Unmarried Women Without Children Might Be Happier Than Others, So We Asked 8 People What They Thought
When deciding whether or not to get married or have kids, people look at a wide variety of factors, like financial and emotional readiness. Others feel that there might be serious health risks involved with having kids. And some feel that staying unmarried or not having kids will simply make them happier.
Research shows that there's some merit to that last one. Women who are unmarried and without children may be happier and even live longer than married women with children. The Guardian reports that in his book Happy Ever After, behavioral scientist Paul Dolan uses evidence from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), to show why these women might be the happiest and healthiest subgroup around. In particular, his research shows that for middle-aged women, being married can put their health at risk.
Despite this benefit, Dolan said that social norms that paint marriage and children as the epitome of a woman's success could make those without spouses or children feel unhappy. He also pointed out that marriage, generally, is much more beneficial for men, saying that "If you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother.”
This may not come as a surprise to many; we’re well aware of certain dynamics that make marriage and parenthood harder for women in different gender relationships. Women and non-binary people are often expected to do more domestic and emotional work than their male-identified partners.
That's one reason, of many, that people chafe at those gender roles. Lily, who's 20 years old and identifies as lesbian, tells Bustle that her identity "impacts how I see my domestic future because I know that gender dynamics are going to be more equal in my future household." She continues, "I like knowing that there are more options for me in terms of having kids. I didn’t really want to have kids until I realized that I would be having kids with another woman."
However, when women decide to remain unmarried or not to have children, they’re often judged harshly. Sometimes, people pity them, assuming that they are pensively longing for these things, when that couldn't be further from the truth. For most of the people Bustle spoke to for this piece, they could be happy either way. Natahlia, 30, tells Bustle, "I don't rely on a spouse or on children for my happiness. But I think I could be just as happy with a spouse or with children, though of course it would need to be the kind of person that I could mesh with."
The reality is that so many people choose not to get married or have kids because it genuinely makes them happy. Bustle talked to eight women and non-binary folks to see why they choose to remain unmarried or without children, and how they find it affects their happiness now.
They Want More Time For Self-Care
A.Q., 30 years old: It’s a freedom you lose once you have kids. In my life, I take all the little happiness I can get: Reading books until 2 a.m., walking around the city all Sunday, long baths, and splurging for that boba. I look at my friends who chose to have kids and I see a new stress and pain In their eyes that wasn’t there before.
Dawn, 40 years old: I have an amazing 15 year-old daughter through a planned pregnancy. I have accomplished every goal I’ve ever set in my life. I knew at a young age that I did not want to be married early in life but I did want one child. My decisions for my life have always been counter to the norm, however I always do what feels good to me, and me only. My motto is “me — if I am not... healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually than I can’t be a good partner, friend, boss, mother, etc. for anyone else.
Catherine, 47 years old: I'm an introvert — I love my family and friends, but I also love the peace and quiet of my home. I love that I'm the only one who messes it up, and that everything in it represents who I am and what I value. I have time and space to do whatever I want — to recharge, to think, to listen to music, to stay up until all hours, to go to bed at 9 p.m. — anything I want. I love that my home has become the place where my friends and I hang out, because it's much easier for me to host everything — from two of us hanging out over a glass of wine to everyone coming over for a party — than it is for them. I love that I can leave town on a moment's notice. It's taken me a long time to create a life in which I am content and happy, and for me that means a life where I take care of my needs for myself. Oh, and sleep. I get enough sleep, and I get to sleep in when I want to, and if I give up sleep it's by choice.
Vivian, 35 years old: I feel I can get emotional and romantic fulfillment outside of marriage or parenthood because I am getting my needs met by my current partners (I'm non-monogamous and non-married) while still maintaining freedom from financial and romantic entanglements that would require me to be more conscientious of their needs. It sounds kind of selfish, but being independent of marriage and children has given me the freedom and responsibility of only being beholden to myself which makes a huge difference in how I view myself and my world. I’m happier without children because I can do what I want without thinking of a child’s needs first or having to organize my life around someone else’s care.
They're Concerned About Health Issues
A.Q.: I have a rare progressive genetic disease, and my husband spent close to a decade of his life in psychiatric hospitals. The main reason I didn’t have kids that I didn’t want to pass my genetic disease to future generations. For me, living with the burden that I gave someone else the disease that causes me endless pain and discomfort would cause lasting sadness and pain that I couldn’t ever erase.
It’s More Romantic
Dawn: I have a person in my life that I love very much but we are not in a traditional relationship. We are aligned in our way of thinking, which to me is the most important.
