PARENTS
02/06/2019 16:52 EST | Updated 02/07/2019 10:20 EST

Dads Are Happier Than Moms, And It Might Be Because They Play More: Study

Parents might benefit from finding more time to play with their children, the authors noted.

Dads are loving dad life more than moms are loving mom life, according to a new study.

A recent U.S. study found that dads are happier and experience more well-being from parenthood than moms. The meta-analysis of three studies and 18,000 people looked at measures of happiness, well-being, depressive symptoms, psychological satisfaction, and stress.

Dads fared better than moms across all three studies, including one that looked at parenthood and well-being while engaged in child care or interacting with children.

"Whereas fatherhood was associated with greater happiness and daily uplifts, along with stronger feelings of connectedness, motherhood was associated with greater hassles and lower levels of positive emotions," the authors noted in the study.

The reason, authors suspect, is that dads reported they were more likely to play with their children.

JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images
Dads in the study were more likely to report that they played with their kids.

"Fathers may fare better than mothers in part due to how they spend their time with their children," study author Katherine Nelson-Coffey of the University of California Riverside, and Sewanee: The University of the South, said in a news release.

"Childcare (i.e., moments when parents endorsed that they were 'taking care of' their children) may be more likely to involve onerous or frustrating tasks, such as getting a child ready for school. Conversely, interacting with one's child could include a broad array of activities, such as play or leisure, that may confer more opportunities for positive emotions," the authors noted in the study.

All parents might benefit from finding more time to play with their children, co-author Sonja Lyubomirsky added.

The results weren't surprising to a lot of people

That moms are less happy than dads didn't come as a surprise to Loren N. Barnes, a psychotherapist at Trinity Wellness, LLC, in St. Louis, Mo.

"Women often still carry the cognitive load in families. Simply put, even if fathers participate actively in housework, women are still usually the ones who are responsible for remembering what needs to happen and making sure it actually does happen," Barnes told Parents.

"My first reaction to the news that I should make myself happier by adding more play to the long, long list of things I already do for and with my children was not a good one. Especially while my statistically-likelier-to-be-happy husband was at his office not being interrupted by bickering children," writer Sharon Holbrook wrote in the Washington Post.

And many people took to social media with similar opinions.

Today's dads are more involved than ever before. In 2016, Canada ranked seventh out of 22 countries on a measure of how moms and dads share child care responsibilities — that's a pretty big climb from 2010, when Canada ranked 12th.

Dads are staying home with their kids, creating their own "dad villages" with daddy Facebook groups and meetups, and playing a more pro-active role in parenting.

But a pretty significant gender gap still exists when it comes to unpaid work, where the bulk falls to women. Recent data from Statistics Canada found that women spend almost an hour more than men on housework every day. Women also spent more time than men on tasks related to child care and child development.

"Ironically, this study gives moms one more thing to worry about, one more straw of invisible burden on the camel's back. Now we get to worry that we're unhappy because we're doing it wrong. The suggestion that mothers should be more fun and play more adds to the pile-on of mom-shaming surrounding most aspects of motherhood," author Kristi Pahr wrote in Parents.

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The study, which was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, is one of only a few to compare mother and father happiness, according to the news release.

Men with children also reported fewer depressive symptoms compared to men without children, while mothers reported more depressive symptoms than women who didn't have children.

In an interview with the Washington Post, study co-author Nelson-Coffey noted that the findings regarding play aren't causal, and that it is possible that dads are more likely to play with their kids because they are already happier in the first place.

"I would expect it would become a kind of feedback loop where fathers are feeling happy, so they might initiate more play, and that might make them feel happy, and it becomes kind of an upward spiral," she said.

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