Many empirical studies find that parents are not as happy as non-parents or that parenthood exerts a negative effect on subjective well-being (SWB). We add to these findings by arguing that there is a key moderating factor that has been overlooked in previous research, i.e. the level of work–family conflict. We hypothesize that the birth of a child means an increase in the level of work–family tension, which may be substantial for some parents and relatively weak for others. To outline such an approach, we estimate fixed-effects models using panel data from the Household, Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia survey. We find that childbearing negatively affects SWB only when parents, mothers in particular, face a substantial work–family conflict, providing thus support for our hypothesis.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
It is the Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) that ranks Australian regions according to relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage. It is computed based on the five-yearly census; for more information, see Adhikari (2006).
Aassve, A., Goisis, A., & Sironi, M. (2012). Happiness and childbearing across Europe. Social Indicator Research, 108, 65–86.
Aassve, A., Mencarini, L., & Sironi, M. (2015). Institutional change, happiness and fertility. European Sociological Review, 31(6), 749–765.
Adhikari, P. (2006). Socio-economic indexes for areas: Introduction, Use and future directions. Australian Bureau of Statistics. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/1351.0.55.015Sep%202006?OpenDocument.
Argyle, M. (2001). The psychology of happiness (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Baranowska, A. (2010). Family formation and subjective well-being. A literature overview. Working Papers, n. 5, ISID, Institute of Statistics and Demography, Warsaw School of Economics.
Baxter, J. (2013). Parents working out work (Australian family trends no. 1). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Baxter, J., Buchler, S., Perales, F., & Western, M. (2015). A life-changing event: First births and men’s and women’s attitudes to mothering and gender divisions of labour. Social Forces, 93(3), 989–1014.
Becker, G. S. (1981). A treatise on the family. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.
Begall, K., & Mills, M. (2011). The impact of subjective work control, job strain and work–family conflict on fertility intentions: a European comparison. European Journal of Population/Revue européenne de Démographie, 27(4), 433–456.
Billari, F. C. (2009). The happiness commonality: Fertility decisions in low fertility settings. Paper presented at Conference on How Generations and Gender Shape Demographic Change: Toward policies based on better knowledge, Geneva: UNECE, May 14–16, 2008.
Billari, F. C., & Kohler, H.-P. (2009). Fertility and happiness in the XXI century: Institutions, preferences, and their interactions. Paper presented at the XXVI IUSSP International Population Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, 27 September–2 October, 2009.
Baranowska, A., & Matysiak, A. (2011). Does parenthood increase happiness? Evidence from Poland. Vienna Yearbook, 9, 307–325.
Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. In M. H. Appley (Ed.), Adaptation level theory: A symposium (pp. 287–305). London: Academic Press.
Carlson, D. S., Kacmar, K. M., & Williams, L. J. (2000). Construction and initial validation of a multidimensional measure of work–family conflict. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 56(2), 249–276.
Cass, B. (2002). Employment time and family time: the intersection of labour market transformations and family responsibilities in Australia. In R. Callus & R. D. Lansbury (Eds.), Working futures: the changing nature of work and employment relations in Australia (pp. 142–174). Annandale, NSW: Federation Press.
Clark, A. E., Diener, E., Georgellis, Y., & Lucas, R. E. (2008). Lags and leads in life satisfaction: A test of the baseline hypothesis. The Economic Journal, 118(529), 222–243.
Clark, A., & Oswald, A. (2002). A simple statistical model for measuring how life events affect happiness. International Journal of Epidemiology, 31, 1139–1144.
Costa, P. T., Zonderman, A. B., McCrae, R. R., Cornonihuntley, J., Locke, B. Z., & Barbano, H. E. (1987). Longitudinal analyses of psychological well-being in a national sample—Stability of mean levels. Journal of Gerontology, 42(1), 50–55.
Craig, L., Mullan, K., & Blaxland, M. (2010). Parenthood, policy and work–family time in Australia 1992–2006. Work, Employment & Society, 24(1), 27–45.
