New Parenthood Makes People Unhappier Than Divorce and Death

Becoming a parent brings the opposite of joy.

Whoever coined the term “bundle of joy” was a liar. At least that’s what a new paper in the journal Demography seems to say. Having a baby, the study says, brings more unhappiness than divorce, unemployment, or the death of a parent. Basically, new parenthood sucks.

The researchers followed over 2,000 Germans from the time before they had kids to at least two years after the birth of their first child. They were asked to rate on a scale from 0 to 10 their level of satisfaction with their lives, all things considered.

“Although this measure does not capture respondents’ overall experience of having a child,” the researchers wrote, “it is preferable to direct questions about childbearing because it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child.”

Seventy percent of the study’s participants said their happiness decreased in the first and second year after their first child was born. Quantifying this loss of happiness in units, the researchers found that, on average, becoming a parent led happiness to drop by 1.4 units. For comparison, divorce led to a 0.6-unit drop, and unemployment led to 1-unit drops.

The major cause of this unhappiness was “the continuous and intense nature of childrearing,” referring to the seemingly endless cycle of breastfeeding, sleepless nights, depression, isolation, and the slow breakdown of relationships. For women, the physical pain and nausea of new motherhood made it difficult to work, adding to their unhappiness; in turn, watching their partners deal with medical issues made fathers unhappy.

Sad stuff, but the researchers weren’t trying to make a case against parenthood. They were trying to figure out why the number of kids people say they want isn’t always the number they actually have. Dropping birth rates are a concern in developed countries like Germany, Austria, Japan and Italy, and the researchers hope their work will encourage governments to offer more support to new parents.

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