Almost every woman I personally know who is married is not fulfilled emotionally or romantically — I certainly don’t believe a marriage license is an automatic guarantee of these things. I believe the romance happens in most cases before marriage when things are fresh and new — the “honeymoon stage” before comfort and complacency sets in. As a single woman I’m always in the honeymoon stage, and when things no longer align or feel good to me I can flow freely and remove myself. Married people can’t do that.
They’re Anxious About World Events
A.Q.: The world right now is bleak. To fight to build a future for your child today is more all consuming than ever. I feel an impossible pain and sadness for humanity and this world as it is, I can’t imagine what it’s like for those with kids whose future depend on metrics they have so little control over.
Natahlia: With the current financial situation of the country, I feel it would be wildly irresponsible to attempt to take on the financial well-being of a child, regardless of whether they were a biological or adopted child. I can't reasonably guarantee my own financial well-being for the future, so I definitely can't do that for a child.
They're Concerned About Unequal Gender Dynamics
Natahlia: Well, I generally find men much more difficult to mesh with men than women and enbies [non-binary folks], so I'm always leery about getting too serious with guys. I also really don't know that I would want to have children with a guy, though I could certainly see myself being a parent with a woman or enby.
A.Q.: Women and non-binary people are generally the caretakers. They carry a huge burden of housework and emotional [labor] compared to [cisgender] men. Unfortunately, most of this work still largely fall upon us.
Dawn: I am also a very free spirit and live in the moment in real time, most people do not operate that way — society’s idea of what it means to be a husband or a wife sounds suffocating to me. I have lived all over the country and I travel the world, if I did have a husband I would not see him often, unless he could travel with me. I would never ask anyone to give it their dreams to follow mine, so being single/unmarried has been a conscious choice to maintain my autonomy.
Anonymous: Of course single women are or at least can be happier than married women. It's maybe not as simple as a one for one thing, but being married to a man is a huge drain on women even if he's a "nice" or "good" man, I think. I was single for five years and definitely enjoyed being the only person in charge of my emotional weather from day to day.
Rachel, 35 years old: I'm majorly turned off by jealousy, and totally freaked out by the idea of codependency. When friends playfully call their partner their "other half" or "better half" I cringe a bit. I know it's just in good fun, but the idea that being in a relationship means giving up part of yourself makes me highly uncomfortable
Vivian: I am happier without a spouse because I feel like I’ve done that already (I’m divorced) and found that society’s expectations of married women and how that’s reflected in married dynamics don’t work for me. My ex-husband was very traditional and I found being a wife stifling. As it stands now, I don’t see a need to be married because I don’t need the structures that society provides to married women (e.g. I don’t need financial support and I don’t want to be in a relationship that mandates how I act around other people). The gender of a potential spouse wouldn’t impact my decision because I feel that marriage has boundaries and strictures that apply regardless of gender.
They're Already Happy
Dawn: I believe that happiness comes from within, it starts with self and alignment with source. I am happy because I choose to be happy and love myself and treat myself well. I realize that I am responsible for my own happiness therefore the presence or absence of a spouse or partner would not change my level of happiness. My cup is full, the addition of someone special in my life would be an overflow of existing happiness.
Anonymous: I’m single with no kids. [I see] the confusion people's faces when I tell them that I’ve never been married and I don’t have kids. It’s so different from their experience that they just can’t process it. I think some people would be more comfortable if I were divorced—it would allow them to “place” me in some box in their minds. Once at a party, a woman asked me if I was married or had kids... the usual set of questions. Then, she cocked her head, looked at me excitedly and said, “Ooooh, you’re a career girl!” I do have a successful career, but her need to define me was irritating. I answered, “I’m a ‘life’ girl. I have a full and happy world, but if it makes you more comfortable to put me in a box, go ahead.”
They Love Their Friendships Just As Much
Catherine: My friends are my emotional support, and I love them dearly. I could not live my life without them and their love. I also love my friends' children — but I love being able to drop them off at the end of the day, or to not go to the school play, and to treat them rather than have to worry about whether they're getting enough vitamins. Perhaps this sounds like a life where I'm avoiding responsibility, but really it's that I'm taking responsibility for myself, and know the shape of a life in which I can be happy and give others support and love in turn.
Natahlia: Friendships can be as deep and intimate as marriage. I am strongly emotionally invested in the lives of my friends, and they in mine. I also help parent many of their children, and just generally find that I can be a positive influence on children's lives without being a direct parent to them.