Your first child made you pretty happy, so will having another really top things off? I often wonder this myself. Should I have a second child?
Luckily, research shows how our lives change with another baby. Read the essential guide to how another baby affects your happiness, meaning in life, marriage, family life, old age, health, and spending.
Women are happiest with one child
It appears that having one child makes women happiest. At a minimum, having one child makes women happier than no children at all. But “onlies” may be the sweet spot.
One study looked at identical twins aged 25-45. By comparing twins, researchers could ignore genetic causes for having fewer children or being depressed. They found that a woman’s first child increased her happiness. But each additional child negatively effected her well-being.
Could it be that having an only child gives us the wonder of parenthood that we really enjoy, while keeping the hard work and stress to a minimum?
Another study looked at how a woman’s personality affected her happiness with more children. Do “traditional” women gain more happiness from having two children than “modern” women? It seems they do not. One child produced the most happiness in these women, too, regardless of their personality type. A second baby reduced well-being scores for all women.
Balancing the needs of multiple kids is stressful no matter what your expectations are. That said, women often take on more parenting responsibilities. So, could having another baby make a man happier?
Men also benefit from one child versus two
Men, too, see an increase in happiness with their first child. Fathers of one child described higher life satisfaction than those without any children. However, the second child only increased the happiness of “traditional” men. Men labeled “modern” received no benefit.
Perhaps “modern” men take on more diapers and dishes with the birth of another child? Or, maybe traditional men simply get more pleasure out of parenting.
On the other hand, the scientists researching identical twins looked at fathers, too. They found that having children did not affect their happiness at all. Life satisfaction remained stable, regardless of how many kids they had. When it came to family life, only marriage truly increased men’s well-being.
It may be that children have a smaller effect on the happiness of men versus women. If so, women may have more to gain or lose emotionally from choosing to have another baby.
Likewise, another study looked at factors like age and marital status. They found that one or two children made no difference to happiness, for men or women. However, this study found that three or more children negatively affected well-being.
But there is more to life than just happiness. Often, the moments we truly savor are stressful. Think of solving a tough problem, competing in an event, or hey, raising that first child. Sometimes stress seems to add more meaning to one’s life. Could another child do the same?
A second baby does have some benefits
Parents enjoy more meaning in their lives than non-parents. Researchers compared both life-satisfaction and meaning in adults. They found that having children living at home reduced a person’s well-being. But at the same time, it increased their sense of meaning. After children grew up and moved out, parents enjoyed higher levels of both well-being and meaning compared to people who never had children.
This study didn’t compare one versus two children, but it is possible that having another kid could further increase the meaning in one’s life.
Such may be the case in a study from Russia that goes against what all the previous research has found. Here, researchers tracked people over 20 years and found that parents were actually happier after the birth of their second baby. With their first child, life satisfaction dipped for several years, then increased to levels higher than before. But a second child steadily increased happiness. Life satisfaction never dipped after the second birth, and happiness continued to increase as they grew up.
Perhaps, life satisfaction is more closely related to feelings of meaning in Russia. Or, perhaps family life is supported more in Russia than in other groups studied.
But this wasn’t the only study that found having more than only child benefited well-being.
Marriage makes it more fun to have a second child
Certainly, married people are more likely than singles to gain happiness from having another child. When a study in the UK divided people by marital status, the life satisfaction of married people increased with each additional kid. However, unmarried folks saw their happiness decline with each child.
Other studies contest this finding. In the twin and “traditional” parent studies, married people were less happy with two or more children, with the exception of traditional men. A third study found no effect of one or two kids in married parents but three or more children reduced happiness. But surely, a supportive spouse makes raising another kid much easier.
One surprising finding: in married women (but not in unmarried women), a second child reduces the risk of suicide. A third or fourth child reduces the risk even further. Perhaps, despite any increase in stress level, having a larger family strengthens your sense of purpose and resolve.
If being married is critical to being happy raising another kid, what does having second child do to one’s marriage?
Another baby takes a toll on your marriage
Sad news: parents report less satisfaction in their marriages than non-parents. And marital satisfaction decreases with every additional child. The effect is strongest for mothers of infants, but is found across all ages and in both men and women.
Multiple studies duplicate this negative effect. Parents of preschoolers report the lowest levels of satisfaction with their partners.
One study found that children reduce time spent on “companionate activities.” With each child, parents spent less quality time with one another. In that study, it was the low levels of couple time rather than the kids that truly hurt the marriage.
So, preserving couple time every day to connect and maintaining a date night may prevent the stress a second child puts on your marriage.
That said, having another kid puts stress on the entire family.
How a second child affects family life
Large families seem to bring more stress for everyone. Two studies looked at the dynamics of family life for different sized families. They found that with an increasing number of children came more fighting between family members and more feelings of negativity about each other. More children also brought more stress to each family member, even after controlling for economic status.
