As tempting as it is to reject the stereotypes of the good-time dad and the fun-ruining mom, the cliché appears to hold. In fact, according to the Chicago Tribune, a recent report found that overall, dads are happier than moms as parents for all of the reasons that you might expect. Dads are spending more time playing with their kids, while moms are busy doing the bulk of the care taking — and it is impacting their respective well-beings.
The study, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, looked at groups of parents to determine overall parental well-being. According to UC Riverside, where the report was conducted, the researchers found that fathers experience more well-being from parenthood than mothers. Psychologists from the University of California at Riverside reviewed three separate studies — involving more than 18,000 people total — to determine whether fathers or mothers experience greater happiness as parents. Measures of well-being included reports of happiness, depressive symptoms, psychological satisfaction, and stress, according to HuffPost.
The first two studies, according to Babble, compared reports of well-being of both parents with those of people without children. In every category, fathers were reported greater well-being than mothers. And when compared to their childless peers, fathers experienced greater overall life satisfaction, more feelings of connectedness to others, greater positive emotions, and fewer daily hassles than mothers.
Along with more of the good sides of parenthood, dads also had fewer of the bad sides, according to The Washington Post; they reported fewer symptoms of depression than men without children. Conversely, mothers reported more symptoms of depression and hardships than women who don’t have children, according to the University of California.
The third study included in the report looked at feelings of happiness during in childcare or interacting with children, compared to other daily activities. Men reported feeling happier while caring for their children, while women were less happy, according to the University of California. A potential explanation for the distinction, as explained by researchers and reported by Babble, is that — when compared to mothers — fathers were more likely to be spending their time playing with children, while moms were more likely to be caring for their children. Study author Katherine Nelson-Coffey told UC Riverside that “Fathers may fare better than mothers in part due to how they spend their time with their children.”
This research seems to build on prior studies done on this topic. For instance, a separate study from 2016, published in the American Sociological Review, examined the feelings of more than 12,000 parents who participated in the 2010, 2012 and 2013 American Time Use Survey to determine the extent to which parents enjoy their time with children. According to the Daily Mail, researchers cited more stress and higher levels of tiredness in mothers than in fathers. For this reason, mothers in this study also reported having less fun with their children than dads.
As a means of explaining the discrepancy, Kelly Musick, associate professor of policy analysis and management and co-author of the separate 2016 study, told Real Simple that the one-on-one time that parents spend with one another differs greatly between moms and dads. “Mothers are doing different things with their children than fathers are, things that we know aren’t as enjoyable,” she told the publication. “Playing with their kids is a particularly enjoyable experience for parents. And dads are doing more play as a share of the total amount of time they spend with their kids.”
Here’s the upshot: dads are spending more time with their children than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center, fathers in America have nearly tripled their child care time from 2.5 hours per week in 1965 to 7 hours per week in 2011. And it is logical to assume those numbers have continued to climb. But it is important to examine the roles that parents are playing, as well as the ways in which they are spending their time.
The fact that moms are spending more time dong the bulk of the work is clear. But along with a need for dads to help more, there is also a need for moms: to play more. After all, dads shouldn’t be the only ones having a good time with their little ones.