Parental status and psychological well-being among midlife adult women using the life course perspective

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Woo, Hyeyoung

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The primary goal of this dissertation is to provide a better understanding of how midlife adult women’s psychological well-being is shaped by parental status. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, this research addresses three specific research aims. The first aim is to explore the relationship between motherhood and psychological well-being by family life stages and the timing of transition to motherhood. The second aim is to examine the role of marriage in the association between parental status and psychological well-being. Finally, the third aim is to account for psychological well-being by parental status, focusing on experiences in labor force participation. To address these aims, this dissertation tests several hypotheses based on the multiple role theory and its modifications and the theories and empirical research centered on the effects of marriage and employment on well-being. The results indicate that mothers are more likely to have lower levels of psychological well-being compared to childless women at earlier family life stages. However, this disadvantage decreases as mothers and their children age. The mother’s age at the birth of her first child also plays a role in the trajectories of the level of psychological well-being. Although the negative association between psychological wellbeing and motherhood appears to decline over time, those who became a mother at earlier ages experience much slower declines compared to those who did not have a first child until their early thirties. It also appears that marital status is an important moderator between parental status and psychological well-being. Motherhood is associated with psychological benefits for the married, but the opposite pattern is found for the never married. Moreover, entering a first marriage is associated with greater improvements in psychological well-being for women with a child compared to childless women. The association between motherhood and psychological well-being also varies depending on the types of marital disruption. Compared to those who remain married, divorce is harmful for women with a child; however, being a widow is detrimental for childless women. Additionally, for both married and never married women, employment is not associated with increases in psychological well-being when it is also combined with motherhood. This research suggests that the association between motherhood and psychological well-being is contingent upon the family life stages, the age at transition to motherhood, and other roles that women hold while being mothers.