Childrearing, gender, and well-being in cross-national context

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Natalie D. Hengstebeck (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Heather Helms

Abstract: Previous research suggests that raising children is costly to well-being, particularly for women. However, this work is limited by the examination of almost entirely Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) countries (particularly the United States); single outcomes (often single-item measures); inconsistent conceptualizations of childrearing; and the lacking investigation of variability within countries. Across 15 countries and six well-being indicators (i.e., relationship satisfaction, relationship disagreement, work-to-family and family-to-work spillover, depressive symptoms, and social integration), the goals of this study were to examine and compare (a) within-country differences between individuals with and without minor children in the home (i.e., childrearing disparities), accounting for differences between men and women, and the extent to which childrearing disparities differed for men and women (i.e., childrearing by gender disparities), and (b) differences in childrearing, gender, and childrearing by gender disparities between non-WEIRD, semi-WEIRD, and WEIRD groups of countries. Drawing on Generations and Gender Survey data from 61,248 partnered, coresident adults living with or without children under age 18, I used ordinary least squares and fixed-effects regression models to address study goals. Underscoring the importance of examining within-country and within-group variability, results indicated that childrearing was not universally detrimental across dimensions of well-being, countries, and country groups. In contrast to previous research, surprisingly few childrearing disparities were statistically significant, indicating few mental health costs (though no benefits) of childrearing in this predominantly European sample. When present, childrearing disparities were most noticeable for relationship satisfaction and disagreement, suggesting that children may take a greater toll on the well-being of the partner relationship relative to other life domains. Although women typically reported lower well-being than men across countries, results indicated that living with children was protective for Swedish and Norwegian women’s depressive symptoms and Swedish women’s social integration, and detrimental for Polish women’s family-to-work spillover and Italian women’s relationship disagreement. When examined by group, the semi-WEIRD group (concentrated largely in Eastern Europe) appeared most vulnerable to childrearing disparities and within the WEIRD group, the detrimental effects of living with children were amplified for women’s work-to-family spillover and mitigated for women’s depressive symptoms. Larger disparities may be costly to partnership stability, fertility, children’s mental health, and social and gender equality, and may reflect a mismatch between individuals’ needs, cultural or religious attitudes, and policies to support households with children.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
Cross-national, Fixed effects, Generations and Gender Survey, Parenting, Relationship quality, Well-being
Child rearing $v Cross-cultural studies
Families $v Cross-cultural studies
Well-being $v Cross-cultural studies
Sex role $v Cross-cultural studies
Relationship quality $v Cross-cultural studies

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