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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Some studies have shown that respondents in the ATUS differ from nonrespondents on reports of prosocial 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 although nonresponse can have a significant effect on the univariate distribution of prosocial activities, it does not appear to affect inferences about the respondent characteristics that are associated with those activities.

  2. 2.

    Information on where and with whom the activities occurred is available for all activities except for personal care and sleeping.

References

  1. Aassve, A., Goisis, A., & Sironi, M. (2012). Happiness and childbearing across Europe. Social Indicators Research, 108, 65–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Abraham, K. G., Helms, S., & Presser, S. (2009). How social processes distort measurement: The impact of survey nonresponse on estimates of volunteer work in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 114, 1129–1164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Aguiar, M., & Hurst, E. (2007). Measuring trends in leisure: The allocation of time over five decades. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122, 969–1006.

  4. Allison, P. D. (2009). Fixed effects regression models. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Amato, P. (1993). Children’s adjustment to divorce: Theories, hypotheses and empirical support. Journal of Marriage and Family, 55, 23–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Amato, P. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 1269–1287.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. ATUS. (2014). American Time Use Survey (ATUS) Data Dictionary: 2010, 2012, and 2013 Well-being module data variables collected in the ATUS well-being module. Retrieved from https://www.atusdata.org/atus/linked_docs/WB_Module_Codebook.pdf

  8. Augustine, J. M. (2014). Mothers’ employment, education and parenting. Work and Occupations, 41, 2237–2270.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Beck, A. N., Cooper, C. E., McLanahan, S., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2010). Partnership transitions and maternal parenting. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 219–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bertrand, M. (2013). Work on women’s work is never done: Career, family and the well-being of college educated women. American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, 103, 244–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Bianchi, S. M. (2000). Maternal employment and time with children: Dramatic change or surprising continuity? Demography, 37, 401–414.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Bianchi, S. M. (2011). Change and time allocation in American families. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 638, 21–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Bianchi, S. M., Milkie, M. A., Sayer, L. C., & Robinson, J. P. (2000). Is anyone doing the housework? Trends in the gendered division of labor. Social Forces, 79, 191–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Blair-Loy, M. (2003). Competing devotions: Career and family among women executives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Blank, R. (2007). Improving the safety net for single mothers who face serious barriers to work. Future of Children, 17(2), 183–197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Brown, P., Cerin, E., & Warner-Smith, P. (2008). The “Work/Life Tensions” project: A perspective on how dual-earner parents experience time in Australia. In A. M. Fontaine & M. Matias (Eds.), Family, work and parenting: International perspectives (pp. 47–64). Porto, Portugal: Legis Editora.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Burgard, S., & Ailshire, J. (2013). Gender and time for sleep among U.S. adults. American Sociological Review, 78, 51–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Carlson, M., & Berger, L. (2013). What kids get from parents: Packages of parental involvement across complex family forms. Social Service Review, 87, 213–249.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Cawley, J., & Liu, F. (2012). Maternal employment and childhood obesity: A search for mechanisms in time use data. Economics and Human Biology, 10, 352–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Chase-Lansdale, P. L., Moffitt, R., Lohman, B., Cherlin, A., Coley, R., Pittman, L., . . . Votruba-Drzal, E. (2003). Mothers’ transitions from welfare to work and the well-being of preschoolers and adolescents. Science, 299, 1548–1552.

  21. Child Trends. (2015). Indicators on children and youth: Family structure (Child Trends Databank report). Bethesda, MD: Child Trends. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=family-structure

  22. Connelly, R., & Kimmel, J. (2015). If you’re happy and you know it: How do mothers and fathers in the US really feel about caring for their children? Feminist Economics, 21(1), 1–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Cooper, C. E., McLanahan, S. S., Meadows, S. O., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2009). Family structure transitions and maternal parenting stress. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 558–574.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Cooper, M. (2014). Cut adrift: Families in insecure times. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  25. Daly, K. J. (2001). Deconstructing family time: From ideology to lived experience. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 283–294.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Deaton, A. (2012). The financial crisis and the well-being of Americans. Oxford Economic Papers, 64, 1–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Duncan, G. J., Huston, A., & Wisner, T. (2007). Higher ground: New hope for the working poor and their children. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I can keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Edin, K., & Nelson, T. J. (2013). Doing the best I can: Fatherhood in the inner city. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Evenson, R. J., & Simon, R. (2005). Clarifying the relationship between parenthood and depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 46, 341–358.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Folbre, N., Yoon, J., Finnoff, K., & Fuligni, A. S. (2005). By what measure? Family time devoted to children in the United States. Demography, 42, 373–390.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Fox, B. (2009). When couples become parents: The creation of gender in the transition to parenthood. Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Garey, A. I. (1999). Weaving work and motherhood. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Gennetian, L. A., & Miller, C. (2002). Children and welfare reform: A view from an experimental welfare program in Minnesota. Child Development, 73, 601–620.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Glass, J., Simon, R., & Andersson, M. (Forthcoming). Parenthood and happiness: Effects of work-family reconciliation policies in 22 OECD countries. American Journal of Sociology.

