Couples who perceive a drop in happiness in the first year after becoming parents are less likely to have a second child, a new German study has found.
The study showed that the larger the loss in well-being in couples, the smaller the probability of having a second baby. The effect is especially strong for mothers and fathers who are well educated and older, researchers said.
The study deals with a taboo subject, the researchers said. It is rarely discussed that parents often experience a considerable loss of happiness after the birth of a first child.
The study shows that for parents in Germany 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.
“Parents’ experience with and after the first birth help predict how large the family will be eventually,” said Mikko Myrskyla, director at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany.
In order to explore how the birth of the first child influenced parental happiness, the researchers made use of mother’s and father’s self-reported life satisfaction in the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP).
Every year 20,000 participants assessed their contentedness with life on a scale from zero to ten (maximum well-being). After the first child both parents 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 per cent 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, researchers said. This is notable compared to what international studies find for unemployment or the death of the partner or for divorce on the same scale, they said.
Calculations done by Myrskyla and Rachel Margolis from the University of Western Ontario, show 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 ten years.
However, 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 per cent larger if happiness did not decline.
These results are independent of income, place of birth, or marital status of the couples, researchers said.