International German study shows 'less happy' new parents end up having smaller families

Quantitative Data Shows Correlation Between Parents' Well-Being and Fertility

Photo of a mother holding her baby's feet in a heart shape

A new study by Western University and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) shows couples who feel 'less happy' in the year following the birth of their first child, have a lower probability of having another. The trend is especially strong for mothers and fathers who are well educated and older.

Lack of sleep, relationship stress and work-family conflict are thought to be major factors in perceived lower levels of happiness during the crucial time before, during and after the arrival of a newborn.

"We now know that the drop in happiness is important, if not imperative, for determining whether couples go on to have another child," explains Rachel Margolis, an Assistant Professor in Western's Department of Sociology.

Data on a Taboo Subject

Because it is taboo for new parents to admit feelings of unhappiness about childbearing, Margolis and MPIDR's Mikko Myrskyla used a survey with questions about general happiness.

Margolis and Myrskylä explored self-reported life satisfaction responses of both mothers and fathers from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP). Every year, more than 20,000 participants assess their 'contentedness' with life on a scale from zero to 10 (10 representing maximum well-being).

From just before to just after a first child is born, mothers and fathers reported a loss of well-being that averaged up to 1.4 units on the happiness scale that ranges from 0-10.

New Calculations Show How Strongly Experiences Related to the First Child Affect Chances for a Second

Graph showing the probability for a second child

Only 58 per cent of couples that 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 per cent of couples had another baby. These results are independent of income, place of birth, or marital status of the couples.

Mothers and fathers over 30 years old and those who have been educated for more than 12 years were especially influenced by their state of well-being when it came to deciding about having more children.

"It could be that older and better educated parents are more likely to stop at one child because they are better to implement their new lower fertility preferences based on their recent experience," explains Myrskylä, who serves as executive director of MPIDR.

The study also suggests that politicians and policy-makers in the developed world concerned about low fertility rates should pay attention to factors that influence the well-being of new parents. This study points to the importance of capturing the factors behind new parents' loss of happiness and including these in future surveys.

New study: When new parents become unhappy, brothers and sisters become less likely

— MPIDRnews (@MPIDRnews) August 5, 2015