A study out of Germany has raised an interesting cause of unhappiness and misery: the birth of a first child. While many people think that having a first child is the best experience that could happen to them (and many may actually feel that way) overall, most people suffer a great deal of unhappiness after the birth of said child. Researcher Mikko Myrskylä says that a cultural shift needs to arise from the findings of this study, according to Raw Story, noting that Germany's drop in birth rate is climbing, particularly in educated people over age 30, and that quality of life after a first child may be an indication as to why.
"Generally, new parents complain about a lack of sleep, relationship stress and a feeling of loss of freedom and control over their lives. Politicians concerned about low birthrates should pay attention to the well-being of new parents around and after the birth of their first child."A research effort by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research and the University of Western Ontario funded the study. The research method was the collection of surveys from 2,016 German couples for a period of their happiness levels three years before the birth of their first child through two years following it. The data showed that happiness levels rose in the year preceding birth of a first child, which may be a result of anticipating the birth of the child, but in both the first and second years following, 70 percent of new parents reported a significant drop in their happiness levels. These drops, measured on a happiness scale from 1-10, were astonishing: nearly twice as severe as happiness level drops during divorce, and slightly more than that of people who have lost a spouse or become unemployed.
There is an interesting twist in the findings: the reality of new parenthood is very far removed from the fantasy of new parenthood. While people generally understand that having a baby will bring sleeplessness, stress, and added responsibility, they may underestimate to what extent those things happen.
To further complicate life after a newborn baby, the mother has hormonal fluctuations that may cause depression and studies have revealed that fathers have hormonal changes as well. These issues combined with quality of life issues can leave people feeling unfulfilled in their new role as parent, which in itself may cause guilt and shame. This serves to only increase the unhappiness of new parents.
Researchers did note that because of this cultural idea that new parents should only be happy, subjects were questioned about their overall sense of well-being, fearing that they may get untrue answers if they were questioned only about their thoughts on parenting.
Mikko Myrskylä says that the cultural pressure to feel happiness after having a first child may skew answers, even though the lack of direct questioning may be considered a limitation of the study.
"Although this measure does not capture respondents' overall experience of having a child, it is preferable to direct questions about childbearing because it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child."
However, there was a silver lining for those parents who adjusted to their new lives and had two children: their happiness levels rose to what they were prior to the birth of the first child. This may be due to the fact that parents are aware of what to expect the second time around and are more experienced in dealing with the less pleasant parts of parenting. Mikko Myrskylä says that those who have a second child are generally happier.
"On the whole, and in the long run, despite the unhappiness after the first birth of a baby, having up to two children rather increases overall happiness in life."[Photo by Vincent Oliver/The Image Bank/Getty Images]