Social Indicators Research

, Volume 117, Issue 3, pp 967–986 | Cite as

Family Constellations and Life Satisfaction in Europe

  • Daniele VignoliEmail author
  • Elena Pirani
  • Silvana Salvini


Existing research on family and well-being has generally focused on the traditional family, and has largely ignored the increasing diversity in family forms and relations. Our aim in this paper is to help fill this gap by investigating the extent of the relationship between living arrangements and life satisfaction (LS) in Europe. We examined variations in life satisfaction by applying a multilevel approach (i.e., individuals nested in countries) to data from the 2007 European Quality of Life Survey. First, we found that levels of life satisfaction among families consisting of couples with children were significantly higher than among people in other (less typical) family arrangements. Second, our results illustrate that after the socioeconomic situation of the family was taken into account, the influence of family status on LS disappeared almost completely. Overall, our findings suggest that the lower levels of life satisfaction experienced by people living in atypical families can be largely attributed to their weaker socioeconomic position.


Life satisfaction Living arrangement Socio-economic status Multilevel analysis Europe 



We thank the chair, the discussant, and the participants of the session “European Families and Well-Being” of the Population Association of America annual meeting in 2012 (San Francisco—US), as well as of the session “Quality of Life in Europe” of the XI International Society for Quality-of-Life-Studies Conference in 2012 (Venice, Italy). We also thank Filomena Maggino for her comments on an earlier version of the paper. The Journal’s review report also improved the paper.


