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A Couple’s First Two Kids Make Them Briefly Happier; the Third Not So Much

Older couples get the most joy from their new addition to the family, teens the least

(Photo: Joe Petersburger/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Parents often say that nothing compares to the joy of welcoming their new baby into the family. But all newborns are not equal in the happiness they bring mom and dad, according to a new study published in the journal Demography. By the time couples reach their third baby, the thrill of pregnancy and birth has worn off, the researchers find. 

Researchers from the London School of Economics and from Canada's Western University examined data from the German Socio-Economic Panel and the British Household Panel Survey—two longitudinal studies that poll a representative sample of the U.K. and Germany's population each year. The researchers analyzed how people's self-evaluation of their happiness levels corresponded with whether they were preparing for a baby or had recently had a baby. They homed in on more than 7,000 parents, each of whom submitted data for more than 10 years. 

The first birth, the team found, is by far the most exciting. People's happiness levels increase significantly. But the second birth, while still thrilling, increases their happiness by only about half of that of the first birth. By the time a woman or a couple reaches their third birth, the effect on their happiness level is "negligible," the team reports in a release. Additionally, after all of the births—whether first, second or third—parents' happiness levels soon return to pre-baby levels and sometimes even declines. 

Breaking these results down, the researchers further found that older couples—those who have a child when they are 35 to 49 years old—experience the greatest happiness spikes and tend to stay happier longer following the birth of their child. Those in the 23- to 34-year-old cohort get happy at first, but quickly return to normal or slightly lower happiness levels after the excitement wears off.

For the youngest parents, the team found, having a baby markedly detracts from their happiness. "Those who become parents in their teens," they write, "have a predominantly declining pattern of happiness that does not increase above the baseline even during the year of birth."

Finally, they discovered that, compared to men, women experience a greater elevation in happiness when it comes to anticipating and welcoming a new baby into their life. But that also means the fall from that elevated state of being is more extreme. 

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