The Empty Nest Happiness Boost

by | Aug 7, 2023

My wife and I became empty nesters three years ago when our youngest daughter headed off to college. We had a bit of trepidation. What would we do without having a child at home to focus our attention on? Would we have anything to talk about? Would we miss our kids?

It’s been great. We do miss our kids, but overall we’ve been really happy being empty nesters. And we’re not alone. Multiple research studies confirm that parents’ happiness and well-being typically increase when their kids leave home.

Case in point are the findings from The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has followed the lives of two generations of individuals from the same families for more than eighty years. Here’s what the researchers found about happiness and kids leaving home:

“Our careful tracking of relationships across the lifespan in the Harvard Study points to that moment when kids leave the nest as another key turning point in intimate relationships. There are lots of anecdotes about a potential “empty nest boost” in marital satisfaction, but our Study is one of the few with the data to track relationships across decades, including this transition point. Examining the marriages of hundreds of couples, we find that around the time the last child turns 18, partners commonly begin to experience a noticeable increase in relationship satisfaction.”

The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness by Robert J. Waldinger, Marc Schulz Ph.D

The Harvard Study’s conclusions are supported by a European study of 55,000 people over age 50 that focused on measures of well-being. The researchers found that having children at home negatively impacted parental sense of well-being and mental health and that psychological benefits accrued after the children left home.

The researchers of the European study posited that the empty nester boost occurs because being parents of “resident children” can be “exhausting and stressful.” They note the stress of “balancing the competing demands of childcare, work and personal life” goes away when kids leave the nest. Plus, emancipated adult children provide social support back to their parents and can act as caregivers for their parents — in other words the relationship between parents and children becomes more of a two-way street. Makes sense.

1 Comment

  1. I could not agree more. Love my three kids, but being an empty nester has been a great time for my wife and me.


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