in midlife," Koropeckyj-Cox added.

The research, which will be published in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development, showed that the timing of motherhood was also important to happiness.

Women who had children in their teens were more depressed and lonelier than those who had their children later.

"We confirm that early mothering seems to represent the greatest disadvantage and that is mainly linked to the economics and marital status," Koropeckyj-Cox explained.

About 35 percent of mothers who had children in their teens reported ever feeling lonely, compared to slightly more than a quarter of women who had children in their 20s.

Mothers who delayed childbirth to 25 or older were happier and less lonely or depressed than younger mothers.

Women questioned for the study would have been having children in the 1950s and 1960s when being 25 years or older was considered late. The median age for marrying at the time was about 20, according to the researchers.

"If these differences were going to matter, it would matter most among this group. A lot of literature on the baby boom era talks about just how much pressure there was on women to have children and to live domestic lives," said Koropeckyj-Cox.

"It is striking that we find so little difference," she added.

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