Craig, L., & Siminski, P. (2010). Men’s housework, women’s housework and second births in Australia. Social Politics, 17(2), 235–266.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Jeremy, H. (2003). Happiness in everyday life: The uses of experience sampling. Journal of Happiness, 4(2), 185–189.
De Neve, J.-E., Christakis, N. A., Fowler, J. H., & Frey, B. S. (2012). Genes, economics, and happiness. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 5(4), 193–211.
Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276–302.
Dykstra, P. A., & Keizer, R. (2009). The wellbeing of childless men and fathers in mid-life. Ageing and Society, 29(Special Issue 08), 1227–1242.
Even, W. E. (1987). Career interruptions following childbirth. Journal of Labor Economics, 5(2), 255–277.
Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A., & Frijters, P. (2004). How important is methodology for the estimates of the determinants of happiness? The Economic Journal, 114(497), 641–659.
Frey, B., & Stutzer, A. (2000). Happiness, economy and institutions. Economic Journal, 110(446), 918–938.
Frijters, P., Johnston, D. V., & Shields, M. A. (2011). Life satisfaction dynamics with quarterly life event data. Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 113(1), 190–211.
Frone, M. R., Yardley, J. K., & Markel, K. S. (1997). Developing and testing an integrative model of the work–family interface. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50(2), 145–167.
Goffman, E. (1977). The arrangement between the sexes. Theory and Society, 4(3), 301–331.
Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources of conflict between work and family roles. The Academy of Management Review, 10, 76–88.
Hansen, T. (2012). Parenthood and happiness: A review of folk theories versus empirical evidence. Social Indicators Research, 108(1), 29–64.
Hoffmann, L. W., & Hoffmann, M. L. (1973). The value of children to parents. In J. T. Fawcett (Ed.), Psychological perspectives on population (pp. 19–76). New York: Basic Books.
Joesch, J. M. (1994). Children and the timing of women’s paid work after childbirth: A further specification of the relationship. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56(2), 429–440.
Kahneman, D., Diener, E., & Schwarz, N. (Eds.). (1999). Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Keizer, R., Dykstra, P., & Poortman, A.-R. (2010). The transition to parenthood and well-being: The impact of partner status and work hour transitions. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(4), 429–438.
Kohler, H.-P., Behrman, J. R., & Skytthe, A. (2005). Partner? Children = happiness? The effect of partnerships and fertility on well-being. Population and Development Review, 31(3), 407–446.
Kossek, E. E., & Ozeki, C. (1998). Work–family conflict, policies, and the job–life satisfaction relationship: a review and directions for organizational behavior–human resources research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(2), 139–149.
Lavee, Y., Sharlin, S., & Katz, R. (1996). The effect of parenting stress on marital quality: An integrated mother–father model. Journal of Family Issues, 17, 114–135.
Le Moglie, M., Mencarini, L., & Rapallini, C. (2015). Is it just a matter of personality? On the role of well-being in childbearing behavior. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 117, 453–475.
Luppi, F. (2016). When is the second one coming? The effect of couple’s subjective well-being following the onset of parenthood. European Journal of Population. doi:10.1007/s10680-016-9388-y.
Lykken, D. T., & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7(3), 186–189.
Margolis, R., & Myrskylä, M. (2011). A global perspective on happiness and fertility. Population and Development Review, 37(1), 29–56.
McDonald, P. (2001). Family support policy in Australia: the need of a paradigm shift. People and Place, 9(2), 14–20.
McDonald, P., & Moyle, H. (2010). Why English-speaking countries have relatively high fertility? Journal of Population Research, 27(4), 247–273.
McLanahan, S., & Adams, J. (1987). Parenthood and psychological well-being. Annual Review of Sociology, 13, 237–257.
Michalos, A. C. (1985). Multiple discrepancies theory (MDT). Social Indicators Research, 16(4), 347–413.
Michel, J. S., Kotrba, L. M., Mitchelson, J. K., Clark, M. A., & Baltes, B. B. (2011). Antecedents of work–family conflict: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 32, 689–725.
Misra, J., Budig, M., & Boeckmann, I. (2011). Work–family policies and the effects of children on women’s employment hours and wages. Community, Work and Family, 14(2), 139–157.
