Couple’s Happiness after First Child Impacts Family Size

German researchers have discovered that when a couple displays a significant loss in subjective well-being after their first child, the probability of a second child diminishes.

A study by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany, found the effect is especially strong for mothers and fathers who are well educated and older.

Many believe the research deals with a taboo subject as having children is traditionally viewed as a joyous occasion. That is, it is rarely discussed that parents often experience a considerable loss of happiness after the birth of a first child.

Researchers determined the drop in life satisfaction during the year following the first birth is even larger than that caused by unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner.

The findings by Mikko Myrskylä, Ph.D., demographer and new director at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, and Rachel Margolis, Ph.D., from the Sociology Department at the University of Western Ontario appear in the Journal of Demography.

“Parents’ experience with and after the first birth help predict how large the family will be eventually,” said Myrskylä. “Politicians concerned about low birthrates should pay attention to the well-being of new parents around and after the birth of their first child.”

Researchers used mother’s and father’s self-reported life satisfaction in the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP) – an annual tool in which 20,000 participants assessed their contentedness with life on a scale from zero to ten (maximum well-being). This data allowed researchers to ascertain how the birth of the first child influenced parental happiness.

After the first child, mothers and fathers reported a loss of well-being that averaged to 1.4 units on the happiness scale. They felt this decline during the first year of parenthood compared to the two years before the birth.

Only just under 30 percent of the participants did not feel any decline in well-being. And more than one-third experienced a decline of two or more units of happiness.

This is notable compared to what international studies find for unemployment or the death of the partner (both with an average loss of one happiness-unit) or for divorce (minus 0.6 units) on the same scale.

Analysis performed by Myrskylä and Margolis showed how strongly experiences made with the first child affect chances for a second. Only 58 out of one hundred couples who reported a drop in well-being of three units or more had a second child within 10 years.

But among parents who did not feel a reduction in happiness, 66 out of one hundred couples had another baby. Thus, the share of families with at least four members was almost 14 percent larger if happiness did not decline.

Remarkably, the results are independent of income, place of birth, or marital status of the couples.

Source: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft/EurekAlert
Unhappy couple with young child photo by shutterstock.