Gender, Parenthood, and Anger

By Ross, Catherine E.; Van Willigen, Marieke | Journal of Marriage and Family, August 1996 | Go to article overview

Gender, Parenthood, and Anger


Ross, Catherine E., Van Willigen, Marieke, Journal of Marriage and Family


We examine how gender inequality in the family affects anger. A sociological model of distress predicts that conditions of inequality and disadvantage result in higher levels of all types of distress. However, most research on gender and parenthood has measured distress with depression and anxiety. Theoretically, anger results from perceptions of social inequality. Using data from a national probability sample of 2,031 adults, we find that women have higher levels of anger than men, that each additional child in the household increases anger, and that children increase anger more for mothers than for fathers. Parenthood introduces two types of objective stressors into an individual's life: economic strains and the strains associated with child care. Women are exposed to both types of strain more than men. Economic hardship, child-care responsibilities in the household, and difficulties arranging and paying for child care all significantly increase anger, and explain the effects of gender and parenthood on anger. In support of a gender inequality perspective, we find that mothers have the highest levels of anger because of economic inequality and the inequitable distribution of parental responsibilities. Mothers also are more likely to express their anger than others. However, expressiveness does not account for differences in anger between men and women or between parents and nonparents.

Parents do not have higher levels of psychological well-being than nonparents. Under many circumstances parents, especially mothers, have higher levels of psychological distress than the childless or those whose children have left home. Most research on how gender and parenthood affect psychological distress focuses on depression and anxiety as measures of distress. We expect that inequalities in gender and parental roles lead to stress and frustrations that produce anger. Distressing aspects of parenthood, especially for mothers, result from economic hardship and the time demands, difficulties, and strains associated with child care. We argue that children increase emotional distress in the form of anger, that as a result of parenthood women experience more anger than men, and that the effect of parenthood, especially of motherhood, on anger is explained by economic inequality and the inequitable distribution of parental responsibilities.

GENDER INEQUALITY AND ANGER

In a sociological model, distress is a consequence of social problems, not the problem itself (Mirowsky & Ross, 1989). In this model, socially structured inequality, disadvantage, stress, and hardship have broad-reaching consequences for psychological well-being that affect various types of distress (Aneshensel, Rutter, & Lachenbruch, 1991; Pearlin, 1989). However, most research on the emotional consequences of inequality has used depression as the indicator of distress. By focusing on a particular problem-depressionresearchers do not adequately test a sociological model, Aneshensel and her colleagues argue. Conditions of inequality and disadvantage theoretically result in higher levels of all types of emotional distress, including anger (Mirowsky & Ross, 1995).

We examine if gender inequality in the family results in anger. According to the gender inequality perspective developed here, women's parental roles expose them to economic strain, to a disproportionate share of child care in the household, and to the stress and frustration associated with having major responsibility for arranging the children's care while the parents are at work. We argue that women often bear the burden of child care without the economic resources needed, and this circumstance produces anger.

Anger is an especially useful emotion in the study of structural determinants of psychological well-being because it may result from an individual's cognitive assessment of inequality, often as it is played out in interpersonal relations in the family. Theoretically, inequality produces frustration and anger, and conceptualizations of anger suggest that it is caused by perceptions of social inequality. …

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