  36. Hansen, T. (2012). Parenthood and happiness: A review of folk theories versus empirical evidence. Social Indicators Research, 108, 29–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Harkness, S. (2015). The effect of employment on the mental health of lone mothers in the UK before and after new labour’s welfare reforms. Social Indicators Research. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s11205-015-1056-9

  38. Hofferth, S., Flood, S. M., & Sobek, M. (2013). American Time Use Survey data extract system (Version 2.4) [Machine-readable database]. College Park, MD & Minneapolis, Minnesota: Maryland Population Research Center, University of Maryland, & Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota.

  39. Huston, A. C., Duncan, G. J., Granger, R., Bos, J., McLoyd, V. C., Mistry, R., . . . Ventura, A. (2001). Work-based anti-poverty programs for parents can enhance the school performance and social behavior of children. Child Development, 72, 318–336.

  40. Jackson, E. L., & Henderson, K. A. (1995). A gender-based analysis of leisure constraints. Leisure Sciences, 17, 31–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Johnson, R. C., Kalil, A., & Dunifon, R. E. (2012). Employment patterns of less-skilled workers: Links to children’s behavior and academic progress. Demography, 49, 747–772.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 16489–16493.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Kahneman, D., & Krueger, A. B. (2006). Developments in the measurement of subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(1), 3–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Kahneman, D., Krueger, A. B., Schkade, D. A., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. A. (2004). A survey method for characterizing daily life experiences: The day reconstruction method. Science, 306, 1776–1780.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Kalil, A., Dunifon, R., Crosby, D., & Su, J. (2014). Work hours, work schedules and sleep duration among mothers and their young children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76, 891–904.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Kalil, A., Ryan, R., & Chor, E. (2014). Time investments in children across family structures. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 150–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Kalil, A., Ryan, R., & Corey, M. (2012). Diverging destinies: Maternal education and the developmental gradient in time with children. Demography, 49, 1361–1383.

  48. Kapteyn, A., Lee, J., Tassot, C., Vonkova, H., & Zamarro, G. (2013). Dimensions of subjective well-being (CESR Working Paper Series, No. 2013-05). Playa Vista, CA: Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research.

  49. Latshaw, B. A., & Hale, S. I. (2015). “The domestic hand-off”: Stay-at-home fathers’ time-use in female breadwinner families. Journal of Family Studies. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/13229400.2015.1034157

    Google Scholar 

  50. Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2004). Unemployment alters the set point for life satisfaction. Psychological Science, 15, 8–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Margolis, R., & Myrskylä, M. (2011). A global perspective on happiness and fertility. Population and Development Review, 37, 29–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Mattingly, M., & Bianchi, S. (2003). Gender differences in the quantity and quality of free time: The U.S. experience. Social Forces, 81, 999–1030.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. McLanahan, S., & Adams, J. (1987). Parenthood and psychological well-being. Annual Review of Sociology, 13, 237–257.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. McLanahan, S., & Beck, A. N. (2010). Parental relationships in fragile families. Future of Children, 20(2), 17–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. McLanahan, S., Tach, L., & Schneider, D. (2013). The causal effects of father absence. Annual Review of Sociology, 399, 399–427.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Milkie, M. A., Mattingly, M. J., Nomaguchi, K., Bianchi, S. M., & Robinson, J. P. (2004). The time squeeze: Parental statuses and feelings about time with children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 739–761.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Munakata, M., Ichii, S., Nunokawa, T., Saito, Y., Ito, N., Fukudo, S., & Yoshinaga, K. (2001). Influence of night shift work on psychologic state and cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses in healthy nurses. Hypertension Research, 24, 25–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Musick, K., Meier, A., & Flood, S. (Forthcoming). How parents fare: Mothers’ and fathers’ subjective well-being in time with children. American Sociological Review.

