Neighborhoods are no fun for childfree people, single parents, study says

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Staying local can be a drag if you aren’t married with children, according to researchers from Michigan State University. Their study finds levels of neighborhood satisfaction are much lower among childfree people and single parents.

COVID-19 turned many people into homebodies. So, study authors set out to investigate just how much people actually like the neighborhoods they live in. It quickly became apparent that married adults with children are happier by a notable margin. This trend held up across Michigan residents living in both high and low-income neighborhoods, and in rural, suburban, and urban areas.

“We found that single parents are much less satisfied with their neighborhoods than married parents, and childfree people who don’t want children aren’t much better off,” says study co-author Zachary Neal, an associate professor in MSU’s psychology department, in a university release.

This project is among the first to investigate neighborhood satisfaction according to the specific household type – single parents, empty nesters, and childfree adults. Researchers analyzed data from a representative sample of 1,000 Michigan residents originally gathered to take part in MSU’s State of the State Survey.

What’s making singles unhappy?

While most neighborhood-centric studies focus on comparing parents with non-parents, Prof. Neal explains that this approach misses some major differences.

Married parents were generally very satisfied with their neighborhoods,” comments study co-author Jennifer Watling Neal. “People who were planning to have children, or whose children had already moved out were also pretty satisfied. But, neighborhoods don’t seem to be designed with single parents or childfree people in mind.”

“It’s difficult to put satisfaction into numbers,” Prof. Neal adds. “But, we collected these data in mid-2020, when COVID was taking off. Single parents and childfree people are as dissatisfied with their neighborhoods as someone who was experiencing a lot of stress around COVID at that time.”

While the data used was confined to residents of just one state, researchers note that Michigan is demographically similar to the United States as a whole. Study authors didn’t attempt to answer why childless people and single parents are less satisfied with their neighborhoods, but Prof. Watling Neal has a few theories.

“Because single parents tend to have less income, they have fewer choices about where to live. Childfree adults may be less satisfied because they feel excluded when parents plan neighborhood social events that are often kid or school-focused,” Neal says.

Divorce rates in the U.S. have never been higher, and fertility rates are falling as well. More and more neighborhoods across the country are likely becoming home to many single parents and childfree people. Researchers hope their findings help highlight the need for neighborhoods that appeal to more than just one kind of household.

The study is published in PLoS ONE.

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