  1. Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 62, 1269–1287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, R., Mikulic, B., Vermeylen, G., Lyly-Yrjanainen, M., & Zigante, V. (2009). European foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions (Eurofound), second European quality of life survey: Overview. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.Google Scholar
  3. Andrews, F. M., & Withey, S. B. (1976). Social indicators of well-being: America’s perception of life quality. New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Angeles, L. (2009a). Children and life satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11(4), 523–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Angeles, L. (2009b). Erratum to children and life satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11(4), 523–538.Google Scholar
  6. Ball, R. E. (1983). Marital status, household structure, and life satisfaction of black women. Social Problems, 30(49), 400–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baranowska, A. (2010). Family formation and subjective well-being. A literature overview. Working Papers, n. 5, ISID, Institute of Statistics and Demography, Warsaw School of Economics.Google Scholar
  8. Becker, G. (1981). A treatise on the family. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Billari, F. C. (2009). The happiness commonality: Fertility decisions in low fertility settings. Paper presented at Conference on How Generations and Gender Shape Demographic Change: Toward policies based on better knowledge, Geneva: UNECE, May 14–16, 2008.Google Scholar
  10. Billari, F. C., & Kohler, H. -P. (2009). Fertility and happiness in the XXI century: institutions, preferences, and their interactions. Draft prepared for presentation to the XXVI IUSSP International Population Conference, Marrakesh, Morocco, 27 Sept.–2 Oct.Google Scholar
  11. Bjørnskov, C., Dreher, A., & Fischer, J. A. V. (2008). Cross-country determinants of life satisfaction: Exploring different determinants across groups in society. Social Choice and Welfare, 30(1), 119–173.Google Scholar
  12. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2004). Well-being over time in Britain and the USA. Journal of Public Economics, 88(7–8), 1359–1386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Breivik, K., & Olweus, D. (2006). Children of divorce in a Scandinavian welfare state: Are they less affected than US children? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 47, 61–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Campbell, A., Converse, P., & Rodgers, W. (1976). The Quality of American Life. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Cherlin, A. J. (2004). The deinstitutionalization of American marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(4), 848–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clark, A. E. (2003). Unemployment as a social norm: Psychological evidence from panel data. Journal of Labor Economics, 21(2), 323–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Clark, A. E. (2006). A note on unhappiness and unemployment duration. Applied Economics Quarterly, 52(4), 291–308.Google Scholar
  18. Clark, A. E., Diener, E., Georgellis, Y., & Lucas, R. E. (2008). Lags and leads in life satisfaction: A test of the baseline hypothesis. The Economic Journal, 118(529), 222–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Clark, A., & Lelkes, O. (2005). Deliver us from evil: Religion and insurance. PSE Working Papers, 43.Google Scholar
  20. Clark, A., & Oswald, A. (1994). Unhappiness and unemployment. Economic Journal, 104, 648–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Clark, A., & Oswald, A. (2002). A simple statistical model for measuring how life events affect happiness. International Journal of Epidemiology, 31, 1139–1144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cleary, P. D., & Mechanic, D. (1983). Sex differences in psychological distress among married people. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24(2), 111–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Clemente, F., & Sauer, W. (1976). Life satisfaction in the United States. Social Forces, 54(3), 621–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Connidis, I. A., & McMullin, J. A. (1993). To have or have not: Parent status and the subjective well-being of older men and women. The Gerontologist, 33(5), 630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. De Santis, G. & Maltagliati, M. (2010). Comparing like with like: cluster-specific equivalence scales, Working Paper 2010/10, Department of Statistics “G. Parenti”, University of Florence
  26. De Santis, G., Seghieri, C., & Tanturri, M. L. (2006). The richer, the happier? An empirical investigation in selected European countries. Social Indicators Research, 79(3), 455–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. DeBell, M. (2008). Children living without their fathers: Population estimates and indicators of educational well-being. Social Indicators Research, 87, 427–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Diener, E., Diener, M., & Diener, C. (1995). Factors predicting the subjective well-being of nations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(5), 851–864.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Easterlin, R. (2004). The economics of happiness. Daedalus, 133(2), 26–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Eurostat. (2011). ESSPROS manual: The European System of integrated Social PROtection Statistics (ESSPROS).Google Scholar
  31. Evans, M. D. R., & Kelley, J. (2006). Effect of family structure on life satisfaction: Australian evidence, Melbourne Institute Working Papers, n. 2.Google Scholar
  32. Frey, B., & Stutzer, A. (2002). What can economists learn from happiness research? Journal of Economic Literature, XL, 402–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Glenn, N., & Weaver, C. (1979). A note on family situation and global happiness. Social Forces, 57(3), 960–967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Goldstein, H. (1987). Multilevel models in educational and social research. London: Charles Griffin & Co.Google Scholar
  35. Gore, S., & Mangione, T. W. (1983). Social roles, sex roles and psychological distress: Additive and interactive models of sex differences. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24(4), 300–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grilli, L., & Rampichini, C. (2012). Multilevel models for ordinal data. In R. Kenett & S. Salini (Eds.), Modern analysis of customer satisfaction surveys: With applications using R, Chapter 19. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  37. Hantrais, L. (2006). Living as a family in Europe. In L. Hantrais, D. Philipov, & F. C. Billari (Eds.), Policy implications of changing family formation, Population Studies 49 (pp. 117–181). Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.Google Scholar
