When we choose to become parents we know that we will have to sacrifice sleep, that we will have to give up our independence, and that we will have to put the needs of others before our own; we know that there are some costs to having children that cannot be measured in dollars. But, when the calculating costs of having children should we also include the cost of losing the love of our spouse?
New economic research suggest that couples contemplating having children might want to consider how those children will effect how loved they will feel by their spouse. Using a large, nationally representative sample, this research finds that the addition of children to a family reduces the perception of being loved for both women and men. And that the more children born into the family, the less loved women, in particular, feel.
For example, where spousal love is measured on a scale of zero to ten how much a woman feels her husband loves her falls an average of 0.19 when they have one child, 0.37 when they have two children and 0.44 when they have three or more children.
How much a man feels that his wife loves him falls with their first child (by 0.36), but is unchanged by the addition of more children the family.
These statistics might seem small, but they are large relative to the range of reported spousal love; having a child reduces how loved a man feels by one third of a standard deviation relative to a married man who has no children.
These effects are even larger when we consider people whose children are no longer infants; once that warm glow of infancy fades men and women begin to feel that their spouse become less caring.
Women with three or more children over the age of one feel report feeling less loved by their spouse than women in families with fewer children and/or infants. This effect is particularly strong when the couple is cohabitating rather than married.
The love a woman feels from her cohabitating partner falls an average of 0.63 when the couple has three or more children compared to a fall of 0.45 for married women with the same number of children.
The authors of this study speculate that this is why it is so important for a women to have a ring on her finger; being married makes a woman feel more cared for, especially when there are children involved.
The lesson here isn’t really that having children reduces the love in a marriage. The lesson is that having children reduces the how loved men and women feel in the marriage. I want to say the distinction is important, but as anyone who has had a marriage fail will tell you; it isn’t. You could love your partner as much today as the day you married them, if they feel less loved now that you have children the outcome will be the exactly same as if you no longer cared.
Grossbard, Shoshana and Sankar Mukhopadhyay (2013), “Children, Spousal Love, and Happiness: An economic analysis.” Rev Econ Household (2013) 11:447–467 DOI 10.1007/s11150-013-9200-2
This post originally appeared on my blog at Psychology Today.