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This paper is a review of a research article by Markus Jokela: “Characteristics of the First Child Predict the Parents’ Probability of Having Another Child” Developmental Psychology, 46(4), pp. 915-926. The review has been lucidly done with significant points taken into account.
Focus of the Research
The author of the article, Jokela (2010) sets out to investigate the influence that the behavior of the firstborn children have on their parents’ chances of getting a second child within five years. He exhaustively reviews the literature on the subject, socialization, and child-parent relationship, and subsequently justifies the need for conducting his own research on the same.
Bell & Chapman (1986), for example, revealed that contrary to the belief that parents influence their child’s behavior, it is actually, the child that influences the behavior of his/her parents. The studies done on a child’s temperament were crucial in arriving at this conclusion given that these studies intended to find out how developmental characteristics of a person modifies his/her social environment (Lutch et al., 2006).
Using the research done by Demo & Cox (2000) and Jokela, et al. (2009), the author acknowledges other important factors to having a second child as cost of parentage and parents’ personality dispositions such as emotionality.
Citing Neitzel & Stright (2004), the author argues that children’s negative emotionality and behavioral problems correlate with parental support and cruel parental practices. Positive emotionality, on the other hand, leads to adaptive and supportive parenting. Finally, having reviewed these studies, and many more, the author gathers his research paraphernalia to establish the veracity of the reviewed literature on the potential influence of a child’s character on parental behavior.
Hypothesis of the Study
Jokela (2010) make a number of hypotheses that his research is set to confirm or deny regarding the first child-parent relationship. He, thus, hypothesizes that parents’ experiences with the first child influence their preferences and intentions to having a second child.
In examining the character of the first child as the basis of this hypothesis, the author refers to the British Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) and examines the effects of infant temperament, childhood socioemotional and behavioral characteristics as well as cognitive ability of the first child to predict the possibility of parents having a second child within five years (Jokela, 2010).
Accordingly, he further hypothesizes that good temperament, socially adaptive behavior, and high cognitive ability of the first child increase the chances of parents having another child given that these traits make parenting easier. He expected such associations to be stronger with time since a child’s characters are more visible to parents as s/he grows older.
Moreover, the author hypothesizes a reverse causality between the first child’s traits and the arrival of a sibling. Emotional adjustment of the first child is taken into consideration. The author also took into account the parents’ sociodemographic and psychosocial background characteristics (Jokela, 2010).
Method of the Study
The researcher did a naturalistic observation and enlisted the help of parents to arrive at his findings. He sampled the participants from the MCS, which is a nationally representative study of infants born in the UK between 2000 and 2002 (Dex & Joshi, 2005). A sample of 18,819 infants in 18,533 families was interviewed with a response rate of 85%.
The author identified households via the Department of Work and Pensions Child Benefit Register, and “based his sample on probability design with clustering at the electoral ward level and overrepresentation of disadvantaged residential areas” (Jokela, 2010, p.9160).
The researcher then collected data in home visits conducted in three phases with study children aged, on average, 9 months, 3 years, and 5 years. The main analysis was restricted to families with two natural parents staying together in the first and last phases of study and with the study child as the first and only child. The researcher remained with a sample of 7,695 families to complete the data at each phase (Jokela, 2010).
7.7% of the sampled families were ethnic minority drawn from Pakistani/Bangladeshi, Indian, and other ethnicity. 91.8% of the families spoke English at home; while 6.8% used additional language to English, and 1.4% used a non-English language at home such as Welsh, Urdu, et cetera.
On sociodemographic analysis, less than 8.5% of mothers were without academic qualifications, 81.1% had at least O-level education, while 23.6% had a university degree. Fathers had corresponding percentages of 14.7%, 73.6%, and 22.7%, respectively. In 8.0% of the families, “family income was less than £10,400; while 34.8%, 27.5%, 21.2%, and 7.9% had annual incomes of £10,400-£20,800, £20,800-£31,200, £31,200-£52,000, and more than £52,000, respectively” (Jokela, 2010, p. 916).
