MPIDR Working Paper
Happiness: before and after the kids
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2012-013, 53 pages (February 2012).
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Revised November 2012
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Keywords: Germany, United Kingdom, fertility, mental health
Understanding how the process of childbearing influences parental well-being has great potential to explain variation in fertility. However, most research on fertility and happiness uses cross-sectional data, hindering causal conclusions. We study trajectories of parental happiness before and after the birth of a child using British and German panel data and methods which control for unobserved parental characteristics. We find that happiness increases prior to and in the year of having a child and decreases thereafter, but not below before-child levels. This general pattern is modified by sociodemographic characteristics. Those who become parents at young ages have a downward happiness trajectory, while those becoming parents at older ages have a higher happiness level after the birth. The first child tends to increase happiness a lot, the second much less, and the third may decrease happiness. Socioeconomic resources are important for men, as those with low education gain little in happiness from the birth of a child. Women experience stronger pre-birth highs and post-birth drops than men. These results, which are similar in Britain and Germany, suggest that childbearing increases parental happiness most among those who postpone and have more resources. This recipe for happiness is highly consistent with the fertility behavior that emerged during the second demographic transition and provides new insights into the causes behind low and late fertility.