When a Child Is Born, Fathers' Life Satisfaction Improves More than Mothers'
SOCIETY | POLITICAL SCIENCES |

When a Child Is Born, Fathers' Life Satisfaction Improves More than Mothers'

A STUDY BY NICOLETTA BALBO FINDS THAT THE HAPPINESS EFFECT OF A NEWBORN IS STRONGER FOR MEN THAN WOMEN AND DEPENDS ON A FAMILY'S GENDER ROLE ATTITUDES AND PREFERENCES TOWARDS WORK AND FAMILY

A study published in Demography finds that parents have higher life satisfaction than childless individuals, but the effect is short-lived and lasts only until the child is 3 years old. Furthermore, gains in life satisfaction are higher for fathers versus non-fathers than for mothers versus non-mothers. Mothers record the most significant gains in life satisfaction during the year preceding the birth of the child, while the effect is very small afterwards.
 
“Our results call for family policies specifically targeted to bridge the gap between expectations about childbearing and reality, that is likely to reduce the probability of having a second child”, lead author Nicoletta Balbo, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bocconi University, Milan, says.
 
The study also finds that a second child raises fathers’ life satisfactions but not mothers’. In both cases, a decisive role is played by family orientations (gender role attitudes and preferences towards work and family), as individuals of the same gender with different family orientations are likely to experience different effects.
 

 
A Traditional family orientation endorses the male breadwinner model, with the female partner expected to stay at home and be responsible for housework and childcare. A Modern family orientation entails a dual-earner family system and a gender-egalitarian model in housework and childcare. In the Mixed family model, followed by the majority of the population in advanced societies, the female partner is not simply a housewife, but is likely to work at least part-time and to be the main partner responsible for household and childcare activities.
 
Using data from the British Household Panel Survey - which provides information on several socioeconomic characteristics, family orientations, fertility history and subjective well-being of 10,000 people interviewed every year for 18 consecutive years since 1991 – Prof. Balbo and Bruno Arpino (Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona) have been able to measure the effect of childbearing on life satisfaction for men and women and for the three family orientations groups.
 
The gain in life satisfaction for women is driven only by the gain for Traditional mothers. Modern mothers do not experience any change, while Mixed women show a strong anticipation effect, which vanishes after the birth of the child, probably because these women suffer higher costs of childbearing than women in the other two groups, due to difficulties in balancing work and family life.
 
Men do not suffer the work-family balancing problem because, regardless of their family orientations, they are expected to work and this explains both the lack of differences across family orientations and the fact that men obtain an increase in life satisfaction also from the birth of a second child, that instead has no effect on mothers.
 
Nicoletta Balbo, Bruno Arpino, The Role of Family Orientations in Shaping the Effect of Fertility on Subjective Well-being: A Propensity Score Matching Approach, in Demography, Volume 53, Issue 4, doi: 10.1007/s13524-016-0480-z.

by Fabio Todesco

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