Benefits of the Balancing Act: Motherhood, Employment and Mental Health

Leupp, Katrina. 2014. "Benefits of the Balancing Act: Motherhood, Employment and Mental Health." PhD Dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Washington.

Becky Pettit (Chair), Robert Plotnick (GSR), Julie Brines, David Takeuchi, Stewart Tolnay.

Variant findings on the benefits and strains of combining employment and family roles encourage investigation into the mechanisms and conditions under which employment improves the well-being of individuals who perform the greatest amounts of family caregiving labor-- mothers caring for children. In this dissertation, I explore the effects of employment on depressive symptoms in light of gendered parental responsibilities. Two possible mechanisms through which employment may confer mental health benefits are explored: identity accumulation, and for married women, gains in relative spousal resources. First, motivated by symbolic interaction perspectives on identity, I examine how the mental health effects of employment for mothers vary according to their attitudes about the compatibility of employment and childrearing. Secondly, I draw on household bargaining and resource perspectives to examine whether the increase in relative spousal earnings generated by employment are associated with fewer depressive symptoms among married women. Finally, I approach the social roles of parenthood and employment from a life course perspective, considering their effects on the distribution of depressive symptoms by age for men and women. These analyses enrich understandings of how and when employment improves mental well-being, and highlight the force of gendered parental responsibilities in shaping the effects of work and family roles.

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