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Mothering Experiences: How Single Parenthood and Employment Structure the Emotional Valence of Parenting

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Research studies and popular accounts of parenting have documented the joys and strains of raising children. Much of the literature comparing parents with those without children indicates a happiness advantage for those without children, although recent studies have unpacked this general advantage to reveal differences by the dimension of well-being considered and important features in parents’ lives and parenting experiences. We use unique data from the 2010, 2012, and 2013 American Time Use Survey to understand emotions in mothering experiences and how these vary by key demographic factors: employment and partnership status. Assessing mothers’ emotions in a broad set of parenting activities while controlling for a rich set of person- and activity-level factors, we find that mothering experiences are generally associated with high levels of emotional well-being, although single parenthood is associated with differences in the emotional valence. Single mothers report less happiness and more sadness, stress, and fatigue in parenting than partnered mothers, and these reports are concentrated among those single mothers who are not employed. Employed single mothers are happier and less sad and stressed when parenting than single mothers who are not employed. Contrary to common assumptions about maternal employment, we find overall few negative associations between employment and mothers’ feelings regarding time with children, with the exception that employed mothers report more fatigue in parenting than those who are not employed.
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Mothering Experiences: How Single-Parenthood and
Employment Shift the Valence
Ann Meier,
Department of Sociology & Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota Minneapolis,
MN
Kelly Musick,
Policy Analysis and Management & Cornell Population Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Sarah Flood, and
Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
Rachel Dunifon
Policy Analysis and Management & Cornell Population Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Ann Meier: meierann@umn.edu; Kelly Musick: musick@cornell.edu; Sarah Flood: floo0017@umn.edu; Rachel Dunifon:
red26@cornell.edu
Abstract
Research studies and popular accounts of parenting document the joys and strains of raising
children. Much of the literature comparing parents to those who do not have children indicates a
happiness advantage for those without children, though recent studies unpack this general
advantage to reveal differences by the dimension of well-being considered and important features
in parents’ lives and parenting experiences. We use unique data from the 2010, 2012, and 2013
American Time Use Survey to understand emotions in mothering experiences and how these vary
by key demographic factors: employment and partnership status. Assessing mothers’ emotions in a
broad set of parenting activities while controlling for a rich set of person- and activity-level
factors, we find that mothering experiences are generally associated with high levels of emotional
well-being, though single parenthood is associated with shifts in the emotional valence. Single
mothers report less happiness and more sadness, stress and fatigue in parenting than partnered
mothers. This is concentrated among those single mothers who are not employed. Employed
single mothers are happier and less sad and stressed when parenting than single mothers who are
not employed. Contrary to common assumptions about maternal employment, we find overall few
negative associations between employment and mothers’ feelings in time with children, with the
exception that employed mothers report more fatigue in parenting than those who are not
employed.
*Direct correspondence to: Ann Meier, 267 19th Ave S., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455; meierann@umn.edu,
phone 612-626-7230; fax 612-624-7020.
Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America and the 2014
Work & Family Researchers Network and the Work, Family & Time (WFT) Workshop at the Minnesota Population Center. We thank
WFT workshop participants for useful comments and suggestions, as well as Liana Sayer and Julie Brines for feedback on earlier
drafts.
HHS Public Access
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Demography
. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2017 July 05.
Published in final edited form as:
Demography
. 2016 June ; 53(3): 649–674. doi:10.1007/s13524-016-0474-x.
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Keywords
parenting; emotional well-being; maternal employment; single mothers; time use
Studies have shown that men and women with children in the home report lower
psychological well-being than those without children (Evenson and Simon 2005; Hansen
2012; McLanahan and Adams 1987; Stanca 2012). This is perhaps not surprising, as raising
children can be financially and emotionally draining, particularly in the U.S. where there is
relatively little public support for childrearing (Glass, Simon, and Andersson 2013). Yet
parenthood also comes with great joy (e.g., Senior 2014), and a newer crop of research has
drawn attention to both potential costs and rewards of parenthood and how they vary by
parents’ characteristics (Aassve et al. 2012; Margolis and Myrskylä 2011; Nomaguchi and
Milkie 2003; Woo and Raley 2005).
A rich set of qualitative studies describes the process of and challenges in parenting under
particular conditions (Edin and Kefalas 2005; Garey 1999; Nelson 2010; Villalobos 2014) or
at specific stages (Fox 2009; Nelson 2010). Less research has looked at the joys and strains
of parents’ daily experiences with children (Authors 2014; Connelly and Kimmel 2015),
particularly among broad samples of the population (Kahneman et al. 2004; Nelson et al.
2013; Offer 2014). We know little about how feelings in time with children are shaped by
the context in which parenting takes place. This paper addresses gaps in the literature on
parenting experiences, focusing specifically on the factors associated with mothers’ feelings
in everyday parenting experiences.
We conceptualize parenting broadly to include any activity mothers report doing with their
children. Studies examining parental time with children often focus solely on time in which
parents directly engage in childcare activities with their children, capturing things such as
play, teaching, and management (e.g. Kalil et al. 2012; Raley et al. 2012). However, these
activities capture only a fraction of parenting time; Offer (2014) estimates only about one-
quarter of all time with children is spent in direct interaction. We argue that parenting occurs
in many forms and varied contexts including seemingly mundane tasks such as cleaning and
shopping (Folbre et al. 2005).
We focus on mothers’ feelings in parenting for several reasons. Mothers are much more
often single parents than fathers, and there is greater variation in their employment hours,
each of which is associated with greater demands at home (Bianchi 2000). Mothers spend
more time on childcare and housework than do fathers, even in dual-career households
(Bianchi et al. 2000; Raley et al. 2012). Whereas employed mothers perform fewer
household and child-related tasks than do those who stay at home, this is not offset by
increased time contributions at home from husbands (Cawley and Liu 2012). Thus, there is
evidence that mothers continue to perform the majority of household tasks related to
children and family functioning, suggesting that it is their feelings in time with children that
not only may matter most for child well-being, but also may be more sensitive to their
employment or partnership status. Indeed, research shows that although parenting is
generally associated with positive feelings, mothers report less happiness, more stress, and
especially greater fatigue in time with children than fathers (Authors 2014).
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A key aim of this study is to examine how employment and partnership status are associated
with mothers’ feelings while spending time with their children. Variation along these critical
dimensions may structure the valence of mothering in ways that are difficult to predict. The
demands of single parenting may result in less joy and greater strain in time with children;
on the other hand, single mothers’ time with children may also provide an unmatched source
of intimacy, fulfillment, and security (Edin and Kefalas 2005; Villalobos 2014). Maternal
employment, which has never fit as easily with the parenting role as paternal employment,
can generate tension, time strain, and feelings of inadequacy that may spill into interactions
with children (Blair-Loy 2003; Nomaguchi et al. 2005; Garey 1999). Alternatively, it may
provide a source of identity, self-worth, and welcome relief from daily care, potentially
generating greater appreciation and enjoyment in time with children (Garey 1999; Parcel and
Menaghan 1994; Yetis-Bayraktar et al. 2012; Latshaw and Hale forthcoming).
In this paper, we draw on a new module in the American Time Use Survey that links time
diaries to feelings in specific activities, allowing us to substantially contribute to
understanding of everyday parenting experiences and how they vary by key demographic
characteristics, namely partnership status and employment. We conceptualize mothering
broadly as time in activities with children, and we rely on multidimensional indicators to tap
the potential joys and strains of raising children.
Assessing mothers’ emotions in parenting
Much of what we know about mothers’ emotions in parenting is based on global
assessments of well-being, such as: “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your
life as a whole these days?” (Stanca 2012). Divorced from time use, such assessments are
more sensitive to long-term aspirations, relative position, and notions of what is socially
desirable (Kahneman and Krueger 2006; National Research Council 2012). They reflect
different aspects of well-being than measures more closely tied to experiences and can have
different correlates (e.g., Deaton 2012; Kahneman and Deaton 2010). Momentary well-being
measures tied to activities tend to be more reliable than global assessments (Kahneman and
Krueger 2006; National Research Council 2012); they further mitigate threats to validity due
to adaptation, or the tendency for people to eventually adjust their subjective well-being to
changes in life circumstances (e.g., Lucas et al. 2003). Finally, when asked across activities,
momentary assessments provide leverage in teasing out stable, individual characteristics
(e.g., a generally positive disposition) from the contexts in which activities take place.
Studies have begun to use momentary assessments of emotions tied to specific activities,
leveraging two common methods to measure emotions in activities. Kahneman and
colleagues’ 2004 study pioneered the day reconstruction method (DRM), which combines a
time diary with questions about feelings in specific activities throughout the day in a 24-hour
recall survey. Others, like Offer (2014) in the 500 Family Study and Brown and colleagues
(2008) in the Work-Life Tensions Study in Australia, use a beeper or personal data assistant
(PDA) methodology through which respondents are randomly cued multiple times per day
over the course of several days to report on what they are doing, with whom, and how they
are feeling. The latter strategy has the advantage of “real time” assessments of momentary
well-being, although it is burdensome for respondents; it results in relatively low response
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and retention rates and is subject to technical glitches or failure (Soupourmas et al. 2005).
