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Life Satisfaction Among Rural Low-Income Mothers: The Influence of Health, Human, Personal, and Social Capital


The satisfaction with life among rural low-income mothers was assessed using a sample of 163 mothers who participated in a multi-state, three-year longitudinal study. Dependent variables included those that represented various forms of capital (health, human, personal and social) as well as the mothers’ levels of life satisfaction from prior years. Nearly two-thirds of the rural mothers were satisfied with their life in all three years. Their level of satisfaction appeared to be constant, however, such persistence had a time frame of only one year. The variables that affected their satisfaction with life were symptoms of risk of depression (health capital) and income adequacy (personal capital). These findings provide important insight on a marginalized, yet often overlooked, population.

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  1. The definition of the concept of quality of life and its measurement vary among social scientists. See Diener and Suh (1997) and Felce and Perry (1995) for more complete reviews of the various models of quality of life.

  2. Satisfaction is a term that is used interchangeably with well-being, happiness, subjective well-being, welfare, and utility.

  3. For the complete project description, see (Bauer 2004, pp. 1–4) and

  4. Note that while the odds ratios are included for categorical variables, a unit increase in these variables has no real meaning. For the categorical variables, we focus on the direction of and the significance of estimated effects.

  5. The depression score variable is an index, a variable with ordinal properties. Thus, a ‘unit increase’ in the depression score has little meaning. But with a wide range of values, from 0 to 62, the odds ratios indicate that these small increases in the level of depression have important effects on satisfaction with life.


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This research was supported in part by USDA/CSREES/NRICGP Grants—2001-35401-10215, 2002-35401-11591, 2004-35401-14938. Data were collected in conjunction with the cooperative multi state research project NC-223/NC-1011 Rural Low-income families: Tracking Their Well-being and Functioning in the Context of Welfare Reform. Cooperating states are California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Peter St. Marie and Nathaniel Lanier, undergraduate research assistants, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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Correspondence to Sheila Mammen.

Appendix 1. Description of Dependent and Independent Variables

Appendix 1. Description of Dependent and Independent Variables

Dependent Variable: Satisfaction with Life

  • Overall, how satisfied are you with your life right now?

    • 1 = very dissatisfied

    • 2 = dissatisfied

    • 3 = mixed feelings

    • 4 = satisfied

    • 5 = very satisfied

Independent Variables: Health Capital; Depression Score, Health Insurance

  • Maternal depression: A constructive measure from the Center for Epidemiology Studies-Depression scale. [0 = rarely or none of the time; 1 = a little of the time; 2 = a moderate amount of the time; 3 = most or all of the time]

    • I was bothered by things that don’t usually

    • Did not feel like eating

    • I could not shake the blues

    • Felt as good as other people

    • Had trouble keeping mind of what I was doing

    • I felt depressed

    • I felt that everything that I did was an effoert

    • I felt hopeful about the future

    • I thought my life had been a failure

    • I felt fearful

    • My sleep was restless

    • I was happy

    • I talked less than usual

    • I felt lonely

    • People were unfriendly

    • I enjoyed life

    • I had crying spells

    • I felt sad

    • I felt like people disliked me

    • I could not get going

  • Do you get any benefits from your job? How about your partner?

      From mother’s job From partner’s job
    Health insurance for self yes no yes no
    Health insurance for children yes no yes no

Independent Variables: Human Capital; Educational Level, Confidence as a Parent

  • What is your current educational level?

    • 1 = 8th grade or less

    • 2 = some high school

    • 3 = high school or GED

    • 4 = specialized technical, business or vocational training after high school

    • 5 = some college, including Associate’s degree

    • 6 = college or university graduate

    • 7 = one or more years beyond college

    • 8 = graduate degree

    • 9 = don’t know

  • Confidence as a parent: Where would you put yourself on the Parenting Ladder in terms of: [0 (low)–6 (high)]

    • Your knowledge of how children grow and develop.

    • Your confidence that you know what is right for your child.

    • Your ability to create a safe home for your child.

    • Your success in teaching your child how to behave.

    • Your skill at finding fun activities that interest your child.

    • The amount of stress in your life right now.

    • Your ability to cope with the stress in your life.

Independent Variables: Personal Capital; Marital Status, Age of Youngest Child, Number of Children, Income Adequacy, Home Ownership

  • Marital status: single, married, living with partner, divorced, separated

  • Age of the youngest child: date of birth

  • Number of children

  • Income adequacy: To what extent do you think your income is enough for you to live on?

    • 1 = not all adequate

    • 2 = can meet necessities only

    • 3 = can afford some of the things we want but not all we want

    • 4 = can afford about everything we want

    • 5 = can afford about everything we want and still save money

  • Home ownership: Is this a rental or do you own?

Independent Variables: Social Capital; Satisfaction with Social Support

  • How would rate your overall satisfaction with the amount of support in your life?

    [0 (low)–6 (high)]

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Mammen, S., Bauer, J.W. & Lass, D. Life Satisfaction Among Rural Low-Income Mothers: The Influence of Health, Human, Personal, and Social Capital. Applied Research Quality Life 4, 365–386 (2009).

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  • Satisfaction with life
  • Rural low-income mothers
  • Health capital
  • Human capital
  • Personal capital
  • Social capital
  • Homeostatis