You’ve probably heard that the transition to becoming a new parent can be a tough one. But new research claims it’s pretty much the worst thing you’ll ever go through.
According to a study published in the journal Demography, the first year of parenthood is worse for most people than going through a divorce, unemployment, and even the death of a partner—really.
Researchers conducted the study to try to understand why so many couples in Germany say they want to have two children but end up just having one. (The average birth rate in the country has been 1.5 children per woman for 40 years.)
They used data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, a nationally representative longitudinal study of private households run by the German Institute for Economic Research. They located more than 2,000 people who weren’t expecting a child and then had one during a follow-up and analyzed their levels of happiness, as well as whether they had a second kid during the study.
Each year, people were asked the broad question, “How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?” They then gave a response that ranged from zero (“completely dissatisfied”) to 10 (“completely satisfied”).
“Although this measure doesn’t 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,” researchers wrote in the study text.
They looked at those responses from three years before a child was born through at least two years after new baby arrived and measured how people felt before and after the baby arrived.
Their findings are pretty intense: People’s life satisfaction is high three to five years before they have a baby. It increases the year before their first baby is born and then proceeds to dip below what it was even before they were expecting a baby.
Only about 30 percent of people stayed at the same level of happiness or better when the baby arrived, but the rest said their levels of happiness went down during the first and second year after.
The average drop in happiness was 1.4 units which is kind of a big deal when you compare it to previously studied depressing life events like divorce (0.6 units), unemployment (one unit) and the death of an S.O. (one unit).
Researchers also found that the bigger the drop in happiness, the less likely people were to have a second baby—especially if they were over the age of 30 and had a higher education.
While this news is disturbing, it’s worth pointing out a few caveats: For one thing, researchers never straight-up asked new parents how they felt about having a baby. They make a good point in that it’s kind of taboo to say life with a little one is anything less than floating on a fluffy cloud through rainbow-colored skies, but they might have gotten a different response if they’d asked.
Researchers also didn’t determine how many of these people only wanted to have one kid in the first place. Those that were over the age of 30 when they first gave birth might have only planned on having one to begin with—or may have had difficulty conceiving another one.
Finally, everyone’s experience as a new parent is different. No one has ever said they love the inevitable sleep deprivation or poopy diapers, but all parents, kids, and life stressors play into a much bigger, holistic experience of happiness.
Source: Women’s Health Mag