Who doesn’t loves babies, right? Even people who don’t really want to have children also like babies! They are cute and they make sweet little noises which makes our day. It is part of our physiology to want babies, atleast in some part. They are little bundles of joy, right? Well, maybe not.
According to a new study, even if you thought you’d have many kids, the arrival of your first could put you off altogether, especially if you are well educated and an older first-time parent. The research suggests that a drop in happiness levels during the first year leads to a greater likelihood that new parents do not opt to have another baby. Thus, it leaves us to ponder on a vital question that does parenthood suck the joy out of life, or is it the key to happiness?
The study, by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany, touches on the somewhat taboo subject of a decrease in happiness when couples have their first child. The study found that, in Germany, the decrease in happiness reported by new parents was even greater than that brought on by divorce, the loss of a job or the death of a partner.
Conducted by Mikko Myrskylä, demographer and new director at the MPIDR and Rachel Margolis from the Sociology Department at the University of Western Ontario, the study relied on parents’ self-reported life satisfaction in the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP). They were asked to rate their happiness on a scale of zero to ten – ten attributed to maximum well-being.
The average decline in happiness after their first child was born was 1.4 points. And while a little under 30% of the respondents didn’t report any decrease in happiness, about one-third of the participants reported a drop of at least two points. Only 58% of couples who reported a fall in happiness by three or more points had a second child within 10 years.
The study also found that well educated and older couples who had their first child were in great dilemma to have another. Those above 30 years of age and who had received over 12 years of education were influenced more strongly by their state of perceived well-being when the time came to take decision for having more children.
“Both parents have learned what it means to have a child,” says Myrskylä. “Those who are older and better educated may be more able or willing to revise their family plans based on prior experience.”
However, the study didn’t focus on what might be the reasons that trigger unhappiness in new parents. “Generally, new parents complain about a lack of sleep, relationship stress and a feeling of loss of freedom and control over their lives,” Myrskylä said. Other factors that might influence this decision to have another child include difficulties when trying to balance family life and work and a difficult labour and delivery.
However, this perceived happiness or the drop in it should be put into perspective. Couples are generally buoyed and enthusiastic before the baby is born and happiness levels are higher than the previous long-term average. “On the whole, and in the long run, despite the unhappiness after the first birth of a baby, having up to two children rather increases overall happiness in life,” says Mikko Myrskylä.
Myrskylä and Margolis also concluded in their study: “Although most German couples still say they would like to have two children, birthrates have fluctuated below 1.5 children per women for the past four decades. While rising childlessness is often discussed as a cause, it remains widely unrecognized that more and more couples in Germany have a first child, but not the second one they had initially wanted.”
The findings have been published in the journal Demography, and the results are independent of income, place of birth or marital status of the couples.
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