by Francesca Luppi on N-IUSSP
Parents of one child are commonly confronted by the first child’s persistent pleas for a little brother or sister. However, they might be skeptical about satisfying their child’s request because they know from experience how easily childbearing can turn their well-balanced daily life upside-down. Childbearing can be far less joyful than one might imagine before experiencing it, as witnessed by the decline in parents’ – and especially mothers’ – happiness and life satisfaction shortly after the birth of the first child (Kohler and Mencarini, 2016). The first child is the proving ground of parenthood: prospective parents’ expectations about how life will change with the arrival of a child do not often match the reality of experience after the birth (Craig and Siminski, 2010). Tiredness due to sleepless nights and to the infant’s relentless needs are among the causes. Additionally, childbearing reduces time for intimacy, increases the level of conflict within the couple and dissatisfaction with the partner, in particular about how partners should share the household tasks (Twenge et al. 2003; Doss, 2009). Traditionally, the mother is the parent with more responsibilities for childcare, especially during the first years of the child’s life. This means that she often takes on the double burden of family and work, sometimes sacrificing her career prospects in order to reconcile her multiple responsibilities.
Understanding whether and how first parental experience affects the probability and the timing of a second child is important for theoretical and practical reasons. The theoretical reason is that low fertility is in large part due to couples stopping at the first child. Do these couples forego the second child because they are dissatisfied with their life after the first birth? The practical reason concerns the possibility of policy intervention to support fertility within specific social groups which might experience more difficulties related to childbearing.