MPIDR Working Paper

SES and the emotional 'benefits' and 'costs' of parenting

Negraia, D. V., Augustine, J. M.
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2019-012, 39 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (June 2019)
Open Access


In today’s society, children’s value to their parents is primarily emotional. As such, scholars have devoted a tremendous amount of effort to understanding how children both enhance, and diminish, the emotional wellbeing of parents. What remains unclear, however, is how these emotional ‘costs’ and ‘benefits’ vary across different socioeconomic segments of U.S. society. We investigate this question using random effects models and a representative sample of adults participating in the American Time Use Survey Wellbeing Module (N activities =52,036, N respondents =17,481). We find that caring for minor children (versus not) is associated with greater levels of positive emotions (happiness, meaning) and less sadness for all socioeconomic groups, but it is only associated with greater levels of negative emotions (stress, fatigue) for higher SES parents. This overall pattern of results was also observed when looking only at men. For women, however, it was only observed among higher SES mothers. For lower SES women, raising children did not seem to enhance, or diminish, emotional wellbeing. We discuss these SES and gender related findings in the context of recent trends in fertility among both lower and higher socioeconomic segments of society, as well as trends in social inequality more broadly.

Key words: wellbeing, parenting, education, time use, gender

Keywords: USA, education, gender, mental health, parenthood, time series
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.