  38. Härkönen, J., & Dronkers, J. (2006). Stability and change in the educational gradient of divorce: A comparison of 17 countries. European Sociological Review, 22(5), 501–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hoffmann, L. W., & Hoffmann, M. L. (1973). The value of children to parents. In J. T. Fawcett (Ed.), Psychological perspectives on population (pp. 19–76). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  40. Johnson, D. R., & Wu, J. (2002). An empirical test of crisis, social selection, and role expectations of the relationship between marital disruption and psychological distress: A pooled time-series analysis of four-wave panel data. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 64, 211–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Joung, I. M. A., Stronks, K., van de Mheen, H., van Poppel, F. W. A., van der Meer, J. B. W., & Mackenbach, J. P. (1997). The contribution of intermediary factors to marital status differences in self-reported health. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59, 476–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kapella, O., Rille-Pfeiffer, C., Rupp, M. & Schneider, N. F. (eds.). (2010). Family Diversity: Collection of the 3rd European congress of family science. Barbara Budrich Publishers.Google Scholar
  43. Kohler, H. P. (2012). Do children bring happiness and purpose in life? In W. B. Wilcox & E. Kaufman (Eds.), Whither the child: Causes and consequences of low fertility (pp. 47–75). Boulder & London: Paradigm Publisher.Google Scholar
  44. Kohler, H.-P., Behrman, J. R., & Skytthe, A. (2005). Partner + children = happiness? The effect of partnerships and fertility on well-being. Population and Development Review, 31(3), 407–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Koropeckyj-Cox, T., Pienta, A. M., & Brown, T. H. (2007). Women of the 1950 s and the “normative” life course: The implications of childlessness, fertility timing, and martial status for psychological well-being in late midlife. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 64(4), 299–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kotowska, IE, Matysiak, A., Vignoli, D., Pailhé, A., Solaz, A., & Styrc, M. (2010). Family life and work, second European quality of life survey, European foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.Google Scholar
  47. Lavee, Y., Sharlin, S., & Katz, R. (1996). The effect of parenting stress on marital quality: An integrated mother–father model. Journal of Family Issues, 17, 114–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lehrer, E. (2004). Religion as a determinant of economic and demographic behavior in the United States. Population and Development Review, 30(4), 707–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lovell-Troy, L. A. (1983). Anomia among employed wives and housewives: An exploratory analysis. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45(2), 301–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mannel, R. C., & Dupuis, S. (1996). Life satisfaction. In J. E. Birren (Ed.), Encyclopedia of gerontology age, aging, and the aged (pp. 59–64). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  51. Margolis, R., & Myrskylä, M. (2011). A global perspective on happiness and fertility. Population and Development Review, 37(1), 29–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. McLanahan, S., & Adams, J. (1987). Parenthood and psychological well-being. Annual Review of Sociology, 13, 237–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Mencarini, L., & Sironi, M. (2010). Happiness, housework and gender inequality in Europe. European Sociological Review. doi: 10.1093/esr/icq059.
  54. Michalos, A. (1985). Multiple discrepancies theory (MDT). Social Indicators Research, 6(1), 347–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Musick, K., Bumpass, L. (2006). Cohabitation, marriage, and trajectories in well-being and relationships. NSFH Working Paper No. 93, Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.Google Scholar
  56. Naess, S. (1999). Subjective approach to quality of life. Feminist Economics, 5(2), 115–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Neyer, G., Lappegård, T., & Vignoli, D. (2013). Gender equality and fertility: Which equality matters? European Journal of Population. doi: 10.1007/s10680-013-9292-7.
  58. Pacek, A. C., & Radcliff, B. (2008). Welfare policy and subjective well-being across nations: An individual-level assessment. Social Indicators Research, 89, 179–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Parr, N. (2010). Satisfaction with life as an antecedent of fertility: Partner + happiness = children? Demographic Research, 22, 635–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pirani, E. (2013). Evaluating contemporary social exclusion in Europe: A hierarchical latent class approach. Quality & Quantity, 47(2), 923–941.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rempel, J. (1985). Childless elderly: What are they missing? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 47, 343–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rodgers, J. L., Kohler, H.-P., Kyvik, K., & Christensen, K. (2001). Behavior genetic modeling of human fertility: Findings from a contemporary Danish twin study. Demography, 38(1), 29–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Salvini, S., & Vignoli, D. (2011). Things change: Women’s and men’s marital disruption dynamics in Italy during a time of social transformations. 1970–2003. Demographic Research, 24, 145–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sanchez, L., & Thomson, E. (1997). Becoming mothers and fathers: Parenthood, gender, and the division of labor. Gender and Society, 11(6), 747–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Saraceno, C., Olagnero, M., & Torrioni, P. (2005). Eurofound, first European quality of life survey: Families, work and social networks. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.Google Scholar
  66. Scherer, J. S. (2009). The social consequences of insecure jobs. Social Indicators Research, 93, 527–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Snijders, T. A. B., & Bosker, R. J. (1999). Multilevel analysis. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  68. Spreitzer, E., & Snyder, E. (1974). Correlates of life satisfaction among the aged. Journal of Gerontology, 29(4), 454–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stanca, L. (2009). Suffer the little children: Measuring the effects of parenthood on well-being worldwide. Working Papers 173, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics.Google Scholar
  70. Stutzer, A., & Frey, B. S. (2006). Does marriage make people happy, or do happy people get married? The Journal of Socio-Economics, 35, 326–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Tesch-Römer, C., Motel-Klingebiel, A., & Tomasik, M. J. (2008). Gender differences in subjective well-being: Comparing societies with respect to gender equality. Social Indicators Research, 85, 329–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Uhlendorff, U., Rupp, M., & Euteneuer, M. (eds.) (2011). Wellbeing of families in future Europe—Challenges for research and policy, family platform—Families in Europe, Vol. 1.Google Scholar
  73. Veenhoven, R. (1984). Conditions of happiness. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Waite, L. J., & Joyner, K. (2001). Emotional satisfaction and physical pleasure in sexual unions: Time horizon, sexual behavior, and sexual exclusivity. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 247–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Zimmermann, A. C., & Easterlin, R. A. (2006). Happily ever after? Cohabitation, marriage, divorce and happiness in Germany. Population and Development Review, 32(3), 511–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniele Vignoli
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elena Pirani
    • 1
  • Silvana Salvini
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Statistica, Informatica, Applicazioni “G. Parenti” (DiSIA)University of FlorenceFlorenceItaly

Personalised recommendations