Marriage and Kids

An article by Stephanie Coontz in the NYTimes reports that more than 25 separate studies have found that marital quality drops dramatically once a couple has a child. While half a century ago it was believed by many that having a child was the best way to build a happy marriage, these days it’s viewed by researchers to be more like “three’s a crowd.”

Does that mean we’re all doomed to an unhappy marriage once children come along? Not necessarily. According to the article, two researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, Philip and Carolyn Cowan, have detailed in an upcoming paper that while studies DO find a large drop in marital quality after childbirth, they are not considering the various routes couples take to get the there. The article says:

Some couples plan the conception and discuss how they want to conduct their relationship after the baby is born. Others disagree about whether or when to conceive, with one partner giving in for the sake of the relationship. And sometimes, both partners are ambivalent.

The Cowans found that the average drop in marital satisfaction was almost entirely accounted for by the couples who slid into being parents, disagreed over it or were ambivalent about it. Couples who planned or equally welcomed the conception were likely to maintain or even increase their marital satisfaction after the child was born.

The Cowans also reportedly found that marital quality declines when the couple slips back into more “traditional” roles, such as “breadwinner” for the man, and “homemaker” for the woman. The wife ends up resenting the man for not being involved, and the husband ends up resenting the wife for not being more appreciative of his monetary support.