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How Men and Women Find Fulfillment in Their Families

Is it more important to get along with a spouse or your kids?

Key points

  • In general, people tend to report a more meaningful life after having children.
  • Women in a higher quality relationship report more meaning in their life whether or not they have children.
  • Men report more meaning in their lives when they are in a good relationship with at least one child.
Kampus Productions/Pexels
Love, marriage, then happiness?
Source: Kampus Productions/Pexels

In February 2024, researchers released the results of a study whose goal had been rather daunting, even at the start.

Seven researchers from both the University of South California and the VA Puget Sound Health Care System sought to examine the meaning of life one year into the pandemic.

Specifically, these researchers aimed to discover what the connection was between finding meaning and purpose in an individual's life and how this might be related to gender, the quality of one's romantic relationship, and the number of children birthed by participants.

In other words, if we follow the rules of the world as laid out by our grandparents and great grandparents, will marriage and parenthood make us happier and make life more meaningful?

Quite possibly, yes.

The study began as an investigation of how nearly 500 couples were coping with COVID-19. Participants were all over the age of 18 and living together romantically for the duration of the study. The average length of time the couples had been living together in total was roughly eight years; 64% of the couples were married.

Both participants answered the following questions by way of empirically validated measurements:

  • What provides meaning in your life?
  • How is your relationship doing?
  • Do you have children, and if so, how many?

Participants who identified as men reported greater meaning in life and greater feelings of connectedness than did their female-identifying counterparts. Men who reported being happier in their relationships also tended to be more religious.

What about the women? They reported feeling more connected to their partners the more children they had. Older women also reported more meaning in their lives than did younger women.

Not surprisingly, more religious participants had more children. But they also reported greater meaning in their lives and a higher quality of relationships—and both men and women in this cohort felt more connected to their partners.

Does This Help Us Lead More Meaningful Lives?

It is important to remember that this study was conducted during a global pandemic, a concept that the vast majority of the world would have envisioned in only a fictional scenario.

But one thing is clear: It is the people in our lives who make life meaningful—a respectful partner, a place to worship the religion you believe in if you so choose, and family members who depend on you—whether those family members are by blood or by choice.

See? Sometimes science can be simple.

Facebook image: NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock


Gold, A., Ryjova, Y., Aviv, E., Corner, G., Rasmussen, H., Kim, Y. & Margolin, G. Front. Psychol., 07 February 2024. Sec. Positive Psychology. Volume 15 - 2024 |

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