Relative Earnings and Depressive Symptoms among Working Parents: Gender Differences in the Effect of Relative Income on Depressive Symptoms

Abstract

The relationship between income and psychological well-being is well established. Yet, most of this research is conducted at the individual level without taking into account the role played by relative earnings at the couple level. In the present study we estimate the effect of share of family income on depressive symptoms of individuals. Specifically, we examine whether within-person change in the share of family income has differential effects on the level of depressive symptoms of mothers and fathers. Using data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLSY79), we follow the same individuals over 4 years and analyze their data using a cross-lagged structural equation model. Controlling for net income, we find that an increase in one’s share of family income is related to an increased level of depressive symptoms among mothers and a decreased level of depressive symptoms among fathers. When looking at a subsample of stay-at-home parents, we find that a change from providing some share of the family income to stay-at-home parent status over time is related to higher level of depressive symptoms among fathers but not mothers. Furthermore, we find that egalitarian gender ideology moderates this relationship for mothers but not for fathers. We discuss potential implications of our findings to the work-family and gender literature and to counselors and therapists who specialize in treating depression.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project 232659. We would like to thank Deborah Ostrovsky for her helpful review and comments.

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Correspondence to Karen Z. Kramer.

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Kramer, K.Z., Pak, S. Relative Earnings and Depressive Symptoms among Working Parents: Gender Differences in the Effect of Relative Income on Depressive Symptoms. Sex Roles 78, 744–759 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0848-6

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Keywords

  • Depression
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Gender ideology
  • Parents
  • Relative earnings
  • Share of family income