Revealed: Early parenthood is worse for your mental health than death of a spouse
Crying baby (Shuttershock)

The idea that babies are bundles of joy is being challenged by a study that shows new parents are often so unhappy within the first year of birth that they don't have any others.

Citing a study in the journal Demography, the Washington Post reports that new parents express a steeper loss of happiness than such catastrophic life events as divorce, unemployment or death of a partner.

Researchers Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research followed 2,016 German couples for two years, spanning from before they had their first child till after, the Post reports.

Instead of being asked directly about their new child, parents were asked the more innocuous, "How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?" That's because it's taboo for parents to say negative things about their child, the researchers wrote.

Having their first child impacted people more negatively than other scenarios, according to the findings.

While 30 percent of respondents said their level of happiness did not change, the remainder said it decreased in the first and second year after the baby's birth.

The consequence, the study concludes, is that many stop having children after their first as a result of their negative experience -- particularly older parents with higher education.

"Fertility is a choice for most people in the developed world," the researchers wrote. "[I]f the transition to parenthood is very difficult or more difficult than expected, then people may choose to remain at parity."

The results help explain the low German fertility rate, researchers note.

"[A]lthough most German couples still say they would like to have two children, birthrates have fluctuated below 1.5 children per women for the past four decades. While rising childlessness is often discussed as a cause, it remains widely unrecognized that more and more couples in Germany have a first child, but not the second one they had initially wanted."