An international survey across a sample of 33 countries suggests that marital satisfaction declines as the number of children in a family grows. Importantly, this was only true for mothers and not fathers. The findings were published in PLOS One.
Families are made up of individuals who join together as a unit, interacting with each other in numerous ways. These connections are intricate, and the larger the family, the more its operations are complex. With this in mind, family researchers have come to varying conclusions concerning how the number of children in a family impacts the marital satisfaction of parents. Some studies suggest that more kids means a more satisfying marriage, while others suggest that more kids means more stress — and less marital satisfaction.
Study authors Marta Kowal and her colleagues opted to conduct a study using data from a large research project involving married men and women from 33 Western and non-Western countries. The researchers aimed to get closer to understanding the link between the number of children and marital satisfaction while examining moderating variables such as sex and education.
The sample included 7,178 married people who had been married for an average of 14 years. The participants, who were an average age of 40, completed questionnaires that included a 9-item measure of marital satisfaction. The measure included items like, “Do you enjoy your husband’s/wife’s company?”. They also completed measures of religiosity, education, economic status, and individualist beliefs about the family (e.g., “I think parents should take pride on the individual accomplishments of their children.”).
Across the entire data set, the number of children in a family was associated with worse marital satisfaction. However, this relationship was only significant among women. Kowal and her team note that this effect might have something to do with the cultural expectation that women bear more of the responsibility for childcare tasks. Gender roles suggest that women’s household duties — and potentially, their stress levels — would increase with more children in the family whereas men’s would not. Mothers might grow dissatisfied with fathers’ lack of investment in household tasks, while also losing quality time with their husbands.
Interestingly, religiosity appeared to play a protective role in maintaining parents’ marital satisfaction as the number of children increased. Parents who scored low in religiosity saw declines in their marital satisfaction as the number of children rose. However, among those with high religiosity, marital satisfaction was unrelated to the number of children in the family. The study authors say this may have to do with the fact that religious organizations tend to emphasize and support healthy family and marital relations, as well as encourage the traditional roles of parent and spouse.
Additionally, marital satisfaction was especially likely to drop among those with more children and a higher education. This could be because parents with greater education likely juggle a greater number of social roles which might become harder to balance with increasing family obligations.
The researchers also found that the association between number of children and marital satisfaction varied largely between countries, and in some cases, the relationship was even positive. Still, these correlations were all small. While collectivism was not found to play a role in the current study, the authors suggest that future studies should consider other country-level variables that might influence the explored relationship.
The study, “When and how does the number of children affect marital satisfaction? An international survey”, was authored by Marta Kowal, Agata Groyecka-Bernard, Marta Kochan-Wójcik, and Piotr Sorokowski.