Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Parenthood and Psychological Well-Being in Finland: Does Public Policy Make a Difference?

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Parenthood and Psychological Well-Being in Finland: Does Public Policy Make a Difference?

Article excerpt

According to a comprehensive literature review by McLanahan and Adams (1987:248), parenthood has a negative net effect on mental well-being in the United States: "The presence of children appears to be associated with lower levels of happiness and satisfaction and with higher levels of psychological distress for both women and men". In light of evidence from a large body of research, "adults with children at home report that they are less happy and less satisfied with their lives than other groups" (McLanahan and Adams, 1987:237). A more recent study by Umberson and Gove (1989) refines McLanahan and Adams' conclusions to some extent. According to Umberson and Gove (1989), parenting entails both positive and negative consequences - how these two effects balance out in reality varies by the dimension of psychological well being and the context of parenting. They distinguish between three dimensions of psychological well being: affect, satisfaction, and life meaning. The results from their research indicate that the presence of dependent children has negative consequences for the affect and satisfaction dimensions of mental well being but a positive effect on life meaning. As far as the context of parenting is concerned, Umberson and Gove (1989) found that having adult children (residing in a separate household) is positively related to each dimension of psychological well-being, and that the negative effects of parenting are strongest for women and divorced people.

While important, these qualifications do not change the main conclusion from McLanahan and Adams' review: all else equal, custodial parents report more symptoms of dissatisfaction and unhappiness than do adults without children. Although the effects reported in the literature do not tend to be very large, a subsequent study by McLanahan and Adams (1989) indicates that the psychological distress associated with parenthood has increased in recent decades. McLanahan and Adams (1989:126-127) identify two factors influencing the conditions of parenting as possible explanations for this trend: the growth in female labor force participation and the increase in single parent families.

The increase in female employment has contributed to a "time squeeze" at home (Schor, 1991). In Schor's estimate, the average employed American spent 163 more hours at work per year in 1987 than in 1969. This corresponds to over twenty 8-hour working days, of about one additional month of work per year. Meanwhile, there has been practically no decline in time spent in domestic labor. On the other hand, due to the increase in divorce and the decrease in marital fertility, the percentage of dependent children living with one parent tripled between 1960 and 1991, from about 8 to 25 percent of all children (Ahlburg and De Vita, 1992). Since single parent families are more likely to face economic difficulties, this trend has increased the monetary constraints associated with parenting. According to McLanahan and Adams' (1989) analysis of the data pooling information form the 1957 and 1976 waves of the "Americans View Their Mental Health" -survey, changes in marital stability and female employment account for all of the increase in their measure of negative affect among American mothers.

In the concluding paragraph of their review article, McLanahan and Adams (1987) advocate the implementation of public policy solutions, such as child allowance and state-subsidized childcare, to reduce the economic and time constraints associated with parenthood in the United States. The purpose of our research is to evaluate the validity of this proposal by examining the effect of children on the psychological well being of parents in Finland. We argue that Finland constitutes an appropriate test case for evaluating the capacity of public policy to moderate parental stress. The Finnish population is characterized by the same demographic and labor market outcomes that, according to McLanahan and Adams, have increased the economic and time constraints associated with parenting in American households. …

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