Report: When baby makes three.

Now that we’re expecting our first, the 2011 study “When Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable” put on by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project absolutely fascinated me.

Elephant Family Baby Shower Invites from Aspacia Henspetter for Minted.

The study found that married parents are happier and less prone to depression than unmarried parents–which speaks to the strength of the institution of marriage, even as 41 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock. But here’s the bad news: Married parents are generally happier before kids come into the picture. HUGE bummer. “Mothers and fathers are at least 8 percentage points less likely to be “very happy” in their marriages, compared to their childless peers.”

Here’s my executive summary of how to be happy once kids enter the picture, but read on for more details from the report: Don’t think that more kids will make life worse. Make sure to have a weekly date night. Going to religious services as a family is extremely important. Try to define things more as ‘we’ and not as ‘I.’ Try to get the Mr. to help out more around the house. And try to be generous with your spouse at all times–little things count!

They looked more closely at the couples who were extremely happy with kids and found that they shared ten things in common.

  1. COLLEGE EDUCATION. In sum, young married parents who are college educated experience stronger marriages than their less-educated peers.
  2. $. Married parents who report above-average levels of financial stress—that is, worrying frequently that their income will “not be enough to meet your family’s expenses and bills”—are consistently more likely to rate their chances of separation or divorce as high, and less likely to describe themselves as “very happy” in their marriages.
  3. SHARED GENDER ROLES. Both mothers and fathers are less divorce prone and happier when they report that housework (e.g., cleaning, cooking, taking out the garbage) and childcare are “shared equally.”
  4. FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Whether they’re supportive of the marriage and kids or not.
  5. RELIGION. Couples who regularly attend a church, synagogue, or mosque together enjoy higher levels of marital success. Couples who believe that God is at the center of their marriage are also more likely to report high levels of commitment and a pattern of generous behavior toward one another.
  6. BELIEFS. Evidently, married parents who hold a more familistic view of life enjoy especially happy marriages.
  7. SEX. Sexually satisfied wives enjoy a 39-percentage-point premium in the odds of being very happy in their marriages. Sexually satisfied husbands enjoy a 38-percentage-point premium in marital happiness. Women are more likely to report that they are sexually satisfied when they report that they share housework with their husbands.
  8. GENEROSITY. Generosity is defined here as “the virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly,”and encompasses small acts of service (e.g., making coffee for one’s spouse in the morning), the expression of affection, displays of respect, and a willingness to “forgive him/her for mistakes and failings.”
  9. COMMITMENT. The commitment scale for this study specifically taps the extent to which spouses see their relationship in terms of “we” versus “me,” the importance they attach to their relationship, their conviction that a better relationship with someone else does not exist, and their desire to stay in the relationship “no matter what rough times we encounter.”
  10. TIME. We found that, for most married parents, time spent alone with one’s spouse and time spent with one’s children both predict higher levels of marital solidarity. Specifically, couples who spend time alone together—talking or sharing an activity—are significantly more likely to be happy in their marriages and less likely to be vulnerable to separation or divorce. Figure 18 indicates that husbands and wives who spend quality time with their spouses once a week or more are about 50 percent more likely to be “very happy” in their marriages. The figure also suggests that the link between couple time and relationship quality is particularly salient for wives. In other words, a regular date night appears to be part of the recipe for marital success among today’s parents. We found that, for most married parents, time spent alone with one’s spouse and time spent with one’s children both predict higher levels of marital solidarity.

There was one other fascinating finding: it turns out that the relationship between family size and marital happiness is not linear, but curvilinear. In other words, according to the Survey of Marital Generosity, the happiest husbands and wives among today’s young couples are those with no children and those with four or more children.

About 18 percent of wives with one to three children are “very happy” in their marriage, compared to 26 percent of wives with no children or four or more children, after controlling for differences in education, income, age, race, and ethnicity. Likewise about 14 percent of husbands with one to three children are “very happy” in their marriage, compared to 25 percent of husbands with no children or four of more children, after controlling for socioeconomic differences. This means that the parents of large families are at least 40 percent more likely to be happily married than the parents of smaller families.

Everything above was lifted directly from the study: When Baby Makes Three: How Parenthood Makes Life Meaningful and How Marriage Makes Parenthood Bearable.

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6 responses to “Report: When baby makes three.

  1. very interesting study! so excited for your growing family of three!

  2. Dear Natasha,
    First of all, congratulations. I am so happy and excited for you! Second, about the strain on the relationship: I found that it was true only of the first, and that the strain was temporary. You know your marriage is permanent, till death do you part, so really don’t let this frighten you. Most things that are good for us (e.g. exercise) are a bit painful in the beginning; that first child is no exception. But if both of you approach the marriage with absolute commitment, and keep those channels of communication open (it will be difficult for him to understand the isolation and boredom you feel, but keep trying)- and it passes. Mark Twain wrote in his journal on the morning of his twenty-seventh wedding anniversary to the ffect that “One doesn’t know what love is until one has been married twenty-seven years.” It is like a good wine- one has to keep it in the right conditions (e.g. both of you committed to giving 100%, always trying to put yourself in the frame of mind of self-sacrifice and charity; never losing sight of God, etc.), but then it ripens and matures into something so much more wonderful and profound than your early love was. I know you two will manage it.
    Debbie

    • Debbie, Thank you so much for the sweet comment and encouragement… what a great quote/anecdote from Mark Twain, too. I will have to file that one away! And I do hope and trust that the strain is temporary, but it’s great to hear that from someone who has been through it!

  3. I read about this report, too. It’s very interesting.
    It does, of course, assume a variety of definitions of happiness, since everyone is reporting on their own happiness and this is inherently subjective. Maybe, for some of them, what made them happy before the baby was freedom to do whatever they wanted; whereas after baby arrives, they’re more restricted. Perhaps later they’ll recognize that the happiness that they have with their babies is considerably deeper, if different.
    I also think that having babies must be extremely jarring for a lot of our generation who have not experienced babies much, since our parents’ generation had so many fewer babies. I find that my friends who are from big families are extremely adaptable when their own babies come along, which probably has something to do with the fact that they had practice in taking care of their little siblings, knew generally what to expect from babies, etc. In some ways, young mothers today are all the more courageous, I think, jumping into the life of mother when they have so very little experience with babies and children at all.
    But you’ll be a natural, I’m sure! 🙂

    • Thanks for your nice comment Deirdre!! I do think, speaking from personal experience, that not being around babies for decades does make you more intimidated by the idea of your own children–really good point.

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