Single mothers are less happy than other American women. But over time, the happiness gap has shrunk, with single mothers saying they are happier than their counterparts from decades ago, a new study shows.
The report, published online in the Journal of Happiness Studies, tracks how women answered questions on a nationally representative survey between 1972 and 2008. When the researchers tried to tease out what made single mothers less happy, they found that the biggest factor was being single.
“The fact that they’re single seems to explain a lot of why they’re less happy,” said John Ifcher, assistant professor of economics at Santa Clara University. Making less money, a factor tied to decreased happiness in other studies, made a smaller difference than being single.
But over time, single mothers became happier as other women became somewhat less so, narrowing the gap between them, said Homa Zarghamee, assistant professor of economics at Barnard College. The exception was among married mothers: The “happiness deficit” between single and married moms did not change enough for the shift to be statistically significant.