Moreover, Kahneman and colleagues (2004) have shown that momentary assessments
garnered through DRM are reliable when compared to those gathered by beeper or PDA
methodology. To our knowledge, the beeper or PDA methodology has only been used to
assess parenting on select samples of advantaged, dual-earner couples in the U.S. and
Australia (e.g. Brown et al. 2008; Offer 2014).
An impressive set of qualitative studies has shed further light on mothering experiences over
the past two decades. Such studies provide thick accounts of the lives of mothers and, to
varying degrees, help us understand what parents worry about (Garey 1999; Nelson 2010;
Villalobos 2014), how they manage multiple roles (Garey 1999; Fox 2009), and what
parenting means to them (Edin and Kefalas 2005; Nelson 2010; Villalobos 2014). However,
in these interview-based studies parents are reflecting back on their parenting experiences,
oftentimes without reference to a specific interaction or activity, and potentially considering
their status as a parent via a global assessment rather than the “doing of parenting.”
Certainly, there is much to be gained from in-depth qualitative studies in understanding how
parenting is woven into the lives of women, but momentary assessments offer a unique
opportunity to focus in on how parenting activities among a nationally representative sample
are experienced differently across key dimensions that potentially shape mothers’ lives:
partnership and employment status.
Single parenting
The prevalence of single-parent families rose substantially through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s,
and remains high today—about 30 percent of children today live with just one parent (Child
Trends 2015). Numerous studies describe the detriments to children associated with living
with one versus two parents (e.g., McLanahan et al. 2013; Waldfogel et al. 2010). While we
know less about the causal processes involved, many studies also show that single parents
are less well-off emotionally than married parents; for example, single parents have higher
levels of depression (Evenson and Simon 2005; Nomaguchi and Milkie 2003), less
satisfaction in parenting (Rogers and White 1998), and lower levels of happiness (Margolis
and Myrskylä 2011). Further, some evidence suggests parenting behaviors of single mothers
differ from those of married mothers: single parents report less parental engagement
compared to married parents (e.g. Carlson and Berger 2013). Looking across all of the time
investments made by caregiving adults, children in single-mother families experience fewer
total hours directly engaged with adult caregivers; however, this is due to the fact that
nonresident fathers spend very little time with their children. Single mothers actually spend
more
solo time with their children than do married or partnered mothers (Kalil, Ryan and
Chor 2014a).
Linkages between single parenthood, parenting behaviors, and parents’ emotional well-
being may be attributable to several factors. Research shows that transitions into and out of
relationships are associated with increased parenting stress and changes in parenting
behaviors (Cooper et al. 2009; Beck et al. 2010), and single mothers experience more
relationship instability than partnered mothers (McLanahan and Beck 2010). In addition,
single mothers receive less social support and experience greater strain than married mothers
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(Edin and Kefalas 2005; Amato 1993). The greater care burden among single mothers may
also leave less room for the more enjoyable and rewarding aspects of parenting. Finally, it is
possible that selection factors are at play in many of these associations; the same factors
associated with selection into single parenthood may also be linked to increased stress, lower
satisfaction, and reduced well-being in time with children (Amato 2000).
As a counterpoint to the potential strains of single motherhood, rich ethnographic accounts
of the economically disadvantaged describe the central role of children in providing single
parents with a sense of purpose, meaning, and satisfaction (Edin and Kefalas 2005; Edin and
Nelson 2013, Villalobos 2014). By these accounts, motherhood offers an unmatched source
of love, intimacy, and emotional security as well as a key domain of competence. “Meaning
making” around childrearing may be particularly salient among women with strong
childbearing desires who select into parenthood but not marriage, or among those for whom
alternative sources of purpose and meaning are limited. Although some evidence suggests
that single mothers may experience reduced emotional well-being while parenting compared
to their partnered counterparts, meaning may be one dimension on which single parents fare
at least as well in their time with children. To our knowledge no work has compared the
emotional experiences of single and partnered mothers in time with children; our focus on
well-being across multiple dimensions offers the opportunity to assess the varied ways in
which partnership status may be associated with feelings in time with children.
Employment Status
Rising educational attainment for women, changing gender role attitudes, the rise of single-
parenthood, and contemporary economic uncertainty have together given rise to high rates of
maternal employment. Labor force participation rates for mothers with children under age
18 increased nearly 60% from 1965 to 2000 (from 45 to 78%), with average hours of market
work more than tripling in this same period (Bianchi 2011). Recent maternal labor force
participation rates remain above 70% despite a sluggish economy (Department of Labor,
2013). Indeed, 40% of all households with children include mothers who are either the only
or primary breadwinners (Pew Research Center 2013a). It is in this context that a wide range
of studies has sought to examine the implications of maternal employment for child well-
being. Bianchi (2000) sums up this vast literature thusly, “…given the effort that has been
devoted to searching for negative effects of maternal employment on children’s academic
achievement and emotional adjustment, coupled with the scarcity of findings (either positive
or negative), it would appear that the dramatic movement into the labor force by women of
childbearing age in the United States has been accomplished with relatively little
consequence for children” (p. 401).
Compared to a number of studies examining links between maternal work and child well-
being, few studies have taken mothers’ own emotional well-being as the object of study.
Those that do focus on global or overall affect, not affect in parenting. Aassve and
colleagues (2012) find reduced happiness among employed mothers across Europe, and
Bertrand (2013) reports lower mean affect among employed college-educated mothers
relative to their non-employed counterparts. A few studies provide insights into parents’
feelings about balancing work and parenting, pointing to a “never enough” feeling and guilt
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for not spending enough time with children (Daly 2001), even controlling for how much
time they actually spend with them (Milkie et al. 2004). Looking at descriptive evidence,
results from recent Pew Research Center surveys indicate that 56% of employed mothers
report that it is “very” or “somewhat” difficult to balance work and family. Additionally,
37% of mothers report “always” feeling rushed; this was more common among employed
mothers than those who did not work outside the home. Employed mothers were more likely
than the non-employed to say that they are doing an “excellent” or “very good” job at
parenting (78% vs. 66%), but were less likely to say they are “very happy” (31% vs. 45%;
Pew Research Center 2013b).
Although attention typically focuses on the potential challenges associated with maternal
employment, we also know that work can be satisfying and rewarding and can provide
financial and emotional security in uncertain economic times (Cooper 2014, Villalobos
2014). Indeed, with nearly 70% of mothers in the labor force and 40% of mothers serving as
the primary or only family earner, mothers’ employment is critical to family well-being
(Bianchi 2011). Garey’s qualitative study (1999) of how women weave work and
motherhood finds many mothers report positive experiences—work provides fulfillment, an
escape, connections outside of the family, and a chance to be a role model to children. The
positive emotional benefits of the work itself and the family security it affords may spillover
into parenting, making for more positive parenting experiences as well. We know very little
about how employed and non-employed mothers differ in their everyday experiences with
children: does pressure from work detract from time with children, or do activities outside
the home make time with children more valuable? Intersections: Single Mothering by
Employment Status
In addition to the main effects of both partnership status and employment noted above, these
key demographic factors may interact when predicting mothers’ feelings while parenting.
The potential conflicts between work and care may be more pronounced among single
mothers, suggesting lower affect in time with children. Contrary to this notion, however, a
set of recent studies documents
positive
associations between employment and well-being
among disadvantaged mothers and their children. For example, Augustine (2014) finds that
part-time and high status work is associated with better quality parenting for mothers with
low levels of education, including (disproportionately) single mothers. Similarly, a series of
studies examining the transition from welfare to work in the 1990s suggest neutral or
slightly positive effects of single mothers’ employment on children (Chase-Lansdale et al.
2003; Gennetian and Miller 2002; Huston et al. 2001; Duncan et al. 2007; Johnson et al.
2012). Likewise, Harkness (2014) shows how single mothers’ mental health improved
significantly more than that of partnered mothers when they entered paid work after the
1990s welfare reforms in the United Kingdom.
While employment is associated with positive outcomes for single-mother families, the
corollary is also true: non-employment in single mother families is associated with
particularly negative outcomes. Blank (2007) describes the plight of “hard to employ” single
mothers and their children. Such mothers suffer from multiple disadvantages that make it
difficult for them to find work and simultaneously negatively impact the financial and
emotional well-being of them and their children. These disadvantages include low education,
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learning disabilities, health problems, and a history of domestic violence or substance use.
Augustine (2014) finds that non-employed mothers with low levels of education reported the
lowest levels of parenting quality, highlighting how lack of access to work may compound
their disadvantage. Together, these streams of research suggest that the advantages of
maternal work among single mothers should be associated with better affective experiences
in time with children.
Potential Confounders
A number of person-level and activity-specific features may confound associations between
mothers’ partnership and employment status and their feelings in time with children. At the
person level, sleep and leisure are restorative (Smith-Coggins et al. 1994; Munakata et al.
2000) and may benefit mothers’ experiences in parenting. Access to sleep and leisure vary
by mothers’ partnership and employment status. Single mothers get more minutes of sleep
than partnered mothers on average, though they are more likely to go to bed after midnight
and to experience sleep interruptions for caregiving (Burgard and Ailshire 2013). A robust
literature links maternal employment to mothers’ reduced sleep (Bianchi 2000; Kalil et al.
