Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Happy Spouses, Happy Parents? Family Relationships among Finnish and Dutch Dual Earners

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Happy Spouses, Happy Parents? Family Relationships among Finnish and Dutch Dual Earners

Article excerpt

In this study links between spousal and parent-child relationships among Finnish (n = 157 couples) and Dutch (n = 276 couples) dual earners with young children were examined using paired questionnaire data. Variable-oriented analyses (structural equation modeling with a multigroup procedure) supported the spillover hypothesis, as higher levels of satisfaction in the spousal relationship were related to higher quality in the parent-child relationship and lower parental role restrictions. These connections did not differ by gender or country. With family typological analyses (mixture modeling), 4 family types were identified: families with satisfying relationships (73.4% of the families), families with unsatisfying parent-child relationships (13.4%), and families with either dissatisfied men (6.0%) or dissatisfied women (7.2%).

Key Words: cross-cultural, dual earner, dyadic/couple data, parent-child relations, satisfaction, structural equation modeling.

The dual-earner situation is the rule rather than the exception in Western families and is also increasingly common among families with young children. In these families parents share their time and energy both between different life spheres and, within the family, between spouse and children. In this article, we examine family relationships, that is, spousal and parent-child relationship, in dual-earner families building on previous research and the family systems approach to find out whether these relationships support or erode each other. We seek to shed new light on the link between the spousal and the parent-child relationship using paired questionnaire data from two European countries, Finland and the Netherlands, and combining the variable-centered and family typological approaches.

The Family Systems Approach to Family Roles

The family systems approach states that the family is a hierarchically organized whole that is composed of smaller subsystems (e.g., parentchild and sibling systems) and connected by a reciprocal relation to larger macrosystems (e.g., working life and culture; Cox & Paley, 1997). In dual-earner families with young children, two family subsystems in particular have importance for parents: the parent-child system, referring to the relationship between child and parent, and the spousal system formed by the partners. During recent decades the relationship between these two subsystems has attracted broad research interest.

In the research and theoretical literature three hypotheses have been introduced to describe and explain the relationship between the spousal and the parent-child relationship (Erel & Burman, 1995; Krishnakumar & Buehler, 2000): the spillover hypothesis, positing a positive association, the compensatory hypothesis, proposing a negative connection, and the compartmentalization hypothesis, positing no connection between these relationships. The spillover hypothesis has obtained the strongest research support; however, the association between a satisfying marriage and good quality parenthood has usually been only moderate in size (for reviews, see Erel & Burman; Grych, 2002; Krishnakumar & Buehler). Empirical evidence supporting the other hypotheses has been sparser.

Although the three hypotheses have diverse theoretical origins (e.g., the stress and coping perspective, the social learning theory), in this article we restrict our focus to the family systems approach because it supplies grounds for all three hypotheses. Because this approach has its origins in family therapy, the emphasis is on pathological processes and conflicts. Spillover relates to scapegoating and detouring, which refer to processes in which problems that arise in one relationship are projected onto the other relationship (Minuchin, 1974). Compensation, in turn, takes place when family members form coalitions in which a member in a conflictual relationship allies with a third family member (Grych, 2002). …

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