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Married With Children: The Influence of Parental Status and Gender on Ambulatory Blood Pressure



Although there is substantial evidence that social relationships and marriage may influence both psychological and physical health, little is known about the influence of children.


This study examined the competing predictions regarding the directional influence of parental status and its interaction with gender—given that mothers are typically disproportionately more responsible for everyday care of children—on cardiovascular functioning.


We examined ambulatory blood pressure (ABP) over 24 hours among 198 married males and females.


Couples without children had significantly higher ambulatory SBP and DBP than those with children. Moreover, we found a significant interaction between parental status and gender that suggested women with children showed the lowest ABP, whereas women without children displayed the highest ABP.


These findings suggest that parenthood, and especially motherhood, may be cardioprotective.

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  1. 1.

    One couple had 15 children (a blended family). Because this was clearly an outlier, we repeated our analyses deleting this couple’s data and none of our findings were altered in significance from what is reported.

  2. 2.

    There were four couples that had both a teen and adult child. Thus, there was a low frequency of overlapping cases.

  3. 3.

    Because the role of student takes one out of the home, we repeated our analyses including “student” in the “working” classification. Regardless of whether student was part of the “working” or “non-working” classification, the effect of parental status and the statistical interaction with gender were independent of the effects of employment.


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This research was generously supported by grant number R0502042 from the Marchionne Foundation and a grant from the Family Studies Center at Brigham Young University awarded to Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad. We would like to thank Brandon Jones, Shayna Ernhofer, Laura Cummings, Chad Jenson, Brian Mead, and Britta Thunnell for their help running participants through the protocol.

This data was previously presented at the 2008 Society of Behavioral Medicine annual meeting in San Diego, where it received the Citation Award for Excellence in Research.

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Correspondence to Julianne Holt-Lunstad Ph.D..

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Holt-Lunstad, J., Birmingham, W., Howard, A.M. et al. Married With Children: The Influence of Parental Status and Gender on Ambulatory Blood Pressure. ann. behav. med. 38, 170–179 (2009).

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  • Ambulatory blood pressure
  • Parental status
  • Marriage
  • Children
  • Stress
  • Cardiovascular