2014b). Both single and employed mothers face leisure constraints (Bianchi 2000; Jackson
and Henderson 1995); compared to those who were not employed, employed women also
experience more fragmented free time and less “pure” leisure with no children present
(Mattingly and Bianchi 2003).
At the activity level, solo care or parenting alone may be a key consideration. Such parenting
can be more stressful and difficult than parenting with another adult (Folbre et al. 2005;
Blair-Loy 2003). Kalil and colleagues (2014a) show that single mothers engage in a
substantially higher proportion of solo care than partnered mothers. Non-employed mothers
spend more time with their children overall relative to employed mothers, and they likely
engage in more solo parenting as well.
Employed and partnered mothers differ on many other dimensions from those who are not in
the labor force and those who are single. Non-employed and single mothers are less
educated and have lower household income, and are more likely to be non-white, than
employed and married mothers (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Our analyses account for these
and other person-level characteristics that are associated with well-being, including mothers’
education, age, race and ethnicity, family income, whether there is another earner in the
household, the number of household children, and the age of youngest child. Activity-level
controls include the type of activity reported, and its location, duration, and time of day, as
well as the total time spent with children in the diary day prior to the indexed activity.
Summary
Prior literature suggests that parenting may be a mixed bag of joys and strains, yet we know
little about how parents feel in their everyday experiences with children. Contemporary
trends have resulted in substantial increases in single parenthood and employment for
women – two demographic dimensions that hold potential importance for shaping the
context and experience of parenting. Our study examines how both partnership and
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employment status (independently and interactively) are associated with shifts in the valence
of mothers’ experiences with children in a broad range of everyday parenting activities.
Data, Measures, and Methods
We pool data from the 2010, 2012, and 2013 American Time Use Surveys (Hofferth et al.
2013). ATUS sample members are drawn from Current Population Survey (CPS)
respondents. One individual aged 15 or older per former CPS participating household is
invited to participate in the ATUS during the two to five months following their exit from the
CPS.1 The ATUS is a time diary study of a nationally representative sample of Americans.
ATUS respondents report on their activities over a 24-hour period from 4:00 a.m. of a
specified day until 4:00 a.m. of the following day, indicating the type of activity, as well as
where, when, and with whom it occurred.2 Responses are recorded using Computer Assisted
Telephone Interview procedures. Activities are coded using a six-digit, three-tier coding
system, and over 400 activity categories are represented by the classification. Data are
collected every day of the week, including holidays, with weekends oversampled. 50% of
diaries are about weekend days (25% each), and 50% are about weekdays (10% each day).
Critical to our analysis, the 2010, 2012 and 2013 rounds of the ATUS included a Subjective
Well-Being Module of questions tapping respondents’ emotions in activities. All ATUS
respondents were eligible for participation in the module, and there was minimal
nonresponse (ATUS 2014). Participants reported how they felt in three randomly selected
activities of at least five minutes in duration. 34,565 men and women ages 15 and older
completed the module over the three ATUS cycles, for a total of 102,633 activities. Sleeping,
grooming, and personal activities as well as activities where the respondent didn’t know or
refused to report what they were doing were not eligible for selection.
All descriptive statistics are weighted to account for the oversample of weekends and other
aspects of the ATUS sample design. Activity weights for the well-being module further
account for differences in the fraction of time in eligible activities and the probability of
having an eligible activity selected (ATUS 2014, pp. 5–6).
Modeling Approach
We limit our sample to the parenting activities of mothers ages 21–55 with children under 18
in the household. As noted at the outset, our treatment of parenting is inclusive of any
activity mothers report doing with children, as indicated by their response to the “who with”
question that follows each diary entry. In all, the subjective well-being sample of the ATUS
includes 19,264 women; 7,074 are ages 21–55 and have a child under 18 in the household.
We excluded 1,371 cases (19% overall; or 13% among non-employed and 22% among
employed mothers; 25% among single and 17% among partnered mothers) for whom there
1Some studies have shown that respondents in the ATUS differ from non-respondents on reports of pro-social behaviors (e.g. Abraham
et al. 2009). Those who volunteer, for example, are also more likely to respond to surveys like the ATUS leading to inflated national
estimates of volunteering. Abraham et al. (2009) found that while non-response can have a significant effect on the univariate
distribution of pro-social activities, it does not appear to affect inferences about the respondent characteristics that are associated with
those activities.
2Information on where and with whom the activities occurred is available for all activities except for personal care and sleeping.
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were no activities with children among the three randomly selected for inclusion in the well-
being module. Note that although a fifth of mothers had no activity with children in the well-
being module, less than 4% overall (2% among non-employed and 5% among employed
mothers; 7.5% among single and 2.5% among partnered mothers) reported no activities with
children throughout the diary day. Finally, we drop cases that are missing one or more well-
being reports. This leaves us with 5,683 women reporting 11,512 activities with children.
Thirty-one percent of our sample is with children during one of the well-being module
activities, 36% is with children during two activities, and 33% is with children during all
three selected activities.
We use methods that account for the multilevel nature of our data, in which activities at level
one are nested within individuals at level two (Allison 2009). Our outcomes—multiple
dimensions of affect—are scored 0–6 and treated as quantitative variables. We rely on
random effect models (also called multilevel or mixed models in the literature, estimated
using
xtreg, robust re
in Stata for quantitative response variables). The basic model can be
written:
for activity
i
and individual
j
where υ0j is a person-specific random error term representing
unobserved characteristics of individual
j
and assumed independent of
X
’s (activity-level
covariates) and
Z
’s (person-level covariates).
Random effect models yield a weighted average of within- and between-level estimates, with
the advantage of providing estimates for characteristics that are invariant across activities.
Thus, we can assess the association between emotions in various activities with children,
accounting for characteristics of
individuals
that structure the day to day like employment
and partnership status as well as the micro-level context of parenting
activities
like whether
they were parenting solo or with another adult.
For each of our five outcomes, we estimate three models: first we include only the indicators
for partnership status, employment, and the interaction between the two to get baseline
estimates of the linkages between these characteristics and feelings while parenting. Next,
we add a series of exogenous controls. Finally, we add a set of endogenous measures that
may themselves be influenced by partnership status or employment and therefore may
mediate linkages between these characteristics and feelings while parenting.
Feelings in Parenting
For any activity in which a mother reports being with children, we assess feelings in
parenting on the basis of five questions, asked for each of up to three sampled activities with
children: 1) How
happy
did you feel during this time? 2) How
meaningful
did you consider
what you were doing? 3) How
sad
did you feel during this time? 4) How
stressed
did you
feel during this time? 5) How
tired
did you feel during this time? For each of these
questions, response options ranged from 0 (e.g., not at all happy, not at all meaningful) to 6
(e.g., very happy, very meaningful). Given the skew in some feelings in parenting, we also
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tested a dichotomous treatment using
xtlogit
where each emotion (happiness, meaning,
sadness, stress and fatigue) was coded as present (=1) at the point where 60% or greater of
respondents reported it for a sampled activity. All of our main findings were robust to this
alternate approach (results available upon request).
This set of questions captures critical dimensions of affect. Russell’s (1980) model of core
affect suggests four types of core emotions: positive low arousal (e.g. contentment), positive
high arousal (e.g. happiness), negative low arousal (e.g. sadness), and negative high arousal
(e.g. stress). Three of these types are captured by happiness, sadness and stress. Although
the ATUS does not include an indicator for positive, low arousal emotions, psychometric
research indicates that positive emotions highly correlate with each other, minimizing the
need for multiple indicators (Kapteyn et al. 2013). Negative emotions are often not highly
correlated, and thus an additional indicator is included for fatigue (negative, low arousal).
Finally, meaning taps a purpose-related dimension, which Stone and Mackie (2013) argue is
important because it often crosses the positive-negative dimension. For example, one can
find pleasure but little meaning in watching TV or meaning but little pleasure in reading the
same book repeatedly to a child. Compared to single-item assessments that characterize
much of the existing literature on parenting and emotional well-being, happiness, meaning,
sadness, stress, and fatigue offer a broad and multi-dimensional view of emotions in
parenting.
Mothers’ Employment and Partnership Status
To assess
mothers’ employment status
we include an indicator for whether the respondent is
employed. Before arriving at this simple indicator, we tested a finer-grained employment
measure differentiating no market work, part-time work (<35 weekly hours), full-time work
(35–49 weekly hours), and more than full-time work or long work hours (50+ weekly
hours). These tests indicated differences in mothers’ emotions in parenting between those
who are employed and those who are not, but no statistically significant differences among
categories of employment intensity. Therefore, we proceed with the simple indicator for
employed.
To assess
mothers’ partnership status
we include an indicator for whether the respondent is
single (not married or cohabiting). Like our initial treatment of employment status, we
started with a more complex measure differentiating families with: two parents with only
joint children, two parents in complex families, a single mother as the only adult, a single
mother and a grandparent, and a single mother with another non-partner adult. These initial
analyses indicated differences in mothers’ emotions in parenting between those in two
parent and single mother families, but no statistically significant differences among the
single-mother family types. Therefore, we retain the simple indicator for single-versus
partnered mothers. To assess variation in the valence of single mothers’ emotions in
parenting by their employment status, we interact “single parent” with “employed.”
