June 17, 2019

The Second Child Is Just as Difficult as the First

“Like many parents of a single child, Leah Ruppanner often heard the arguments for getting going on number two. Don’t worry, people told her, it’ll be easier now that you know what you’re doing. The older one will help take care of the younger one. Plus, kids need a sibling. “There is this real pressure around having two children,” Ruppanner says.

Unlike most moms, however, she had the ability to test those claims as a sociologist teaching at the University of Melbourne. So she paired up with other Australian professors to analyze 20,000 Australians, using data collected over 16 years from the country’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics survey. Their findings? That your second child puts an equal amount of pressure on your mental health. What’s more, while expecting parents show equal levels of stress leading up to childbirth, women report double the anxiety after the first child … which only gets worse with the second.

That’s an exponential increase in stress, according to researchers for the study titled “Harried and Unhealthy? Parenthood, Time Pressure, and Mental Health,” published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in October, directly contradicting the classic argument many well-meaning friends and family bandy about the dinner table. “There are no economies of scale,” says Welch Suggs, a University of Georgia professor and father of a boy and a girl. “You can’t assume that because food, school, clothes, bedtimes, anything else worked for your first, it’s going to be the same with your second.””

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