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.
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.
- 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.
- Winders, Jason. "Study: ‘Less happy’ new parents have smaller families." Western News. Western University, 7 Aug. 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.