Controls
We control for a rich set of person- and activity-level variables in our models; descriptive
statistics for these measures are shown in Appendix Table 1. We add controls in two steps,
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starting with basic socio-demographic characteristics of mothers and features of their diary
days and activities. At the person level, these include age in years, race/ethnicity (non-
Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, other), whether the respondent has a college
degree, whether she is currently enrolled in school, number of children (one, two, three or
more), age of youngest child (under six, 6–12, and 13–18), season of the diary report
(winter, spring, summer, fall), and whether the diary was reported on a weekend day. At the
activity-level, these include whether the activity took place at home or elsewhere, activity
duration in minutes, and the time of day (4 to 9am, 9am to 2pm, 2 to 5pm, 5 to 9pm, and
9pm to 4am).
Our second set of controls is potentially more endogenous to the processes linking
employment and partnership status to feelings in mothering. At the person level, this set
includes family income (<$25,000, $25,000–74,999, > = $75,000, missing) and whether
there is another earner in the household. It also includes two indicators of sleep and three
indicators of leisure:
Total hours of sleep
is a continuous variable that registers the number
of hours mothers report sleeping on the diary day.
Disrupted sleep
is a dichotomous
indicator for three or more sleep episodes.
Total hours of leisure
is measured analogous to
total hours of sleep, above.
Episodes of leisure
is a count variable indicating how many
distinct leisure activities are reported on the diary day. Finally,
total hours of leisure with
children only
indicates how many hours of a mother’s leisure is potentially “contaminated”
by child-related responsibilities with no other adult present (e.g., Mattingly and Bianchi
2003). At the activity-level, we control for solo parenting (using the “who with” questions to
assess whether the respondent engaged in the parenting activity without another adult
present) and the hours mothers reported with children (in any activity) prior to the indexed
activity. We also control for a total of 14 activity types (following activity coding in Aguiar
and Hurst 2007; Kahneman et al. 2004; Kalil et al. 2012):
market-work
,
carework
(exclusive
of childcare),
cooking
,
cleaning
,
shopping
,
other non-market work
,
television watching
,
socializing
,
education/religious events, eating
,
basic
childcare,
playing
with children,
teaching
children, and
managing
children’s activities and schedules.
Results
In what follows, we describe results in Tables 1 and 2 and Figure 1. These results highlight
patterns of mothers’ activities with children, their feelings in these activities, and how
patterns in mothering experiences vary by partnership status, employment, and the
intersection between these two key demographic features of mothers’ lives.
Table 1 shows significant bivariate differences in feelings in mothering by employment and
partnership status. Employed mothers are less sad but more fatigued in time with children
than non-employed mothers. Single mothers are less happy and more sad, stressed and
fatigued than partnered mothers. In our sample of mothers in activities with children, 63% of
mothers are employed and 77% are partnered.
Table 2 shows Generalized Linear Models (GLM) with random effects predicting each of the
five emotions in activities with children. We present coefficients on our key measures of
interest—employed, single parent, and single parent by employed—across three models.
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Model 1 includes mother’s employment status, partnership status, and the interaction
between employed and single parent status. The omitted category in this and all models is
non-working partnered mothers. Model 2 adds controls for basic socio-demographic
characteristics of mothers and features of their diary days and activities. Model 3 augments
Model 2 to include controls for factors that are potentially endogenous to employment,
partnership status, and feelings in parenting activities. Appendix Table 2 shows full results
for our final model.
Across the three models for each of the five emotions in parenting, coefficients on our key
measures of interest change very little. This suggests our basic findings are robust to a rich
set of socio-demographic controls and factors we hypothesized would account for
associations between employment, single motherhood, and feelings in activities with
children. We observe small changes in coefficient magnitude in a few cases, but in only one
case do we see that significant associations in Model 1 are no longer statistically significant
with the inclusion of controls: the relatively small, negative association between being
employed (which represents employed, partnered mothers in the model) and lowered
happiness in activities with children is reduced and no longer significant with the inclusion
of socio-demographic controls in Model 2. In models of fatigue, the coefficient for
employed (again representing employed, partnered mothers in the model) is reduced nearly
40% between Models 1 and 3 with the inclusion of endogenous controls like sleep and
leisure, but remains significant. In a few other cases, significant patterns emerge after the
inclusion of controls; the relatively large coefficients for non-employed (representing non-
employed, single mothers) predicting happiness (negative) and stress (positive) increase
about 20% each between Models 1 and 2, when we include socio-demographic measures.
Despite these few subtle changes in coefficient magnitude across models, the larger story is
the overall robustness of initial associations to this rich and varied set of person- and
activity-level controls. Of nine initially significant associations between our key measures of
interest and emotions in activities with children, only one is fully mediated by any of our
control measures, and in that case, the association was relatively small to begin with.
In our full model (Model 3), the estimated main effect of employment is statistically
significant only for fatigue, whereas the estimated main effect of single parenthood is
statistically significant for all outcomes but meaning. The interaction between these two
dimensions indicates important variation; it is statistically significant for all outcomes but
meaning and fatigue. We show predicted values to facilitate comparisons across
employment-partnership combinations. Figure 1 plots predicted levels of each emotion in
time with children, setting all categorical controls to their modal categories and holding all
continuous variables at their weighted mean values.
Panel A shows that while all groups report high levels of happiness in time with children
(unadjusted mean=4.77, SD=1.43, from Appendix Table 1), non-employed single mothers
report the lowest levels of happiness in parenting, significantly lower than employed single
mothers and partnered mothers regardless of employment status. The happiness
disadvantage for non-employed, single mothers is approximately one-quarter of a standard
deviation compared to partnered mothers of either employment status (e.g., [4.587 – 4.242]/
1.43 = 0.241) and 13 percent of a standard deviation compared to employed, single mothers
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([4.425 – 4.242]/1.43 = 0.128). While employed single mothers are better off than non-
employed single mothers in terms of happiness in parenting, they register a significant
happiness disadvantage equivalent to about 10 percent of a standard deviation in parenting
activities relative to partnered mothers of either employment status (e.g., [4.587 – 4.425]/
1.43 = 0.113). Interestingly, partnered mothers’ happiness in activities with children does not
differ based on employment status.
Panel B reveals high levels of meaning in time with children and no significant differences
by employment or partnership status. Panel C shows that overall, mothers report low levels
of sadness in time with children (unadjusted mean=0.45, SD=1.19). However, non-employed
single mothers report significantly higher levels of sadness in activities with children – about
one-third of a standard deviation higher – compared to mothers in the other three groups
(e.g., [0.738 – 0.370]/1.19 = 0.309). Employed single mothers and partnered mothers
(employed or not employed) do not differ significantly from each other in their reports of
sadness in activities with children.
Panel D shows predicted levels of stress in time with children. Again, across the four groups,
levels of stress in time with children are relatively low (unadjusted mean=1.35, SD=1.74).
Much like the findings for happiness, non-employed single mothers experience significantly
higher levels of stress with children than any of the other mothers, from one-third of a
standard deviation compared to employed partnered mothers ([1.637 – 1.085)/1.74 = 0.317)
to one-fifth of a standard deviation compared to employed single mothers ([1.637 – 1.267]/
1.74 = 0.213). Employed single mothers also register significantly more stress, about 10
percent of a standard deviation, than partnered mothers of either employment status (e.g.
[1.267 – 1.085]/1.74 = 0.105). Partnered mothers who are employed do not differ from those
who are not employed in their levels of stress when parenting.
Panel E shows predicted levels of fatigue in mothers’ time with children (unadjusted
mean=2.59; SD=1.96). All groups report higher levels of fatigue in parenting than do non-
employed partnered mothers, up to 14 percent of a standard deviation in fatigue (e.g., [3.377
– 3.104]/1.96 = 0.139). There are no other employment or partnership differences in fatigue,
indicating that, while employment and single parenting are both associated with higher
levels of fatigue in time with children, there is not an additional detriment for mothers who
are both single and employed.
Supplemental Analysis and Findings
The relative disadvantage of non-employed single mothers across many emotions motivated
supplemental analysis to examine the
overall
well-being of non-employed single mothers.
We compared their emotions to those of other mothers in activities other than parenting. We
found that non-employed single mothers are emotionally worse off than other mothers
across most activities. We also compared non-employed single mothers’ emotions in
parenting to their emotions in other activities. Results indicate that, while non-employed
single mothers are particularly disadvantaged emotionally, they are better off in parenting
than in other activities (results available upon request). These findings suggest that non-
employed single mothers fare poorly overall in well-being, and that their lower assessments
are not specific to time with children.
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Conclusion and Discussion
In this study we examined mothers’ feelings while parenting and tested if and how the
experiences of single motherhood and maternal employment shift the valence of these
feelings. We found that employed mothers are more fatigued than non-employed mothers.
