Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Becoming a Parent and Relationship Satisfaction: A Longitudinal Dyadic Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Becoming a Parent and Relationship Satisfaction: A Longitudinal Dyadic Perspective

Article excerpt

This study investigated the extent to which women's and men's relationship satisfaction within couples is similarly or differently affected by becoming a parent and the extent to which changes in work hours and hours spent on household labor affect a person's own and his or her spouse's relationship satisfaction across the transition to parenthood. The authors conducted longitudinal dyadic analyses, based on 12 waves of the British Household Panel Study (BHPS). They selected 689 couples who remained together during the period of observation and who were employed, childless, and living with their partner (of which 28% married) at the first moment of observation. The results revealed that relationship satisfaction of both members in a couple changed in tandem. Although work hours and household labor had some effect unpeople's own and their spouse's relationship satisfaction, these factors did not account for the U-shaped relationship satisfaction pattern associated with the transition to parenthood.

Key Words: dyadic data, families and work, relationship satisfaction, transition to parenthood.

Becoming a parent is often the most challenging and stressful life transition couples face (Feeney, Hohaus, Noller, & Alexander, 2001). The arrival of a newborn and the transformation from a couple to a nuclear family brings about changes in the couple's relationship. The transition-toparenthood literature has documented a decline in relationship satisfaction for parents, with this decline being greater for women than men, especially when the children are young (e.g., Kluwer, 2010; Twenge, Campbell, & Foster, 2003).

Although becoming a parent constitutes the one life transition in which the interwovenness of individual life courses is illustrated most prominently, most research that has examined linkages between the transition to parenthood and relationship satisfaction has investigated how individuals function in relationships and how their own evaluations of the relationship are influenced by their own attitudes and behavior. The focus has been either on how the transition to parenthood affects relationship satisfaction for one parent (e.g., Dew & Wilcox, 201 1; A. E. Goldberg & Perry-Jenkins, 2004) or how it affects women and men separately (e.g., Nomaguchi & Milkie, 2003). Scholars have neglected the fact that one of the defining features of a couple, and of a family as well, is interdependence - the idea that one's partner's behavior and experiences could influence the outcomes of the other partner and vice versa (Thibaut & Kelley, 1 959).

An individualistic perspective on the transition to parenthood overlooks the fact that women and men within couples share a common set of characteristics that make them more similar to each other than to persons from other couples (Kenny, Kashy, & Cook, 2006). Some studies, although not those that have investigated the transition to parenthood, have suggested that relationship satisfaction might be more the product of the dyadic environment than individual factors (Johnson & Booth, 1998; Kurdek, 2005). This raises questions concerning the frequently found gender differences in studies that have focused only on individuals' adaptation to parenthood. A dyadic perspective on the transition to parenthood might reveal that becoming a parent influences different couples in diverse ways and that the reported differences between women and men in prior studies may actually be differences between couples, not between partners within the same couple. The first aim of this study was to find out whether and to what extent women's and men's relationship satisfaction within couples is similarly or differently affected by becoming a parent.

After the birth of a child, major changes occur in the spheres of household labor and paid work. In general, both types of work are more traditionally divided after the transition into parenthood: New mothers devote more time to household labor and less time to paid labor, whereas the opposite pattern is witnessed for new fathers (Gjerdingen & Center, 2004; Sanchez & Thompson, 1997). …

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