Research shows that parents with kids who have moved out in adulthood are happier and have a higher quality of life than child-free people of the same age.

By Kristi Pahr
Getty Images/Maskot

The debate rages on: Who's happier, parents or non-parents? Child-free couples tout their freedom to socialize and travel, spend more one-on-one time with each other, and have increased financial freedom, while parents praise the fulfillment, love, and joy involved in raising children. But who is actually happier? Well, it's kind of complicated.

Studies abound showing a relationship between having children and decreased happiness in American parents and this has long been an argument for couples to remain child-free. But a recently published study found that while non-parents are happier than parents of young children or children who still live at home, empty nesters actually show fewer symptoms of depression and a higher quality of life than non-parents of a similar age.

A sample of 55,00 people over the age of 50 was surveyed by a research team led by Christopher Becker of Heidelberg University in Germany. Questions centered around quality of life and emotional well-being. The team found that parents who have regular contact with adult children who live elsewhere are happier than parents whose grown-up kids still live at home and non-parents.

These results indicate that adult children are an important part of the social and emotional support system for their parents. In an interview with The Independent, Becker confirmed, "Our results suggest that social networks may be important for wellbeing and mental health in old age. Spouses, partners and children are often the basis of long-lasting social networks, which can provide social support to elderly people."

The study seems to confirm one of parenthood's most treasured adages: the days are long but the years are short. The stress of caring for young children can't be overstated, but neither can the joy and satisfaction that comes with watching your children grow into adults. And even though parents of young kids may not be as “happy” as their child-free peers, it looks like the best may be yet to come!

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