Further, single mothers are less happy and more sad, stressed, and fatigued in parenting than
partnered mothers, although these detriments are larger and more consistent among non-
employed single mothers. In particular, non-employed single mothers fare significantly
worse than employed single mothers and partnered mothers in happiness, sadness and stress
in time with children, and experience feelings of fatigue on par with employed mothers.
They do not differ, however, in feelings of meaning in time with children—the one
emotional indicator that did not vary across sub-groups.
Surprisingly, our large, rich set of control measures did little to account for the initial
associations between employment, partnership status, and emotions in mothering. Thus,
single mothers, especially non-employed single mothers, experience significant emotional
detriments in parenting compared to other mothers even after accounting for key socio-
demographic differences and factors that we posited would be endogenous, such as sleep
and leisure, solo parenting, and family income. Our supplemental analysis found that non-
employed single mothers are generally worse off emotionally than other mothers;
nonetheless, they fare better emotionally in parenting than in other activities. Thus, the well-
being disadvantages observed by non-employed single mothers in our sample are not
specific to their parenting role but rather likely reflect larger challenges faced by this sub-
population (Blank 2007). The economic and social disadvantages faced by this group
combined with our new insights on their emotional detriments in parenting highlight the
need to better understand this group of mothers.
Our generally positive findings with regard to employment and emotional well-being in time
with children are inconsistent with familiar accounts of maternal work creating a time bind
that results in a “never enough” feeling (Daly 2001). Of the emotions we examined, prior
literature suggested that stress in parenting could be particularly affected by combining the
mother and worker roles (Milkie et al. 2004; Garey 1999). However, we did not find higher
levels of stress among employed mothers; in fact, we found low levels of stress in parenting
overall across all mothers in our sample. Only in fatigue do we see a detriment to employed
mothers compared to those who are not employed. When viewed from the perspective of
what employment brings to mothers and mothering instead of what it takes, the relatively
positive findings with regard to employed mothers’ feelings in parenting are not surprising.
Maternal employment provides financial security, particularly crucial in single-mother
families. The insecure economic context that characterizes our study period, 2010 to 2013,
likely further heightens the salience of employment for emotional well-being. Maternal
employment may also bring fulfillment and exposure to a social network outside of the
family (Garey 1999; Blair-Loy 2003), and these networks may serve as a source of ideas
about parenting and social support (Augustine, 2014), an advantage that could be especially
important for single mothers who do not benefit from the support of a residential co-parent.
Our study considered multiple dimensions of emotions in parenting, extending past work
that focused on one or a few indicators like happiness or satisfaction. In doing so we
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revealed variation in emotions as they relate to employment and partnership status. For
example, we learn that employment shifts the valence of fatigue in parenting, whereas single
parenthood shifts the valence of happiness and, to a lesser degree, stress. Interestingly, we
find no significant variation in meaning in time with children across mothers’ employment
and partnership status; all mothers reported high levels of meaning regardless of these
factors. Given the measurement literature on affect (Stone and Mackie 2013) and the
substantive literature on parenting as a source of purpose (Edin and Kefalas 2005), our
finding that parenting is a meaningful activity overall, regardless of employment and
partnership status, is a key contribution to the literature on parenting and emotional well-
being.
Overall, then, this study advances the literature on single-parenthood, employment and
parenting in several ways. Utilizing multiple dimensions of feelings in everyday parenting,
measured in a way that captures a wide range of parenting activities, we find overall high
levels of positive emotion and low levels of negative emotion in parenting. We identify
unique emotional disadvantages in parenting for non-employed single mothers compared to
other mothers, but also that non-employed single mothers are emotionally disadvantaged in
activities beyond parenting, too. Further, we find very few negative associations between
employment and mothers’ feeling in time with children. These findings add emotional well-
being in parenting to the growing list of potential benefits of maternal employment to
children, parents, and families. These positive associations are especially important to
recognize and document in the context of increasing rates of female breadwinner families
and persistently high levels of single-mother households.
Acknowledgments
We gratefully acknowledge support from the Minnesota Population Center (R24HD041023) the Data Extract
Builder of the American Time Use Survey (University of Maryland, R01HD053654; University of Minnesota,
Z195701), both funded through grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and
Human Development (NICHD); the Cornell Population Center, and Cornell’s Institute for Social Sciences.
Appendix
Appendix Table 1
Means (SDs) and Percentages of Activity- and Person-Level Characteristics of Mothers
Participating in Activities with Children
Activity-level
Subjective Well-Being (mean)
Happiness 4.77
SD (1.43)
Meaningfulness 4.89
SD (1.61)
Sadness 0.45
SD (1.19)
Stress 1.35
SD (1.74)
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Fatigue 2.59
SD (1.96)
Type (%)
Market work 2.00
Carework (excluding childcare) 0.84
Cooking 6.65
Cleaning 6.03
Shopping 7.06
Other Non-Market Work 2.12
Television Watching 16.12
Socializing 14.54
Education/Religion 3.41
Eating (also self care and using services) 14.90
Basic Childcare 10.97
Play Childcare 5.83
Teaching Childcare 3.91
Management Childcare 5.63
Location (%)
Public 33.92
Home 66.08
Minutes in Activity (mean) 102.26
SD (106.32)
Hours with Child Prior to Activity (mean) 5.43
SD (3.52)
Time of Day (%)
4–9am 9.71
9am–2pm 27.21
2–5pm 20.95
5–9pm 33.39
9pm–4am 8.74
N (activities) 11512
Person-level
Age (mean in Years) 36.18
SD (7.8)
Race (%)
Non-Hispanic White 61.04
Non-Hispanic Black 10.84
Hispanic 21.43
Other 6.69
College Graduate (%) 36.52
Enrolled in School
1
(%) 7.25
Employment Status (%)
Not Employed 37.25
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Employed 62.75
Family Structure (%)
Partnered parent 76.86
Single parent 23.14
Number of children in the HH (%)
1 36.84
2 41.07
3+ 22.09
Age of Youngest Child (%)
<6 years 52.54
6–12 years 32.98
13+ years 14.48
Weekend diary day (%) 29.47
Season of diary day (%)
winter 24.40
spring 26.01
summer 23.43
fall 26.16
Sleep
Hours (mean) 8.69
SD (1.97)
3+ Episodes (%) 18.75
Leisure
Total Hours (mean) 6.05
SD (3.19)
Number of Episodes (mean) 7.24
SD (3.64)
Total Hours with Children Only (mean) 1.67
SD (2.12)
Family Income (%)
<$25,000 22.17
$25,000–$74,999 54.74
>$75,000 22.09
Missing 1.00
Solo Parenting (%) 52.04
Other earner (incl partner) in HH (%) 65.20
N (persons) 5683
1
Percentage is only for women to age 49.
