By some measures, new parents are more miserable than people grieving their spouses.
Photo via Flickr user Bradley Gordon
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A horrifying study published last week in the journal Demography suggests that being a new parent makes you miserable. The study, by the Canadian demographer Rachel Margolis and others, titled "Parental Well-Being Surrounding First Birth as a Determinant of Further Parity Progression," was carried out in Germany, a country that recently surpassed Japan as the place with the lowest birthrate in the world.
The researchers set out to understand the difference between the number of children people want, and the number they end up having. German people in particular say they want an average of two kids, and then only have one and a half. This statistic suggests that a huge number of people who want kids think better of it after they have that first one. Why would that be?
The study blames a "drop in well-being surrounding first birth," also known as "unhappiness."
To gather data, the study asked people about their "overall well-being" over the course of about five years encompassing the three years prior to the birth of a first child, and the two years afterward. Respondents weren't asked about parenting point blank, because of a "taboo" against admitting that your kids are sucking the life out of you.
The drop in the reported happiness of new parents is beyond the level you might expect from sleepless nights, and dealing with poopy diapers. In fact, somewhat alarmingly, the unhappiness didn't set in until the first and second year after the birth. And when it did, it was some major misery.
The Washington Post points out that this isn't the only study where people were asked to rate their happiness during a certain life event on a scale of 1 to 10. Since there are others, we can make some quick comparisons. For instance, people report an average drop of 0.6 for a divorce, and one full point for experiencing unemployment or a spouse's death. The birth of a first child? That blows them all out of the water at an average decline of 1.6.
The study lumped sources of unhappiness into three categories. The first and second category consisted of the slings and arrows of conceiving, being pregnant, and giving birth: fertility problems, puking, and the like. The other category was the "continuous and intense nature of childrearing in the first year," which included such ordeals as "depression, domestic isolation, and relationship breakdown."
So look forward to depression, loneliness, and fights with your partner if you're planning to have kids soon.
The authors do point out that this only covers the strains of being a new parent, not the parent of an elementary school student, or a full-grown adult person, which might be a barrel of laughs for all anyone knows. That's because it began strictly as an effort to figure out what was going on with family size in Germany. They add that further research would be the only way to "address the ways in which parenting experiences throughout the life course affect fertility behavior upward or downward."
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