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The first study phase had mothers’ rate infant temperament on positive mood, reactivity to novelty, and rhythmicity with 14 items from the Carey Infant Temperament Scale (Carey, 1972).
Positive mood assessed the infant’s cheerfulness, reactivity to novelty assessed the infant’s response to environmental changes, and rhythmicity assessed the infant’s physiological functions. In the second phase of the study, mothers completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire of age 3 to 4 years version that enquires about six domains of behavior: hyperactivity, conduct problems, emotional symptoms, prosociality, peer problems, and task orientation (Goodman, 2001).
Child cognitive ability was also assessed during this phase using Bracken School Readiness Assessment (Bracken, 2002).Parental characteristics were also considered based on age, perceived income situation, education, general health, and relationship happiness, and were reported at baseline. The researcher assessed the parents’ timing and probability of having the second child using discrete-time survival analysis.
Results of the Study
The researcher tabulates his findings in a comprehensive manner that consists of both included and excluded families sampled in the research. He found that the first children of the included families had relatively higher cognitive ability and lower behavior problems compared with those from excluded families.
The study reveals that childhood socioemotional and behavioral characteristics showed weak continuity with infant temperament, while low reactivity to novelty and high rhythmicity predicted high cognitive ability. Furthermore, the researcher found that childhood emotional symptoms behavior problems, and hyperactivity indicated the strongest with parental characteristics, particularly maternal psychological distress.
The probability of having the second child increased up to approximately 2.5 years, after which it decreased with the average interbirth interval betwixt the first and the second child at 2.7 years (Jokela, 2010). Regarding parental characteristics, the probability of having a second child increased by good income situation, high education, low psychological distress, good health, and high relationship happiness.
The researcher found that the infant’s low reactivity to novelty, low behavior problems, and high cognitive ability increased the probability of having a second child.
The observed association between the firstborn’s adaptability to novelty and parents, high probability of childbearing, according to the researcher, may be attributed to the fact that low-reactive infants make parenting easier than high-reactive infants do. It turned out that the time-dependent relation for the characteristic, he had hypothesized, was not the case since was observed for early but not late childbearing (Jokela, 2010).
The study is acknowledged as an authentic study that has impact on the way parents’ will henceforth make decisions on having the second child within a given duration. The reason being, he based his study on a large and nationally representative sample, and used validated instruments in early childhood to assess the traits of the first children. He further adjusted his work on several demographic characteristics of both parents that had a huge impact on childbearing.
Nevertheless, the methodology used had limitations that compromised the interpretation of data. The use of natural observation rather than experimentation limited the research in making conclusive causal inferences. For instance, chances that reported characteristics of a child by the mother are confounded by parental traits are high; hence, the observed association may reflect parental influence.
Moreover, there is no direct evidence for the child-effect interpretation as alluded to theoretically since no time-dependent association was observed for any of the parental traits. Adjusting for all possible parental characteristic, though might have had attuned associations, it does not explain the causality given that parental and offspring traits are influenced by shared genes.
The focus of this study was to determine the role of the characteristics of firstborns in influencing the parent’s probability of having a second child. According to the findings, therefore, the study inspires the importance of assessing the traits of the first child before having another child.
Aspects such as cognitive ability, infant adaptability to novelty, and childhood prosocial behavior are critical in determining parental childbearing. The second idea the study inspires is the importance of parental demographic characteristics such as education, income levels, occupation, et cetera, in childbearing. Lastly, the study inspires the need for family planning with focus based on the positive traits of the first child and the parents’ psychosocial characteristics.
The research has provided the data on the role of child traits regarding parental childbearing. Therefore, it is a vital tool for future studies, which should expand this perspective in order to include pertinent dimensions, particularly examining parental behavior, and attitudes toward the firstborns with respect to future childbearing.
The study is also significant for parents who are planning to have a second child because it reveals positive characters of first children that are receptive to another child. Similarly, second childbearing requires good income, good health, good spousal relationship, which they must assess before resolving to have a second child.
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Bracken, B. (2002). Bracken School Readiness Assessment, administrators manual. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.
Carey, W. B. (1972). Measuring infant temperament. Journal of Pediatrics, 81,414.
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