October 25, 2013 ( –  Parents find caring for children to be the most meaningful activity in their lives, according to  a new Pew Research Center analysis. In addition, parents also find, while child care sometimes leaves them exhausted, it causes them significant happiness.


“Parents find caring for their children to be much more exhausting than the work they do for pay,” states Wendy Wang, a research associate at the Pew Research Center. “At the same time, parents find much more meaning in the time they spend with their children than in the time they spend at work.”

The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) looks at how Americans are spending their time and gauges respondent’s emotional state for each activity. The 2012 survey finds 62 percent of parents rated taking care of children as “very meaningful,” twice as often as respondents reported the same feeling about paid work – just 36 percent.

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When it comes to finding happiness, spending time with children also ranks high. Only leisure activity narrowly edged out child care by a few percentage points (41 to 35).

At the same time, results also show child-care to be “very tiring” 12 percent of the time, twice as tiring as housework (seven percent) and paid work (five percent).

Amatai Etzoni professor of international relations and director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies at George Washington University explains the dichotomy between weariness and meaning, writing, “a good life is not one centered around squeezing as much pleasure out of life as possible. Pleasure of the kind celebrated by those who would rather go out for dinner than stay home with their infants, watch TV than change diapers, and gamble than attend a PTA meeting — is Sisyphean. No sooner does one gain this kind of pleasure than one is lacking it again.”

Bettye Miller, senior public information officer at the University of California-Riverside, wrote that scientists at that university “conducted three studies that tested whether parents are happier overall than their childless peers, if parents feel better moment-to-moment than non-parents, and whether parents experience more positive feelings when taking care of children than during their other daily activities. The consistency of their findings across all three studies provides strong evidence challenging the widely held perception that children are associated with reduced well-being.”

One of its authors, Associate Psychology Professor Elizabeth W. Dunn at the University of British Columbia, wrote, “If you went to a large dinner party, the parents in the room would be just as happy or happier than the guests without children.”