Note: 2010, 2012, 2013 ATUS Subjective Well-Being sample, mothers ages 21–55 with children under age 18 in the
household. N’s are unweighted; means/percentages are weighted
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Appendix
Appendix Table 2
Full Generalized Linear Models with Random Effects of Mothers’ Feelings in Activities
with
Happiness Meaning Sadness Stress Fatigue
Key Measures of Interest M3 M3 M3 M3 M3
Employment Status
Not Employed (omitted)
Employed −0.035 0.012 −0.036 −0.008 0.145
*
Parentship Status
Partnered (omitted)
Single −0.345
***
−0.118 0.368
***
0.544
***
0.273
*
Interaction
Employed × Single 0.218
*
0.075 −0.301
***
−0.362
**
−0.167
Controls (step one)
Age −0.006 0.002 0.011
***
0.008
*
−0.003
Race
Non-Hispanic White (omitted)
Non-Hispanic White 0.000 0.000 0.000 (0.000) (0.000)
Non-Hispanic Black 0.083 0.249
***
0.015 −0.287
***
−0.230
**
Hispanic 0.286
***
0.354
***
0.142
**
−0.044 −0.260
***
Other 0.168
**
0.243
**
0.101 −0.137 −0.336
***
Education
Not a College Graduate (omitted)
College Graduate −0.094
*
−0.193
***
−0.069
*
0.033 0.004
School Enrollment
Not Enrolled (omitted)
Enrolled in School1 −0.073 0.032 −0.028 0.191
*
0.301
***
Age of Youngest Child
<6 (omitted)
6–12 −0.046 0.030 0.013 −0.057 −0.040
13+ 0.049 0.054 −0.019 −0.116 −0.091
Number of Children in HH
One (omitted)
Two −0.112
**
0.019 0.011 0.143
**
0.030
Three or more −0.184
***
0.060 −0.044 0.234
***
−0.033
Season
Winter (omitted)
Spring −0.051 −0.038 0.042 0.042 0.068
Summer −0.057 −0.007 0.007 0.027 0.032
Fall −0.019 0.003 0.038 0.081 0.048
Diary Day
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Happiness Meaning Sadness Stress Fatigue
Key Measures of Interest M3 M3 M3 M3 M3
Weekday (omitted)
Weekend 0.050 −0.090
*
0.010 −0.063 −0.134
**
Location
Public (omitted)
Home −0.070 0.024 0.044 0.111
*
0.210
***
Minutes in Activity 0.000 0.002
***
0.000 0.001
***
−0.000
Time of Day
4–9am (omitted)
9am–2pm 0.154
***
−0.024 −0.076
*
−0.049 −0.194
***
2–5pm 0.026 −0.079 0.002 0.117
*
0.093
5–9pm 0.076 0.012 −0.010 0.002 0.498
***
9pm–4am −0.030 0.045 0.006 0.132 1.205
***
Controls (step two) M3 M3 M3 M3 M3
Income
<$25,000 (omitted)
$25,000–$74,999 −0.141
**
−0.136
*
−0.092
*
−0.037 −0.037
>$75,000 −0.215
***
−0.246
***
−0.060 −0.014 −0.149
Missing −0.354
*
−0.122 0.116 0.213 0.288
Other Earner in HH
No (omitted)
Other Earner in HH 0.001 −0.048 −0.048 −0.048 −0.063
Sleep
Total Hours −0.001 −0.011 0.003 −0.052
***
−0.068
***
3+ Episodes −0.178
***
−0.051 0.113
**
0.184
***
0.345
***
Leisure
Total Hours −0.003 −0.019
*
0.004 −0.033
***
−0.035
***
Number of Episodes −0.010 −0.008 −0.007 0.013 −0.009
Total Hours with Children Only −0.017
*
−0.002 0.006 0.009 −0.014
Solo Parenting
No (omitted)
Yes −0.099
**
−0.185
***
0.018 0.125
***
0.046
Hours with Child Prior to Activity 0.000 −0.014
*
−0.009
*
−0.021
**
0.020
*
Activity Type
Market work −0.264
*
0.454
**
0.081 0.884
***
−0.244
Carework (excluding childcare) 0.019 0.366 0.317
*
0.305 −0.034
Cooking −0.130 0.688
***
0.038 0.387
***
−0.107
Cleaning −0.547
***
−0.099 0.213
***
0.488
***
0.202
*
Shopping −0.174
*
0.252
**
0.151
*
0.644
***
−0.080
Other Non-Market Work −0.141 0.347
**
0.179
*
0.677
***
−0.051
Socializing 0.219
**
0.793
***
0.027 0.167
*
−0.258
**
Education/Religion 0.160 1.103
***
0.136 0.422
***
−0.281
*
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Happiness Meaning Sadness Stress Fatigue
Key Measures of Interest M3 M3 M3 M3 M3
Eating (also self care and using services) 0.204
***
0.946
***
−0.012 0.272
***
−0.173
*
Basic Childcare 0.128
*
1.246
***
−0.011 0.380
***
0.071
Play Childcare 0.699
***
1.582
***
−0.142
*
−0.043 −0.300
**
Teaching Childcare 0.287
***
1.533
***
−0.049 0.279
**
−0.224
*
Management Childcare −0.037 0.882
***
0.155
*
0.541
***
−0.225
*
Constant 5.277
***
4.388
***
0.020 1.064
***
3.259
***
sigma_u 0.948 1.048 0.916 1.260 1.391
sigma_e 1.038 1.216 0.759 1.166 1.261
rho 0.455 0.426 0.593 0.539 0.549
***
p<0.001,
**
p<0.01,
*
p<0.05
N Observations (activities) = 11,512; N Observations (women) = 5,683
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Figure 1. Mothers’ Predicted Levels of Feelings in Time with Children by Employment and
Partnership Status
Superscripts denote significant differences at p<0.05 from:
A = Non-employed, single; B = Employed, single; C = Non-employed, partnered; D =
Employed, partnered
Note: Predicted values generated from full models (M3, Table 2); categorical controls set to
their model category and continuous variables to their weighted mean values
Meier et al. Page 24
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Author Manuscript Author Manuscript Author Manuscript Author Manuscript
Meier et al. Page 25
Table 1
Means and Standard Deviations of Mothers’ Feelings in Activities with Children by Employment and
Partnership Status
Employment Status Partnership Status
Not Employed Employedv Singlev Partnered
Happiness 4.79
(1.38) 4.76
(1.45) 4.58
(1.76) 4.83
*
(1.33)
Meaning 4.89
(1.54) 4.89
(1.64) 4.86
(1.86) 4.90
(1.53)
Sadness 0.53
(1.21) 0.38
*
(1.13) 0.69
(1.70) 0.37
*
(1.01)
Stress 1.37
(1.65) 1.33
(1.78) 1.62
(2.13) 1.27
*
(1.61)
Fatigue 2.49
(1.83) 2.67
*
(2.05) 2.75
(2.23) 2.54
*
(1.88)
Percentage of Mothers (%) 37.25 62.75 23.14 76.86
N Observations (activities) 4206 7306 3076 8436
N Observations (women) 1951 3732 1528 4155
*
Different from contrast group at p<0.05
Note: 2010, 2012, 2013 ATUS Subjective Well-Being sample, mothers ages 21–55 with children under age 18 in the household. N’s are
unweighted; means/percentages are weighted
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Meier et al. Page 26
Table 2
Generalized Linear Models with Random Effects of Mothers’ Feelings in Activities with Children
ab
Happiness Meaning Sadness Stress Fatigue
M1 M2 M3 M1 M2 M3 M1 M2 M3 M1 M2 M3 M1 M2 M3
Respondent’s Work
Not Employed (omitted)
Employed −0.094
*
−0.040 −0.035 −0.063 0.032 0.012 −0.041 −0.036 −0.036 0.043 0.064 −0.008 0.240
***
0.202
***
0.145
*
Family Structure
Two Parent (omitted)
Single Parent −0.266
***
−0.343
***
−0.345
***
0.037 −0.084 −0.118 0.473
***
0.459
***
0.368
***
0.478
***
0.616
***
0.544
***
0.329
***
0.316
**
0.273
*
Work - Family Structure Interaction
Employed × Single Parent 0.205
*
0.197
*
0.218
*
0.034 0.055 0.075 −0.318
***
−0.325
***
−0.301
***
−0.307
**
−0.346
**
−0.362
**
-0.221 −0.162 −0.167
Constant 4.765
***
5.061
***
5.277
***
4.786
***
4.788
***
4.388
***
0.411
***
0.049 0.020 1.298
***
0.939
***
1.064
***
2.349
***
2.271
***
3.259
***
sigma_u 0.984 0.965 0.948 1.090 1.071 1.048 0.925 0.919 0.916 1.287 1.270 1.260 1.450 1.404 1.391
sigma_e 1.058 1.057 1.038 1.283 1.275 1.216 0.762 0.761 0.759 1.182 1.180 1.166 1.335 1.268 1.261
rho 0.463 0.455 0.455 0.419 0.414 0.426 0.596 0.593 0.593 0.542 0.537 0.539 0.541 0.551 0.549
***
p<0.001,
**
p<0.01,
*
p<0.05
N Observations (activities) = 11,512; N Observations (women) = 5,683
a
M2 controls included, not shown for: age, race/ethnicity, college degree, current college enrollment, number and ages of children, season of diary report, whether a weekend day, and time of day
b
M3 controls included, not shown for: age, race/ethnicity, college degree, current college enrollment, number and ages of children, season of diary report, whether a weekend day, time of day and family income, whether there is another earner in the household, sleep, leisure, solo
parenting, prior time with children, and type of parenting activity
Demography
. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2017 July 05.
... We also explored whether eudaimonic orientation and hedonic orientation interacted with parental status in predicting individual well-being experiences, though we stated no firm hypotheses on the matter. We also performed exploratory analyses to compare results for males and females separately, given evidence that fathers experience more well-being compared to mothers (Keizer et al., 2010;Nelson et al., 2013;Meier et al., 2018;Meier et al., 2016;. ...
... Given evidence that fatherhood is more consistently associated with well-being than motherhood (Keizer et al., 2010;Nelson et al., 2013;Meier et al., 2018;Meier et al., 2016;, we explored potential differences between males and females. To do so, we split the data file by gender and ran the three multivariate regression analyses on males as a group and females as a group. ...
... For males, the interaction between eudaimonic orientation and being a parent was associated specifically with higher levels of life satisfaction, meaning, elevation, self-connectedness, vitality, and relatedness. Several studies have provided evidence that fatherhood is associated with increased well-being (e.g., Keizer et al., 2010;Meier et al., 2018;Meier et al., 2016;Nelson et al., 2013), whereas evidence on mothers' well-being has been mixed (Hansen et al., 2009;Savolainen et al., 2001;Zuzanek & Mannell, 1993). Nonetheless, we were surprised by the clear gender difference in our results. ...
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The aim of this study was to investigate the potential moderating roles of eudaimonic orientation (prioritizing authenticity, meaning, excellence, growth) and hedonic orientation (prioritizing pleasure, comfort) on the link between parental status and well-being. A sample of 473 parents and 138 nonparents from Canada and the United States completed a questionnaire assessing eudaimonic and hedonic motives for activities and well-being experiences in their private life. The sample was balanced by gender, country, and age group (ages ranged from 18 to 93). Multivariate regression analyses revealed a significant positive interaction between being a parent and eudaimonic orientation in predicting positive well-being experiences as a set. Follow-up analyses comparing results by gender revealed that eudaimonic orientation had an enhancing moderating effect on fathers’, but not mothers’, well-being. Univariate regression analyses showed that, for males, the interaction between eudaimonic orientation and parental status related specifically to life satisfaction, and experiences of meaning, elevation, self-connectedness, vitality, and relatedness. No significant interaction effect was found between parental status and hedonic orientation in predicting overall well-being. The results of our study suggest that the ways people construe and pursue the ‘good life’ have important implications for the well-being derived from parenthood—at least for fathers. Our findings also support evidence suggesting that eudaimonic and hedonic orientations constitute an important lens through which individuals interpret the well-being experienced in relation to different life contexts.
