Objective: This article analyzes trends in the relationships among motherhood, employment, and life satisfaction in Germany and regresses them on changing motherhood norms.
Background: Motherhood norms have changed in recent decades in Germany, and differences in labor force participation between mothers and women without children have decreased. We research whether differences in life satisfaction have decreased at the same time.
Method: Analyses are based on the German Socio‐Economic Panel (1984–2015) and restricted to women aged 16 to 45 (N = 18,238). A series of hybrid panel regressions was used to determine intrapersonal and interpersonal motherhood and employment effects on life satisfaction over decades. Polynomial regressions were used to relate these effects to changing motherhood norms.
Results: The negative effects of motherhood on life satisfaction are less prevalent today than they were in the past. The interpersonal maternal happiness gap has disappeared, and the intrapersonal motherhood effect on life satisfaction has increased during the past decades.
Conclusion: As restrictive social norms for maternal employment have lost ground, the transition to motherhood has become increasingly conducive to life satisfaction for both working and nonworking mothers.
Implication: Normative and public support of women's freedom to choose among different motherhood roles is key to reducing financial and time pressures of mothers and thereby increasing maternal life satisfaction. Further support is needed for mothers without partners or jobs.