Despite the stress, these large families may celebrate more meaning in their lives. But certain people may be better equipped to handle the stress of a big family.
One study looked at married folks who were currently employed and working on masters degrees. This study represented people with full plates. In this group, having additional children led to lower satisfaction with family life. It could be that these parents had so much on their plate that they couldn’t handle the stress of another kid.
But it would be short sighted to only consider the immediate stress of more children in the house. Perhaps there is a long term happiness gain once children are grown up and living on their own.
Are we happier once our children are grown?
There are studies from Japan, Korea, and Ethiopia finding more children increases happiness in old age. In Korea, five kids raised life satisfaction more than two kids for elders, and two kids beat out none. In Ethiopia, older men benefitted the most from a large number of children. Only older women benefitted in Japan.
But what would happen if these studies controlled for socioeconomic status? Perhaps in countries with strong retirement programs, where people didn’t have to rely on their kids for support, the link between children and happiness might dissolve. One study did just that.
Researchers looked at surveys from 86 countries. When it came to children and happiness, the tables turned at age 40. Although each additional child decreased happiness in parents under 40, having more children actually increased happiness in older folks. Elderly people who lacked government retirement programs benefitted the most from having larger families. On the other hand, young parents benefitted from living in countries with government support for families.
Does financial security make a second child more fun?
Denmark has one of the strongest social safety nets in the world. So, looking at the life satisfaction of parents here may best represent how children effect happiness when money is not an issue.
The twin study from Denmark found that the number of children significantly affected women aged 25-45. In this age range, each child beyond the first decreased life satisfaction. But once the kids moved out? Children did not effect happiness at all in people aged 50-70. Then, only marital status became relevant.
Likewise, a study from America looked at people 45 and over, comparing life satisfaction according to 22 different factors, like marriage, age, and personal wealth. They found that children had no bearing on a person’s happiness. Instead, socioeconomic status, the quality of health, and how often a person got together with friends became critical. Further, researchers compared time with family to time with friends. Friends were the significant factor in happiness.
So, it may be that if you have a strong retirement plan, children will have the biggest influence on your life satisfaction while they are living at home. And even if you can afford to care for multiple children, you still may not be happier raising them.
But how much money does it take to afford having another child?
How much does having a second child cost?
In America, a second child costs about $10,230 per year. This is the average for married couples, and is in addition to the cost of the first child. This does not include college savings, and was taken from a 2013 analysis performed by the USDA.
According to research, married couples spend about 26% percent of their income on only children. The cost rises to 39% of income, on average, for two children. Parents spent most of this money on housing, food, childcare and education.
Consider that your current home may already accommodate having two children. One parent may already be at home and you don’t plan to pay for childcare or private school. In this case, you may not end up spending as much on another kid.
One surprising savings may come from health care. It turns out that your health actually benefits from having a second child.
Having two children is good for your health
Having two children reduces mortality risk. Three different studies looked at thousands of older adults and found the same thing: two kids was the sweet spot for health. The risk of an early death increases by 18% for parents of an only child. Also, the risk is higher for parents of three or more kids. Scientists believe the lifestyle of parents with two kids somehow helps them live longer.
However, there is one health benefit of less children: lower BMI. Even after accounting for multiple factors, each additional child increases a woman’s risk of obesity by 7%. A man’s risk of obesity increases 4% with every child.
Having another child may reduce the time one can devote to cooking healthy meals or exercise. But perhaps having a second child encourages us to get up and move more during the day, or to be more active in our older years.
Should you have a second child?
Obviously, the choice affects more than just you or your partner. Deciding to have a second child will dramatically change the life of your first. I’m so curious to learn the effects of being an only child, and my next article will cover that.
And of course, there are still other things to consider. Having another baby diverts time from other life goals. Each child adds to the increasing burden humans place on our environment. Personally, I worry about the regret I may feel once I am too old to change my decision.
All things considered, I have yet to hear one parent say they regret having a second child.
How would a second child affect your life? Does the research change your opinion on having an only child by choice? I’d love to hear about your feelings in the comments.
Having a second child makes a woman less satisfied; only some types of men benefit
Having a second child decreases happiness in women, has no effect on men
Having more children increases family stress
Family size has no effect on life satisfaction after controlling for other factors
Parents have less well-being but more life-meaning
Each child reduces marital satisfaction
In Korea, older adults with more kids enjoy a higher quality of life
Having another child increases risk of obesity by 7% in women, 4% in men
Cardiovascular disease risk is lowest for those with two children
Mortality risk is lowest for mothers of 2 to 4 children
Having three or more children reduces well-being
In Russia, life satisfaction increases after second birth
More children reduces family satisfaction
Government retirement programs reduce the effect of children on happiness
Expenditures on Children by Families, 2013, USDA