... We pay special attention to how women's paid work hours and employment status moderate the relationship between mothering and stress changes during the pandemic. Prior work has shown that pre-pandemic, full-time employment is beneficial to women's mental health (Caputo, Pavalko, and Hardy 2020;Frech and Damaske 2012;Meier et al. 2016;Pavalko and Smith 1999;Ross and Mirowsky 1995). But long working hours and limited work schedule control can fuel work-family conflicts, hence affecting the stress levels of women raising children (Carrillo et al. 2017;Marshall and Tracy 2009;Milkie, Nomaguchi, and Schieman 2019;Roxburgh 2012). ...
... Among women raising children, evidence on associations between employment type and stress is mixed. Some studies have found that employed mothers report lower stress than nonemployed mothers (Buehler and O'Brien 2011;Meier et al. 2016;Nomaguchi and Brown 2011;Nomaguchi and Johnson 2016). However, employment is also a source of stress for mothers. ...
... Full-time employed mothers, who during non-pandemic times need to juggle many responsibilities in order to meet the demands of full-time employment and mothering, may be better equipped via their previous experience to deal with the sudden increase of stressors during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the complex relationship between employment and mothers' mental well-being, existing studies do generally show that maternal employment can provide economic, psychological, and social resources that are beneficial to mothers' emotional well-being (Blair-Loy 2003;Meier et al. 2016;Nomaguchi and Brown 2011;Nomaguchi and Johnson 2016;Nomaguchi and Milkie 2020). Therefore, having more already-established strategies and resources for coping with stress in situations of crisis may also be a reason why fulltime employed mothers' feelings of stress increased less following the onset of the pandemic than most women with other mothering and employment status 6 . ...
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Using primary data from the Assessing the Social Consequences of COVID-19 study, the authors examined how the pandemic affected the stress levels of women with and without coresiding minor children (mothers vs. nonmothers), paying special attention to the moderating role of employment status. The ordinary least squares regression results show that following the pandemic outbreak, among full-time working women, mothers reported smaller stress increases than nonmothers. In contrast, among part-time and nonemployed women, mothers and nonmothers experienced similar stress increases. Also, full-time working mothers reported smaller stress increases than women with most other mothering and employment statuses. Changes in women’s employment status, following pandemic onset, had limited impacts on the patterns of stress change. This study contributes to research on parenting and health by showing that during times of crisis, full-time employment may be protective of mothers’ mental health but may not buffer the mental health deterioration of women not raising children.
... Industrialized societies have also had to come to grips with higher divorce rates and single mothers bear the largest part of that burden, with a South Korean study of 195 single mothers finding higher rates of low income, housing uncertainty, stress, and alcohol problems resulting in a depression rate of 33% versus 8% for married mothers [73]. This effect was confirmed in a large American Time Use survey (2016) where responses of women aged 21-55 (19,264 total) with a child were selected and analyzed for stress, fatigue, happiness, sadness, and life meaning [74]. Single mothers with no employment suffered the most stress and fatigue while employment did not change fatigue but decreased stress and increased happiness [74]. ...
... This effect was confirmed in a large American Time Use survey (2016) where responses of women aged 21-55 (19,264 total) with a child were selected and analyzed for stress, fatigue, happiness, sadness, and life meaning [74]. Single mothers with no employment suffered the most stress and fatigue while employment did not change fatigue but decreased stress and increased happiness [74]. This indicates that both unemployed and employed single mothers often suffer from high levels of fatigue (whether working or not) but stress from poverty is a predominant factor [74]. ...
... Single mothers with no employment suffered the most stress and fatigue while employment did not change fatigue but decreased stress and increased happiness [74]. This indicates that both unemployed and employed single mothers often suffer from high levels of fatigue (whether working or not) but stress from poverty is a predominant factor [74]. Taken together, results from these international studies reveal that the decision to have children is a complex and multifactorial issue that sees women calculating the stress and fatigue of childbirth and childrearing with respect to their perceived finances and availability of care. ...
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The modern woman has taken her rightful place in society as a worker, a caregiver, a mother, and a world citizen. However, along with the privileges of these roles comes the great cost of stress and resultant exhaustion and fatigue. Psychosocial, physical, cultural, and disease-related realms of stress act as strands of a web that serve to bind and hinder women with chronic stress. New areas of research, such as exercise intervention, improved social programs (e.g., childcare), and supplementation are constantly evaluated for effectiveness alongside traditional remedies such as exercise. This review will highlight some of the key issues regarding stress in women and explore reports of new treatment modalities in light of the specific requirements of the modern woman.
... In many places, single mothers still face fines or other forms of penalties for giving birth outside of marriage (Wang, 2021). 1 Due its lack of legal legitimacy and non-compliance with the National Population Control Policy (Cao, 2015), single motherhood is commonly considered a shame for the mother herself as well as her family. Overall, single motherhood in China is associated with uncertainty, ambivalence, and precarity, all of which pose major challenges to women's mental and physical health (Beck et al., 2010;Meier et al., 2016). These uncertainties may drive Chinese single mothers' communication behaviors. ...
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Divorced and unwed single motherhood is heavily stigmatized in Chinese cultural context, preventing Chinese single mothers from actively seeking the information and support needed and negatively impacting their wellbeing. Drawing on the theory of motivated information management (TMIM), this study tested how perceived stigma and cultural norms influenced Chinese single mothers' search for information and social support from families, friends as well as from online communities. Using two-wave data collected from 226 single mothers, findings support the utility of the TMIM in explaining information management and support seeking behaviors and contribute to situating the TMIM process within larger socio-cultural contexts. Practical implications regarding how to facilitate more effective uncertainty management and enhance Chinese single mothers' wellbeing in interpersonal vs. online contexts are discussed.
... This finding is consistent with previous studies (Pérez-Díaz and Oyarce Cádiz, 2020;Roskam and Mikolajczak, 2020). A possible explanation lies in mothers' greater involvement in the upbringing and daily care of children: a large-scale study conducted by Meier et al. (2016) showed that the ratio of tedious tasks, such as cooking and childcare, to recreational tasks (i.e., involving leisure time with their children), is higher among mothers than fathers. A recent study conducted in 40 countries by Roskam et al. (2022), also showed that parental burnout was higher among mothers who have egalitarian values and who are raising their children in a country where gender equality is high in domains such as access to health care or employment. ...
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Parental burnout is a unique and context-specific syndrome resulting from a chronic imbalance of risks over resources in the parenting domain. The current research aims to evaluate the psychometric properties of the Spanish version of the Parental Burnout Assessment (PBA) across Spanish-speaking countries with two consecutive studies. In Study 1, we analyzed the data through a bifactor model within an Exploratory Structural Equation Modeling (ESEM) on the pooled sample of participants (N = 1,979) obtaining good fit indices. We then attained measurement invariance across both gender and countries in a set of nested models with gradually increasing parameter constraints. Latent means comparisons across countries showed that among the participants’ countries, Chile had the highest parental burnout score, likewise, comparisons across gender evidenced that mothers displayed higher scores than fathers, as shown in previous studies. Reliability coefficients were high. In Study 2 (N = 1,171), we tested the relations between parental burnout and three specific consequences, i.e., escape and suicidal ideations, parental neglect, and parental violence toward one’s children. The medium to large associations found provided support for the PBA’s predictive validity. Overall, we concluded that the Spanish version of the PBA has good psychometric properties. The results support its relevance for the assessment of parental burnout among Spanish-speaking parents, offering new opportunities for cross-cultural research in the parenting domain.
... Previous studies have demonstrated that, in addition to socioeconomic status, the availability of social support, the compatibility of work and family demands, and the relationship with the children as well with the ex-partner are of particular importance for single mothers' health [16,[33][34][35]. Moreover, research has shown that single mothers report more sadness and stress in parenting [36], as well as lower levels of health literacy [37]. The temporal development of these factors and their influence on single mothers' health should therefore be investigated in further studies. ...
