Despite the Troubles Life Presents, Families Mostly Manage to Be Happy

We view family as a rock of social stability, as well we might. In so doing, though, we may neglect to notice how eventful and unstable family life can be. A survey conducted for Reader’s Digest offers a reminder of this, even as it documents Americans’ basic satisfaction with their families.

The poll was fielded among adults who live in family households (i.e., those with two or more people related by blood, marriage or adoption). Nearly one-third of respondents (32 percent) said they or other members of their household had gone through a death in the family during the past year. Sixteen percent had experienced the birth of a child. Among other big life changes were a new job (26 percent), a promotion (26 percent) or the loss of a job (20 percent). Nine percent had married in the past year; 4 percent had divorced. In light of such data, it’s no surprise that 72 percent said their families suffer from stress on a regular basis; 35 percent said they’re subject to anxiety, 27 percent to depression and 25 percent to insomnia. Nor is family life always sociable: 19 percent said household members suffer loneliness on a regular basis.

Nonetheless, people generally think their families are doing fine. When asked to rate “your overall family’s well-being,” 12 percent said it’s “superb,” 18 percent said it’s “extremely good” and 36 percent said it’s “very good.” (Apparently all happy families aren’t entirely alike.) Another 30 percent said it’s “good, but with some problems.” Just a handful rated their family well-being as “poor” (3 percent) or “very poor” (1 percent). Among parents, there’s a self-congratulatory aspect to satisfaction with family life. Forty-three percent of them think they’re doing a better job of parenting than their own parents did, while just 4 percent think they’re doing a worse job.

Work is also a source of satisfaction, judging by the fact that 70 percent would continue working (though not all at their current jobs) even if they could afford to quit. As it happens, though, affording things is tricky for some households. Six percent said they are “heavily in debt,” and 26 percent are “modestly” so. Forty-seven percent said they have difficulty paying for healthcare. For all that, 68 percent of respondents rate their current financial standing as “very good” or “good,” vs. 18 percent saying it’s “poor” or “very poor.” Sixty percent believe they’re better off financially than their parents were at the same stage in life. And 67 percent of parents think their kids will be better off than they are, vs. 6 percent expecting the offspring to be worse off.