Sometimes a new little bundle of joy comes with the new-baby blues. That possibility is rarely mentioned when baby announcements are made. A new study from Canada indicates the everyday realities of parenthood could be a driving factor behind a trend for only-child families.

By late-20th century, fertility rates (the number of children born per capita in a given population) had declined to below-replacement levels, affecting nations that contain more than half of all people in the world and creating a situation that could become problematic as the current population ages.

Previous studies indicate parents are less likely to have a second child when conception, pregnancy, and/or childbirth were difficult the first time around. The rigors of caring for a newborn during its first year are often greater than first-time parents anticipated. Relationship changes, sleeplessness, and the work/family balancing act often proves to be more overwhelming than expected, too.

Rachel Margolis, a sociology professor at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, teamed up with Mikko Myrskylä, of the Laboratory of Fertility and Well-being at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, to explore how the emotional impact of parenthood affects the choice to expand a family. The researchers used data collected in the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP), an on-going study started in western Germany in 1984 and added private households from the former East German states in 1991.

With the understanding that new parents are resistant to expressing unhappiness with parenthood, the researchers isolated questions of well-being from those involving life events such as birth of a child, relationship changes, and career changes that were collected as part of the annual SOEP survey. After reviewing happiness assessments, life events were incorporated to identify any associated trends or changes.

The SOEP grades contentedness on a scale of zero (most discontent) to 10 (most content) to assess a person’s general sense of happiness. With this unit of measure for contentedness, the SOEP finds participants, on average:

  • Lose one happiness unit after death of a partner or loss of a job.
  • Lose 0.6 units due to divorce.

The Margolis-Myrskylä study compared couples’ contentedness two years before the birth of a first child to their happiness one year after becoming parents:

  • On average, there was a loss of 1.4 happiness units just before or after birth of a first child.
  • 30% of new parents exhibited no decline in happiness.
  • Approximately one-third experienced happiness decline by 2 or more units.
  • 58% of couples who reported a drop in happiness by 3 units or more did not have a second child in the 10 years following birth of a first child.
  • 66% who reported no new-parent loss of happiness did have another baby in 10 years.
  • Men and women who became parents after age 30 were more likely to report loss of contentment.
  • Parents with 12 or more years of education were also more likely to report discontentment after becoming a parent.

“It could also be that it is harder for these parents to combine work and family, given that they are likely to be in more competitive professional environments,” suggests Myrskylä.


  1. Margolis, Rachel, and Mikko Myrskylä. "Parental Well-being Surrounding First Birth as a Determinant of Further Parity Progression." Springer Link. Springer Science+Business Media, 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.
  2. Winders, Jason. "Study: ‘Less happy’ new parents have smaller families." Western News. Western University, 7 Aug. 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.