Britain takes a close look at family life

Carolyn Moynihan
7 Mar 2011
Reproduced with Permission

Britain's happiest couples are married, but for less than five years, and childless. That's what the Guardian newspaper headlined from a report released last week -- the first results from a 49 million pound research project called Understanding Society

This bit from the Guardian report contains my favourite factoids, however:

Of the young, 60% are "completely satisfied" with their family situation and 70% are very satisfied with their lives. The survey's authors observe: "Compared with their peers in other countries, children in the UK rank extremely low on life satisfaction." Gundi Knies, who carried out the research, insists the two sets of findings are not contradictory.

But her research also concludes that neither material wealth nor poverty have a bearing on children's life satisfaction.

Not living with both natural parents has a greater negative impact on a young person's life satisfaction than their material situation. But children are more satisfied with their lives the fewer other children live in their household.

In my country (New Zealand) child welfare advocates are always banging on about child poverty, but this research, which includes interviews with 2163 children aged 10 to 15, shows that living with both your natural parents is more important than income to a child's happiness.

Not that we shouldn't care about poverty, but sole parenting is itself a major cause of poverty. Sadly, this research shows that having more than four children also tends to put you in the poorhouse, British style.

Interestingly, income is not decisive in marital happiness either, but unemployment tends to make men rather unhappy -- especially men in the middle to lower ranks of society.

Marriages, as we already know, are happier than cohabiting set-ups.

As for marital happiness declining with the arrival of children, and age -- it depends a bit on what you mean by happiness. Other research shows that the husband's involvement in domestic life and religion are among factors that increase a couple's happiness. We await more information from the British research; after all, it has only been running for two years.

You can read more here.