The Washington Post reports on a study finding that having a child decimates the happiness of German couples:
In reality, it turns out that having a child can have a pretty strong negative impact on a person's happiness, according to a new study published in the journal Demography. In fact, on average, the effect of a new baby on a person's life is devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner.
Researchers Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä followed 2,016 Germans who were childless at the time the study began until at least two years after the birth of their first child. Respondents were asked to rate their happiness from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied) in response to the question, "How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?"
"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," they wrote.
The study's goal was to try to gain insights into a longstanding contradiction in fertility in many developed countries between how many children people say they want and how many they actually have. In Germany, most couples say in surveys that they want two children. Yet the birthrate in the country has remained stubbornly low — 1.5 children per woman — for 40 years.
On average, new parenthood led to a 1.4 unit drop in happiness. That's considered very severe.
To put things in perspective, previous studies have quantified the impact of other major life events on the same happiness scale in this way: divorce, the equivalent of a 0.6 "happiness unit" drop; unemployment, a one-unit drop; and the death of a partner a one-unit drop.
The effect was especially strong in mothers and fathers who are older than age 30 and with higher education.
Surprisingly, gender was not a factor.
The third category was the most significant and was about "the continuous and intense nature of childrearing." Parents reported exhaustion due to trouble breast-feeding, sleep deprivation, depression, domestic isolation and relationship breakdown.
A few points. First, that's a clever study design. It gets at revealed preferences (what people do) rather than stated preferences (what they say), and also minimizes social desirability bias -- people answering questions the way they think is socially acceptable rather than the way they actually feel.
I've seen this happen in my social circle. Well-educated Germans in their late 20s or 30s like to lead busy lives and go out and meet with friends and go skiing and go to concerts and have sex and keep up with the latest TV series etc. Most of them have never had to care for a child and don't know what it's like. They have been brought up in a society that favors self-realization and productive work, not self-sacrifice and duty. They find child-rearing boring, stressful, and a shocking transition from web design or PR or journalism. They know they should love their kid and do, but that doesn't mean that they don't also think changing diapers and sitting around at playgrounds is a total waste of their intellectual abilities.
Of course, this has always been the case. But in previous generations, the answer was clear: a young writer, architect, or lawyer building a career cannot be expected to care for a child. They don't know how it's done and don't have the patience for it. Besides, their talents are better used doing what they're good at and have been trained to do. So you hire a nanny. Someone with little education, who enjoys dealing with children, has plenty of experience and patience.
Hiring nannies or au pairs has become too expensive for most middle-class couples in the West and is also socially frowned on by judgy types on the right (you should be a real mommy) and the left (you're exploiting that Albanian woman). Historically, immigrant women have been nannies to more-established middle-class couples. Perhaps this could be a partial solution to current immigration problems? (Tongue loosely in cheek).