No joy for parents without purpose, German study finds
August 18, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A new study shows that coping with a first child makes many German couples too unhappy to have a second. One conservative American family researcher said this is a good reflection of worsening attitudes to children and marriage in Europe – and maybe America, too.
"Even in America," said Patrick Fagan of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, "54% of children are living in a broken home by the age of 17. That's a big negative factor in their attitudes towards marriage and children."
The study, just published in Demography, is titled "Parental Well-being Surrounding First Birth as a Determinant of Further Parity Progression." It tracked the happiness of more than 2,000 German couples from just before they had their first child until two years after. Asked at each stage how satisfied they were with their lives on a scale of one to ten, the survey group reported a drop in satisfaction averaging 1.6 after they had their child.
This was a much severer impact than reported in other studies to such major life events as divorce, which caused a drop of 1.2, unemployment, and loss of a spouse (which both caused a drop of 1).
Taking as a starting point the fact that most Germans say they want two children but actually have 1.5 children, the Canadian and German researchers, Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä, set out to discover if the trials of having and caring for their first child is deterring many German couples from having the second they initially intended. The study found that, indeed, the unhappier the couple were during their first year as parents, the less likely they were to have a second child – a finding that held true across differing income and education levels, and both genders.
On the other hand, couples who were happier to begin with were more likely to have a second child, as were immigrants, younger couples, and those living in what was West Germany. And of course, those whose happiness diminished the least were far likelier to go for their second child. Interestingly, the religiosity of the couples was not considered a worthwhile measurable.
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"It's a well-done study, a good study," said Dr. Fagan of MARRI, which is a unit of the Family Research Council, "and it reflects how marriage is now defined differently than it used to be. While in the past couples believed the highest and best thing they could do was have and raise children, now children are regarded as almost noxious."
Indeed, the Washington Post report on the study was headlined misleadingly: "It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment – even the death of a partner."
Dr. Fagan said there are many factors contributing to a positive attitude to marriage but also a growing number of negative factors. The increasing number of children from broken or single-parent homes will view marriage with children more dimly than will children from large, intact families. Also, "we know that religious families have more children and can hypothesize that these children will grow up to have more children," Dr. Fagan told LifeSiteNews.
The results may also reflect more negative attitudes to children in Europe, and lower birthrates. A 2012 tripartite study by California and Vancouver researchers, tellingly titled "In Defence of Parenthood: Children Are Associated With More Joy Than Misery," found that three North American study groups reported either the same or increased happiness with their lives after having children, especially when the researchers asked them by telephone at times in the day when they were actually with their children. They also found more meaning in their lives than people surveyed without children. Men were happiest of all, and the more children they had, the happier they were.
The same study team, led by Katherine Nelson of the University of California Riverside, dug deeper in a second study that found that couples who believed that their lives and their parenting held a deeper purpose or meaning made happier parents, as did those who experienced social affirmation in their parenting roles – both of which are likelier to happen to religious people. "So if you convert people to the religious belief and membership," said Fagan, "they will have more children."