What’s worse than divorce, unemployment or death of a partner? Parenthood, apparently

Life with kids, particularly that first year of parenthood, can be brutal. The lack of sleep, loss of freedom and complete transition into a whole different phase of life – it’s tough. And the latest research has revealed it can have a devastating impact on our happiness – more so than losing our jobs or partner.

While they would never utter the words out loud, many parents believe they were actually happier before they had children. It can be a crushing thing to admit: that children can sometimes have a negative impact on our lives. At times, they can suck every ounce of energy and patience we have. A new study has uncovered the usually secret thoughts that many new parents have – that the first year of parenthood can have a hugely negative impact on our happiness.

The study, published in Demographyfollowed more than 2,000 Germans who were about to embark on their parenthood journeys.

Researchers Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä asked the participants how satisfied they were with their lives, all things considered. They say they didn’t centre the question around childbearing, because “it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child”.

The study was aimed at trying to find out why, in many developed countries, people often say they want a certain number of children, but never actually go on to have that amount. For example, The Washington Post points out that in Germany, most couples say they want two children, but the country’s birthrate has stagnated at 1.5 children per woman.

Interestingly, the researchers (who hail from the University of Western Ontario and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research) discovered that most of the couples in the study were quite happy prior to having children. Even more so in the year before the birth of their first child.

But once they embarked on parenthood, things took a nosedive:

  • About 30 per cent said they were at about the same state of happiness or better once they had the baby.
  • The rest of the respondents reported a decrease in happiness during the first and second year after the birth.

Of the new mums and dads that indicated their happiness had decreased:

  • 37 percent reported a one-unit drop in happiness,
  • 19 percent indicated a two-unit drop,
  • and 17 percent reported a three-unit drop.

So what does this mean? The Washington Post points out that in previous studies, a 0.6 ‘happiness unit’ drop is akin to divorce, while a one-unit drop is the equivalent of unemployment or the death of a partner. The impact, it seems, is that this happiness slide is stopping some parents having more children.

This new study cites a paper that was published in 2008, which looked at how the experience of parenthood influences Australian parents’ desire for more children.

It argued that if low fertility rates are to be addressed in developed countries, then researchers and policy makers must consider the “physical and socio-psychological costs of having children for parents”, and provide more support.

(via The Washington Post)


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