Satisfaction with Parenting: The Role of Marital Happiness, Family Structure, and Parents' Gender

By Rogers, Stacy J.; White, Lynn K. | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Satisfaction with Parenting: The Role of Marital Happiness, Family Structure, and Parents' Gender


Rogers, Stacy J., White, Lynn K., Journal of Marriage and Family


Using data from a nationally representative panel of parents interviewed in 1988 and 1992, we report a model of parenting satisfaction, with particular attention to marital happiness, family structure, and parents' gender. Cross-sectional analyses show that parenting satisfaction is significantly higher for married parents with high marital quality, for those who are parenting their own biological children, and for mothers. Panel analyses reveal that satisfaction with parenting is highly stable over this 4-year period but is positively related to increases in marital quality. Further consideration of this association using structural equation models indicates that reciprocal paths between marital happiness and parenting satisfaction are statistically significant and are of approximately equal strength and that these associations operate similarly for mothers and fathers. The results support the need for greater attention to parental satisfaction as a factor that can have independent effects on marital happiness and perhaps other dimensions of family life.

Key Words: gender, marital happiness, parenting, remarriage.

Research on role identities demonstrates that parenthood is at the top of most parents' identity salience hierarchies (Thoits, 1992), ranking ahead of marriage and job as a source of identity. Despite the importance of parenthood to the individuals who occupy this role, sociologists have paid relatively little attention to the satisfaction of incumbents. Job satisfaction and marital satisfaction have been addressed at length, and we have large literatures on these concepts and their measurement, determinants, and consequences. The lack of attention to parenting might be attributed to the fact that, unlike marital or job satisfaction, parenting satisfaction is less likely to predict role tenure. However, studies of divorce indicate that social parenthood is not immutable, and parenting satisfaction may have important consequences for the quality of parenting not only within marriages but also for parenting, visitation, and child support compliance after divorce (Furstenberg & Harris, 1992). Indeed, parental satisfaction appears to be related negatively to harshness of discipline (Simons, Beaman, Conger, & Chao, 1993) and positively to parents' health and well-being (Umberson & Williams, 1993).

One issue that has been considered extensively is the relationship between marital happiness and parental satisfaction. Although multiple interpretations may be placed on the strong empirical correlation between these two family outcomes, for the most part, scholars have treated marital happiness as the driving force and given little weight to the possibility that parenting experiences can have independent effects on marital quality (e.g., Belsky, 1984; Easterbrooks & Emde, 1988; Erel & Burnham, 1995). Given the high salience of the parental role and the power of parenthood to shape life experiences, this assumption of oneway causality seems premature. Unfortunately, reliance on cross-sectional data has prevented previous researchers from addressing the issue effectively. One goal of the research presented here is to extend previous work by using a nationally representative panel of individuals to consider this relationship in more detail.

We develop a model of parenting satisfaction and test it on a national panel of 1,200 parents interviewed in 1988 and 1992. Because little prior research has been done, we cast a broad net to search for variables that might predict parenting satisfaction. We identify relevant variables by considering role theory and reviewing previous studies of parenting. Our analysis proceeds in three steps. First, we establish the cross-sectional correlates of parental satisfaction. Second, we use linear panel analysis to identify the effects of life course changes on parental satisfaction. And third, we use structural equation modeling with AMOS (Arbuckle, 1995) to investigate the potential reciprocal relationship between marital happiness and parenting satisfaction. …

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