Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Social Support, Unfulfilled Expectations, and Affective Well-Being on Return to Employment

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Social Support, Unfulfilled Expectations, and Affective Well-Being on Return to Employment

Article excerpt

We conducted a longitudinal study to investigate how social support from the partner is related to mothers' affective well-being during their return to employment after maternity leave and whether expectations of that support have an additional impact. We differentiated four forms of support and their respective expectation discrepancies: emotional, instrumental, informational, and companionship. Further, we included the impact of meeting specific support expectations. A convenience sample of 288 women filled out questionnaires 2 weeks before reentry and then 1 month and 2 months afterward. Social support was associated with well-being, with emotional support having the strongest positive impact. Informational and instrumental support either were not related or were negatively related to affective well-being. Expectations had an additional influence but were inconsistently associated with affect. They became more important over time.

Key Words: affective well-being, expectations, maternity leave, return to work, social support, transition.

In the United States and the European Union, the employment gender gap continues to converge as more and more women take up employment while the proportion of men in paid work increases only marginally. This is partly because, in contrast to earlier times, most women return to employment after becoming a mother, be it several weeks, months, or years after childbirth. Although return to employment after maternity leave is a common transition for many women and their families, psychological research largely has overlooked it. This longitudinal study aimed to redress that lack of research by investigating how different forms of received social support from the partner, as women themselves report, influence their affective well-being during the reentry phase. Moreover, we also examined the impact of support expectations. We anticipated that support from the partner had a positive influence on affective well-being during the transition period and that expectations had an additional impact.


Maternity leave is the time a woman takes off from employment before and after the birth or adoption of a child. When talking about leave in this study, we refer to any period of time a woman takes off. With respect to legal regulations concerning protected leave after childbirth, regulations vary from country to country. Switzerland, the country in which most of our participants lived, offers maternity leave of 16 weeks, with an income-based compensation of up to around US$180 per day for 14 weeks. Fathers do not have the option of parental leave. The rate of previously employed first-time mothers who return to employment immediately after that period and, depending on their employer's leave policy, possibly after an additional month, is 54%. For women having their second child, the immediate return rate is lower (37%; Bundesamt für Statistik, 2000). Many women, however, take a longer break from employment or stop paid work altogether, even if they worked full time before. In 2009, 19.1% of women with children younger than the age of 14 and in a relationship with a partner were not employed, 65.7% were employed part time, and 15.1% were employed full time. In contrast, fathers were mostly employed full time (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2009).

As mentioned above, there has been a lack of psychological research on job reentry after a family-related break from work. Previous studies mainly predicted length of leave (e.g., McGovern et al., 2000; Smeaton, 2006). Some showed the impact that leave duration has on women's health, primarily up to a few months after childbirth (McGovern et al., 1997; Staehelin, Bertea, & Stutz, 2007), whereas others demonstrated how longer periods of leave can also have negative consequences on career development (e.g., Judiesch & Lyness, 1999). Other authors examined the impact of workload during reentry on the quality of marriage or satisfaction with return to employment (e. …

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