Young women’s engagement in employment and childrearing roles: Predictors and implications for mental health outcomes


Wadhwa, Hena K. (2018). Young women's engagement in employment and childrearing roles: Predictors and implications for mental health outcomes.


Since the mid-20th century, we have seen a rise in the percentage of women who work in the paid labor force, including women with children. Over the course of that time, much research has focused on the challenges that women have faced in finding ways to balance these “new” employment roles with the domestic labor traditionally considered women’s work, particularly childrearing and care of the home (e.g. Hoschschild 1989; Hays 1996; Christopher 2012). Increasingly research has suggested a shifting of domestic labor, such that men are beginning to share more (although not yet an equal share) of the burden for childcare and housework (Fillo et al. 2015; Pew Research Center 2017). At the same time, though, changing ideas about appropriate parenting practices, particularly for mothers of young children, have led to generally more intensive and focused parenting behavior than ever (Faircloth 2014). Thus, for many people, especially young working women, parenting may be more stressful than ever, as they are more likely than women in the past to combine multiple work and family roles and hold higher expectations for their engagement as a mother. There still is inadequate research, however, about the factors that predict the specific combinations of employment and childrearing roles in which women will engage, particularly during their early adult years, and little is known about how women in the various combinations of activity are faring in terms of their mental health outcomes. This dissertation contributes meaningfully to the existing literature on young women’s involvement in employment and childrearing activities and their relation to mental health outcomes within two distinct analytical chapters, both of which draw on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). The first paper examines the distinct employment-childrearing combinations of activity that are common among women in their mid-late 20s and early 30s in the United States today, and, relying upon a lifecourse perspective as a theoretical guide, uses multinomial logistic regression to determine the socio-demographic characteristics and childhood/adolescent family factors that significantly predict particular employment-childrearing combinations. The analyses examine the long-term influence of the mother-daughter relationship during adolescence, maternal work and education status, maternal religious background and general childhood SES, and whether any relationships between these variables and adult employment-childrearing roles is conditioned by race/ethnicity or other status characteristics. The second paper focuses specifically upon women in their mid-late 20s and early 30s who are mothers, to determine whether there is a relationship between specific employment-childrearing combinations and negative mental health outcomes. Specifically, this paper relies on a stress process model and OLS regression to examine both measures of internalized mental health outcomes, such as self-reported stress and depressive symptoms, and externalized mental health outcomes, such as problematic drinking-related outcomes. In addition to direct effects, analyses examine potential mediating and moderating influences on the relationship between employment-childrearing combinations and mental health outcomes. Results of this dissertation suggest that the experiences that young girls have within their families of origin, particularly their experiences with and observations of their own mothers, have enduring consequences, influencing their adult outcomes, including the specific employment-childrearing situations in which they find themselves during the early stages of their motherhood. In general, it appears that childhood/adolescent factors may be more predictive of young women’s decisions to have children, at least by their early 30s, than they are of the particular types of employment arrangements women who do have children will hold. Among women who are mothers, maternal presence during adolescence appears a particularly important predictor of engagement in different employment situations, suggesting an important and enduring role-modeling effect. While the employment-childrearing combinations have little direct association with self-reported stress levels of young mothers, employment-childrearing combinations are significantly associated with changes in levels of problematic drinking-related outcomes and depressive symptoms over time. In particular, stay at home mothers tend to experience significantly lower levels of increase in these negative outcomes than do their full-time working mother peers. Interestingly, despite common notions that part-time working mothers are able to have the “best of both worlds,” no significant differences emerge between full-time working mothers and part-time working mothers in terms of stress, drinking-related problems or depressive symptoms. Overall, these findings increase our understanding of the factors that predict the employment-childrearing situations of women in their mid-late 20s and early 30s, and have important implications for our ability to identify the groups of young mothers who may be at most risk for declining mental health outcomes.



Social sciences


ProQuest document ID 2121050743

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Wadhwa, Hena K.

Series Author(s)

Tillman, Kathryn H.

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The Florida State University

City of Publication

Ann Arbor, MI





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