Published on April 7th, 2014 | by Ganna Pogrebna

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Parenting, Happiness and Productivity

Just last summer, the UK celebrated the new addition to the family of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Even though both parents looked happy and proud on the day when the Duchess of Cambridge left the hospital with baby Prince George, studies show that children often have an adverse effect on parents’ emotional wellbeing and life satisfaction. Research in economics, medical science and psychology show that parents’ life satisfaction decreases after children are born and only climbs back up after these offspring leave home.

07 04 14 Parenting chart Fig 1

Source: Daniel Gilbert (2006)“Stumbling on Happiness”, New York: Knopf Publishing Group

If you are thinking that happiness is a strictly private matter – think again. Recent studies show that being unhappy seriously affects productivity at work. Therefore, since any business inevitably employs parents with young children, it might be worthwhile for companies to develop special strategies as well as invest in additional motivators for these types of employees as a part of their business model.

Most of the time, changes in parental wellbeing are attributed to dissatisfaction with marriage after the birth of children because couples have less time to spend together, they receive additional carrying tasks which are often unevenly distributed between mother and father, or they even start to feel financial pressures. Yet, all these explanations deal with family and couple transition after childbirth. But is the negative change in parental wellbeing really about what happens after the child is born?

Obviously, children are not dropped onto us from outer space! A healthy pregnancy lasts approximately 40 weeks and naturally, the transition to parenthood starts during pregnancy. It is therefore possible that life satisfaction drops during pregnancy and then climbs up when the child is born. However, since this transition affects a couple as a whole, it is likely that satisfaction levels fail to increase sufficiently to reach the pre-birth level.

In a recent study, my co-authors (Dilly Anumba from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Amelia Bourton from the Department of Economics in the University of Sheffield) and I collected data from over 300 parents in the UK and Ukraine at different stages of pregnancy and after childbirth. We found that the decrease in parental life satisfaction levels may indeed be explained by the transition to parenthood, which leads to a decline in parental wellbeing levels during the early stages of own pregnancy for women and spouse/partner pregnancy for men.

07 04 14 Parenting Chart Fig 2

Source: Pogrebna et al. (2014) “Life Satisfaction and Transition to Parenthood”, WMG Working paper, University of Warwick

Interestingly, while life satisfaction of males seems to recover almost completely after the child is born, female life satisfaction after childbirth is lower than that at the early stages of pregnancy. This suggests that men are generally better off after childbirth than women, and tells us that probably offering your wife or partner a break from house and child-related duties will make her happier which ultimately should make you happier as a couple.

So, should the media give the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge a hard time over their recent child-free break in the Maldives? Absolutely not! In fact, if you can afford it – start packing now as getting away even just for a few days will make wonders for your emotional well-being and ultimately for your relationship! In fact, your employer should probably consider providing you with extra vacation days because if you are happy – you will also be more productive!

 

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Ganna Pogrebna is an Associate Professor with the Service Systems research group at WMG. Ganna studies how decision-makers reveal their preferences, learn, co-ordinate and make trade-offs in static and dynamic risk and uncertain environments with policy applications to innovation, leadership, finance and healthcare.

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