Digital and Computational Demography
At a Glance
Parental Status and Well-Being
Daniela Veronica Negraia; in Collaboration with Jennifer March Augustine (University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA), Jill Yavorsky (The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA)
This project sets out to further our understanding of how raising children affects the health and well-being of adult parents. Previous research has found that raising children is associated with both positive and negative emotions. This has led researchers to hypothesize that parenting may be a “mixed bag” in terms of well-being, associated with costs but also with benefits; however, hardly any tests have been done in the same analysis to see whether the “mixed bag” hypothesis truly applies. In our first contribution, we tested the “mixed bag” hypothesis by comparing the subjective well-being of parents to that of non-parents across both positive dimensions (happiness, meaning) and negative dimensions (sadness, stress, fatigue) of subjective well-being. The data came from the Well-Being Module of the American Time Use Survey (2010, 2012, 2013), a nationally representative time-diary survey. The surveys asked respondents to assess how they felt during a given activity (reading), on a scale from 0 (not happy at all) to 6 (very happy) using questions such as: How happy did you feel during this time? How meaningful did you consider what you were doing? Our results have shown that parenting is indeed associated with more positive emotions (more happiness and meaning) and less sadness than non-parenting, but it is also linked with more negative emotions (more stress and fatigue).
Only a few studies so far have examined whether feelings associated with raising children vary across daily contexts (across different activities, or by child presence) and across child developmental stages. In our second contribution, we compared the well-being of parents to that of non-parents across daily contexts and child developmental stages. The results have shown that the patterns described above only existed during certain activities (housework and leisure, but not paid work). Patterns in positive emotions only showed up when the parent’s children were present; patterns in negative emotions were primarily observed during earlier stages of child development (the parents were more stressed and tired than non-parents when their youngest child was younger than 7 years of age).
Finally, most prior work on subjective well-being has investigated the role of the individual’s gender, but other sociodemographic characteristics, such as education, so far have received little attention. In our third contribution, we thus used educational attainment as an indicator of socioeconomic status (SES) and compared the subjective well-being of parents to that of non-parents at multiple SES levels. We have found that parenting minor children (versus not doing so) was associated with greater levels of positive emotions (happiness, meaning) and less sadness for all socioeconomic groups, but it was also associated with greater levels of negative emotions (stress, fatigue) for parents with higher SES. For women, however, it only showed among higher SES mothers. For women of lower SES, raising children seemed neither to enhance nor diminish emotional well-being.
The knowledge gained yields new insights into a dimension of inequality that tends to receive less attention (the emotional well-being of parents), and it informs our understanding of inequality among children.
Demographic Change, Family Behavior, Health Care, Public Health, Medicine, and Epidemiology, Intergenerational Relationships, Life Course
Social Psychology Quarterly 83:3, 207–228. (2020)
Journal of Marriage and Family, 1–25. (2020)
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2019-011. (2019)
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2019-012. (2019)
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2019-013. (2019)