Happiness and Childbearing Across Europe


Using happiness as a well-being measure and comparative data from the European social survey we focus in this paper on the link between happiness and childbearing across European countries. The analysis motivates from the recent lows in fertility in many European countries and that economic wellbeing measures are problematic when considering childbearing. We find significant country differences, though the direct association between happiness and childbearing is modest. However, partnership status plays an important role for both men and women. Working fathers are always happier, whereas working mothers are not, though mothers’ happiness tends to increase with household income.

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  1. 1.

    Unfortunately, the ESS and the General Social Survey differ in their measure of individual happiness. Whereas the ESS uses a 10-point scale, happiness in the GSS is based on 3 values.

  2. 2.

    In theory an integrated file of the 4 rounds could have been created. In practice, however, this would have caused some problems as some countries are included in all 4 rounds whereas others in only one or two. The result of this procedure would be an unbalanced dataset where some countries would be given a lot more weight than others.

  3. 3.

    The 3rd round potentially contains 25 countries, but we excluded Estonia, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary and Romania since data on income was missing for these countries or was recorded in a different way compared to rest of the countries. We also excluded Cyprus since our analysis primarily focuses on the European context.

  4. 4.

    The questionnaire refers to “biological” children only.

  5. 5.

    Note that the sample is restricted to individuals aged 20–50, thus the average of this variable does not correspond to individuals’ completed fertility as many of the respondents are still young and in childbearing ages.

  6. 6.

    Denmark is the reference category. Table 3 will include group country dummies rather than country dummies.

  7. 7.

    Clearly, it would have been appropriate to control for the health status of the respondent since healthy individuals tend to be better off in many domains, including income levels and social status. However, we are not able to control for the health status since the ESS only provides a measure of subjective level of health, which one can argue is directly embedded into our dependent variable.

  8. 8.

    As the Social Democratic group is the reference category, the coefficient of at least one child becomes the average effect of having a child in that group of countries. Including the interaction term one can observe the effect of having a child in another group of countries with respect to Social Democratic.

  9. 9.

    To determine the “net” effect one subtracts the interaction coefficient from the average (i.e. the coefficient of at least one child) to get the association between happiness and having at least one child in a particular group of countries.


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We are grateful to Andrew Oswald, Andrew Clark, Cristina Ruggeri and Jane Klobas for very useful comments to this analysis. Financial support from the ERC, Starting Grant No. Stg 201194 (Consequences of Demographic Change), is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Maria Sironi.



Appendix 1






































United Kingdom

Appendix 2

See Table 6 below.

Table 6 Differences in the level of happiness across Europe

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Aassve, A., Goisis, A. & Sironi, M. Happiness and Childbearing Across Europe. Soc Indic Res 108, 65–86 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-011-9866-x

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  • Happiness
  • Childbearing
  • Comparative
  • European social survey