Myrskylä, M., & Margolis, R. (2014). Happiness: Before and after the kids. Demography, 51(5), 1843–1866.
Nauck, B. (2000). The changing value of children—A special action theory of fertility behavior and intergenerational relationships in cross-cultural comparison. Paper presented at the seminar “Low fertility, families and public policies”, organised by the European Observatory on Family Matters in Sevilla, September 15–16, 2000.
Nieuwenhuis, R., Need, A., & Van Der Kolk, H. (2012). Institutional and demographic explanations of women’s employment in 18 OECD Countries, 1975–1999. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(3), 614–630. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00965.x.
Nomaguchi, K. M., & Milkie, M. A. (2003). Costs and rewards of children: The effects of becoming a parent on adults’ lives. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 65(2), 356–374.
Pailhe, A., & Solaz, A. (2009). Work–family arrangements. In I. E. Kotowska, A. Matysiak, M. Styrc, A. Pailhe, A. Solaz, & D. Vignoli (Eds.), Family life and work. Analytical report on the Second quality of Life Survey (pp. 33–54). Dublin: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.
Qian, Y., & Sayer, L. C. (2016). Division of labor, gender ideology, and marital satisfaction in East Asia. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78(2), 383–400.
Ranson, G. (1998). Education, work and family decision making: Finding the “right time to have a baby. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 35(4), 517–533.
Rindfuss, R. R., Guilkey, D. K., Morgan, S. P., & Kravdal, Ø. (2010). Child-care availability and fertility in Norway. Population and Development Review, 36(4), 725–748.
Rodgers, J. L., Kohler, H.-P., Kyvik, K., & Christensen, K. (2001). Behavior genetic modeling of human fertility: Findings from a contemporary Danish twin study. Demography, 38(1), 29–42.
Sanchez, L., & Thomson, E. (1997). Becoming mothers and fathers: Parenthood, gender, and the division of labor. Gender and Society, 11(6), 747–772.
Sheldon, K. M., & Lucas, R. E. (Eds.). (2014). Stability of happiness. Theories and evidence on whether happiness can change. New York: Elsevier.
Skirbekk, V., & Blekesaune, M. (2014). Personality traits increasingly important for male fertility: evidence from Norway. European Journal of Personality, 28(6), 521–529.
Summerfield, M., Freidin, S., Hahn, M., Li, N., Macalalad, N., Mundy, L., et al. (2014). HILDA user manual—Release 13. Melbourne: Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne.
Tavares, L. (2016). Who delays childbearing? The associations between time to first birth, personality traits and education. European Journal of Population. doi:10.1007/s10680-016-9393-1.
Veenhoven, R. (1996). Developments in satisfaction research. Social Indicators Research, 20, 333–354.
Voydanoff, P. (2005). Toward a conceptualization of perceived work–family fit and balance: A demands and resources approach. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 822–836.
Williams, D. E., & Thompson, J. K. (1993). Biology and behavior: A set-point hypothesis of psychological functioning. Behavior Modification, 17, 43–57.
Zimmermann, A. C., & Easterlin, R. A. (2006). Happily ever after? Cohabitation, marriage, divorce and happiness in Germany. Population and Development Review, 32(3), 511–528.
The authors contributed to the paper equally and are listed alphabetically. Letizia Mencarini and Daniele Vignoli gratefully acknowledge financial support from the European Research Council under the European ERC Grant Agreement no StG-313617 (SWELL-FER: Subjective Well-being and Fertility, P. I. Letizia Mencarini). The collaboration with Anna Matysiak was supported by the European Research Council under the European ERC Grant Agreement no 284238 (EURREP: Fertility and Reproduction in the twenty-first Century, PI Tomáš Sobotka). We are grateful to Francesca Luppi for her help at the early stages of this project. This paper uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (Melbourne Institute). The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to either DSS or the Melbourne Institute.
About this article
Cite this article
Matysiak, A., Mencarini, L. & Vignoli, D. Work–Family Conflict Moderates the Relationship Between Childbearing and Subjective Well-Being. Eur J Population 32, 355–379 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-016-9390-4
- Subjective well-being
- Work–family conflict