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Background: While numerous studies suggest that single motherhood is associated with socioeconomic disadvantages and poor health, few studies have analyzed how these conditions have evolved over time. Addressing this gap, we examined the temporal development of self-rated health (SRH) among single compared to partnered mothers, and the role of socioeconomic factors that may have influenced this trend. Methods: We used representative longitudinal data from the German Socioeconomic Panel Survey (G-SOEP) between 1994 and 2018, consisting of 83,843 women with children, aged 30-49 years (13,664 single and 70,179 partnered mothers). Time trends in SRH and socioeconomic factors were analyzed by means of logistic regression analyses. We applied the Karlson-Holm-Breen (KHB) method for decomposing the total time effect into direct and indirect parts via socioeconomic mediators. Results: The predicted probabilities of good SRH decreased in single mothers from 57.0% to 48.4%, while they increased in partnered mothers from 54.8% to 61.3%. Similarly, predicted probabilities of poor SRH rose from 15.0% to 22.7% in single mothers while decreasing slightly from 12.0% to 11.4% in partnered mothers. Moreover, socioeconomic factors worsened over time for single mothers, while they mostly improved for partnered mothers. Decomposing the time trend revealed that the deterioration of single mothers' health was partly explained by the worsening of socioeconomic disadvantages, of which the decline in full-time employment, the rise in low incomes, and in unemployment contributed most. Conclusions: The alarming rise in socioeconomic and health disadvantages among single mothers in Germany shows that action is needed to counter this trend.
... Research shows that transitions into and out of relationships are associated with increased parenting stress (Beck et al. 2010;Cooper et al. 2009). Studies also demonstrate that single parenthood is related to a higher level of depression than 121 parenthood in unions (Evenson and Simon 2005;Meier et al. 2016;Nomaguchi and Milkie 2003). In this vein, we hypothesize that parenthood will strengthen the positive association between cohabitation dissolution and distress (Hypothesis 2). ...
Thesis
Sociologists and demographers have long sought to investigate the patterns, determinants, and consequences of intimate relationships. As the economic conditions and consumption landscape of young adult lives have shifted, we have gradually observed the delay and even retreat from marriage, the increasing popularity of cohabitation, and the growing instability of unions. Against the background of fast-changing union experiences, this dissertation investigates the precursors and consequences of union formation and dissolution through the triple lenses of birth cohort comparison, social context comparison, and marital behavior comparison. The first paper examines whether the wealth foundation has shifted for marriage and cohabitation formation in the context of the United States by comparing two birth cohorts. The results indicate a rising wealth foundation for both marriage and cohabitation among young adults, particularly in terms of secured and appreciating assets and debt (e.g., home ownership and debt holding). The second paper investigates how family wealth shapes first marriage in China, a vastly different social setting from the United States, in order to test whether this positive association is universal or contingent (context-specific) and whether there are gender and rural-urban differences in this association. The findings reveal that family wealth is a strong positive predictor for first marriage, especially for rural Chinese men. The findings also indicate that gendered marriage practices and family wealth arrangements may lead to Chinese women’s disadvantaged position in wealth possession and yield a severe marriage squeeze for economically underprivileged Chinese men (especially rural men). The third paper explores the consequences of union dissolution, specifically cohabitation dissolution, on mental health outcomes, investigating the moderating effects of gender and parenthood. The findings suggest that gender differences in the association of cohabitation dissolution with psychological distress are contingent upon the types of psychological distress under consideration and also reveal that cohabitation dissolution intertwined with non-marital parenthood is harmful to mental health, especially for young women. Taken together, the three freestanding albeit connected empirical studies illustrate that demographic behaviors are responses of individuals to dramatic social changes, and in return, the influence of demographic behavior shapes individual outcomes and then perhaps further social changes.
Chapter
Using the American Time Use Survey, this chapter explores how mothers and fathers experience specific daily activities utilizing four aspects of subjective well-being. ATUS survey respondents were asked to report how they felt in terms of happiness, meaningfulness, stress, and tiredness while they were engaged in three randomly selected activities they reported from the previous day. We use a simple regression approach and find that mothers are more tired than fathers in each of our aggregated time use activities and report higher stress levels when engaged in paid work, nonpaid work, child caregiving, and leisure activities. However, mothers report greater happiness than fathers when engaged in paid work and leisure. Single nonemployed mothers are particularly unhappy, stressed, and tired, even after controlling for many other characteristics, including education level and household income. Fathers’ subjective well-being also varies by his marital status; single fathers are less happy and attribute less meaning to nonpaid work than married men, and are more stressed while watching TV, but less tired in other forms of leisure than married fathers.
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Objective: This article explores the consequences of the first COVID-19 lockdown in the spring of 2020 in France on intra-family relationships and 9-year-old children's socio-emotional well-being. Background: On 17th March 2020, France began a strict lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, with school closures and limited outings permitted until early June. All family routines and work-life arrangements were impacted. A major concern relates to how these measures impacted family and child well-being. Method: We use data from the Elfe Sapris survey, administered during the first lockdown to about 5,000 families participating to the Etude longitudinale française depuis l'enfance (Elfe), a nationally representative birth cohort of children born in 2011. We analysed correlations between parents' socioeconomic and living conditions on four relational indicators: the experience of lockdown, the quality of relationships between parents and children, and between siblings, and an indicator of children’s socio-emotional well-being, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Results: The impact of the lockdown on family well-being was conditional on socio-economic factors and their changes over the period. Deterioration of households' financial situation and having to work outside the home during lockdown was negatively correlated with family relationships and children’s socio-emotional well-being. Conclusion: Overall, our results suggest that while France's first lockdown was a relatively positive period for many households with a primary-school-aged child, we highlight that restrictions exacerbated existing difficulties for disadvantaged families.
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The recent proliferation of studies examining cross-national variation in the association between parenthood and happiness reveal accumulating evidence of lower levels of happiness among parents than nonparents in most advanced industrialized societies. Conceptualizing parenting as a stressor buffered by institutional support, the authors hypothesize that parental status differences in happiness are smaller in countries providing more resources and support to families. Analyses of the European Social Surveys and International Social Survey Programme reveal considerable variation in the parenthood gap in happiness across countries, with the United States showing the largest disadvantage of parenthood. The authors found that more generous family policies, particularly paid time offand child-care subsidies, are associated with smaller disparities in happiness between parents and nonparents. Moreover, the policies that augment parental happiness do not reduce the happiness of nonparents. These results shed light on macrolevel causes of emotional processes, with important implications for public policy.
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Book
When couples make the journey through their first year of parenthood they confront the challenges of their new responsibilities with varying degrees of support and a range of personal resources. When Couples Become Parents examines the ways in which divisions based on gender both evolve and are challenged by heterosexual couples from late pregnancy through early parenthood. Following the experiences of forty heterosexual couples in various socio-economic positions, Bonnie Fox traces the intricate interplay of social and material resources in the negotiations that occur between partners, the resulting divisions of paid and unpaid work in their families, and the dynamics in their relationships. Exploring the diverse reactions of these women and men, When Couples Become Parents provides significant insights into the early stages of parenthood, the limitations of nuclear families, and the gender inequalities that often develop with parenthood.
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http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674018167 The wrenching decision facing successful women choosing between demanding careers and intensive family lives has been the subject of many articles and books, most of which propose strategies for resolving the dilemma. Competing Devotions focuses on broader social and cultural forces that create women’s identities and shape their understanding of what makes life worth living. Mary Blair-Loy examines the career paths of women financial executives who have tried various approaches to balancing career and family. The professional level these women have attained requires a huge commitment of time, energy, and emotion that seems natural to employers and clients, who assume that a career deserves single-minded allegiance. Meanwhile, these women must confront the cultural model of family that defines marriage and motherhood as a woman’s primary vocation. This ideal promises women creativity, intimacy, and financial stability in caring for a family. It defines children as fragile and assumes that men lack the selflessness and patience that children’s primary caregivers need. This ideal is taken for granted in much of contemporary society. The power of these assumptions is enormous but not absolute. Competing Devotions identifies women executives who try to reshape these ideas. These mavericks, who face great resistance but are aided by new ideological and material resources that come with historical change, may eventually redefine both the nuclear family and the capitalist firm in ways that reduce work–family conflict.
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Across the political spectrum, unwed fatherhood is denounced as one of the leading social problems of today. Doing the Best I Can is a strikingly rich, paradigm-shifting look at fatherhood among inner-city men often dismissed as "deadbeat dads." Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson examine how couples in challenging straits come together and get pregnant so quickly-without planning. The authors chronicle the high hopes for forging lasting family bonds that pregnancy inspires, and pinpoint the fatal flaws that often lead to the relationship's demise. They offer keen insight into a radical redefinition of family life where the father-child bond is central and parental ties are peripheral. Drawing on years of fieldwork, Doing the Best I Can shows how mammoth economic and cultural changes have transformed the meaning of fatherhood among the urban poor. Intimate interviews with more than 100 fathers make real the significant obstacles faced by low-income men at every step in the familial process: from the difficulties of romantic relationships, to decision-making dilemmas at conception, to the often celebratory moment of birth, and finally to the hardships that accompany the early years of the child's life, and beyond.
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This paper empirically assesses a relatively unexplored topic: the time-use of stay-at-home fathers in female breadwinner families. Using a combination of microdata from the 2003–2013 American Time Use Surveys (ATUS) and in-depth interviews conducted with 30 stay-at-home fathers living in the United States, we critically examine the time-use of male caregivers, particularly during evening and weekend hours. Findings suggest that some stay-at-home fathers and breadwinning mothers shift or swap their domestic responsibilities when their wives return home from their paid jobs, allotting husbands more time to pursue other activities. As a result, some parents continue to ‘do gender’ in more conventional ways during evenings and weekends, even when fathers specialize in caregiving and mothers specialize in breadwinning during the day.