  59. National Research Council. (2012). The subjective well-being module of the American Time Use Survey: Assessment for its continuation. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

  60. Nelson, M. (2010). Parenting out of control: Anxious parents in uncertain times. New York: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Nelson, S. K., Kushlev, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being? Psychological Bulletin, 140, 846–895.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Nomaguchi, K. M., & Milkie, M. A. (2003). Costs and rewards of children: The effects of becoming a parent on adults’ lives. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 356–374.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Nomaguchi, K. M., Milkie, M. A., & Bianchi, S. M. (2005). Time strains and psychological well-being: Do dual-earner mothers and fathers differ? Journal of Family Issues, 26, 756–792.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Offer, S. (2014). Time with children and employed parents’ emotional well-being. Social Science Research, 47, 192–203.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Parcel, T. L., & Menaghan, E. G. (1994). Early parental work, family social capital, and early childhood outcomes. American Journal of Sociology, 99, 972–1009.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Parker, K., & Wang, W. (2013). Modern parenthood: Roles of moms and dads converge as they balance work and family. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/03/14/modern-parenthood-roles-of-moms-and-dads-converge-as-they-balance-work-and-family/

  67. Raley, S., Bianchi, S. M., & Wang, W. (2012). When do fathers care? Mothers’ economic contribution and fathers’ involvement in child care. American Journal of Sociology, 117, 1422–1459.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Rogers, S. J., & White, L. K. (1998). Satisfaction with parenting: The role of marital happiness, family structure and parents’ gender. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60, 293–308.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Russell, J. A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1161–1178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Senior, J. (2014). All joy and no fun: The paradox of modern parenthood. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Smith-Coggins, R., Rosekind, M. R., Hurd, S., & Buccino, K. R. (1994). Relationship of day versus night sleep to physician performance and mood. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 24, 928–934.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Soupourmas, F., Ironmonger, D., Brown, P., & Warner-Smith, P. (2005). Testing the practicality of a Personal Digital Assistant Questionnaire versus a Beeper and Booklet Questionnaire in a random-time experience-sample method context. Annals of Leisure Research, 8, 142–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Stanca, L. (2012). Suffer the little children: Measuring the effect of parenthood on well-being worldwide. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 81, 742–750.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Stone, A. A., & Mackie, C. (Eds.). (2013). Subjective well-being: Measuring happiness, suffering, and other dimensions of experience (National Research Council report). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

  75. U.S. Department of Labor. (2013). Labor force participation rates of mothers by age of own child, March 1976–2012 [Data set]. Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/LForce_rate_mothers_child_76_12_txt.htm

  76. Vespa, J., Lewis, J. M., & Kreider, R. M. (2013). America’s families and living arrangements: 2012 (Population Characteristics report). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2013/demo/p20-570.pdf

  77. Villalobos, A. (2014). Motherload: Making it all better in insecure times. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Waldfogel, J., Craigie, T.-A., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2010). Fragile families and child well-being. Future of Children, 20(2), 87–112.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Wang, W., Parker, K., & Taylor, P. (2013). Breadwinner moms. Washington, DC: Pew Res'earch Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/29/breadwinner-moms/

  80. Woo, H., & Raley, R. K. (2005). A small extension to “Costs and rewards of children: The effects of becoming a parent on adults’ lives.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 216–221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Yetis-Bayraktar, A., Budig, M. J., & Tomaskovic-Devey, D. (2013). From the shop floor to the kitchen floor: Maternal occupational complexity and children’s reading and math skills. Work and Occupations, 40, 37–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Earlier versions of this article were presented at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America and the Work & Family Researchers Network; the Work, Family & Time (WFT) Workshop at the Minnesota Population Center, and the weekly demography seminar at the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We thank participants in these sessions for useful comments and suggestions, as well as Liana Sayer and Julie Brines for feedback on earlier drafts. We gratefully acknowledge seed grants from the Minnesota Population Center, Cornell Population Center, and the Cornell Institute for Social Sciences.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ann Meier.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 3 Means (SDs) and percentages of activity- and person-level characteristics of mothers participating in activities with children
Table 4 Full generalized linear models with random effects of mothers' feelings in activities with children

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Meier, A., Musick, K., Flood, S. et al. Mothering Experiences: How Single Parenthood and Employment Structure the Emotional Valence of Parenting. Demography 53, 649–674 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0474-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Parenting
  • Emotional well-being
  • Maternal employment
  • Single mothers
  • Time use