It’s often said that happiness often dips for parents after the birth of a first child. The diaper changes, the middle-of-the-night wailing, the exhaustion—all this and more make for a not-so-blissful experience. Couple a crying infant with job stress and hormones, and you’ve got one crabby new parent.
And that crabbiness might mean baby won’t get a brother or a sister: New research from the Journal of Demography shows that how happy a brand-new parent acts as a pretty solid predictor of whether a couple decides to get pregnant again.
Mikko Myrskyla at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, and his colleague, Rachel Marolis at the University of Western Ontario’s Department of Sociology, collected data from Germany’s Socio-Economic Panel Study, which included the former East and West Germanys (East Germany was added in 1991), foreigners, and immigrants between 1984 and 2010. From the survey, 2,016 people who had had first births were interviewed about their levels of life satisfaction—beyond the happiness of being a parent, Myrskala told TIME.
“We don’t ask parents about happiness with relationship to parenthood, because there is a strong implicit pressure to be happy,” Myrskala says. “If I go and ask a new parent these kinds of questions, they feel a pressure to put a positive picture of what a new parent is ‘supposed’ to feel.”
Having the first kid, the authors write, is a crash course in childrearing; having a second one, then, becomes a more informed decision. This can play out in a number of ways. Consider, for instance, the parents of a fuss-free newborn. The circumstance is likely to be seen as positive experience, making the new mom and dad more likely to have more kids. About 58% of parents who reported at least a three-point loss in happiness had a second child within 10 years of the first. But that shot up to 66% of parents who did not experience a dip in happiness.
There are some commanalities among parents who decide to go for baby number two and beyond. These individuals seem to have more life satisfaction around the time of the first child’s birth, and reported a smaller drop in happiness than parents who stuck with one kid. And there’s something about being older and wiser as a first-time parent: people who are over 30 and have a college education are more likely to be able to cope with the shock of an infant than younger, less educated couples, the study found.
While the study is focused on Germany—a country that has experienced economic and political upheaval along with a 2007 parental leave amendment that made paid leave “more Nordic”—Myrskala thinks the results are in keeping with other countries.
“What this suggests is that policymakers who are concerned about lower rates should pay attention to the wellbeing of new parents,” Myrskyla says, citing not only parental leave but also affordable kindergarten and childcare.
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