The effect of fertility on parents' happiness

Gerrit Bauer, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Josef Brüderl, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Thorsten Kneip, Max-Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy

Recently, the effect of fertility on parents' happiness has garnered much attention in scientific papers as well as in the media. We focus on the effects of first births on life satisfaction and make three distinct contributions to the literature: 1) Analysing data from the German Family Panel (pairfam), we estimate separate impact functions (distributed fixed-effects) for women and men and account for the age of the first child in 3-month intervals. This allows us to estimate the time-varying effect in more detail than does previous research which groups children’s age in broader categories. 2) We conducted extensive robustness checks and the results are exceptionally robust. This is graphically illustrated by the range of impact functions and confidence bands across many differently specified models. 3) We discuss numerous potential mediators and put them to empirical testing. Besides income, education and health, which already have received attention in previous studies, we also considered stress measures (e.g. average hours of sleep) and frequency of sexual intercourse. These variables could potentially explain why the effect of children on happiness varies with the child’s age. We also tested whether (states of) pregnancy can explain a positive anticipation effect, which is the case for women, whereas partner’s pregnancy does not moderate the anticipation effect for men. Overall, we find a positive effect of a first child on happiness. The effect is stronger for women and lasts until the child is 6-9 months old. Men show positive anticipation effects 12 months, women only 6 months before childbirth. The moderating impact of costs (e.g. more stress, less sex, lower income) is weak. Women and men would, by trend, be happier if children did not reduce sleep, income and the satisfaction with sexual intercourse. These factors, however, cannot explain why happiness declines to a baseline-level after 6-9 months.

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Presented in Session 80: Happiness and childbearing