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parental sensitivity, employment, marital quality



  1. Broom, Betty L.


Background: Concerns have been raised about the effects of maternal employment on parent-child relations. Some researchers have concluded that maternal employment status has no effect on children's maternal attachments; others have found that full-time employment initiated in the first year of life is associated with insecure patterns of attachment behavior. The evidence suggests that dual-earner parents who have young children have increased psychological distress, affecting marital quality and spousal and parenting behaviors.


Objectives: To learn whether parental sensitivity and the determinants of parental sensitivity differ for first-time parents in single-earner and dual-earner families when their first-born children are 3 months of age and when they are 2 1/2 years old; and to learn the extent to which changes in parental sensitivity and the determinants of parental sensitivity differ for single-earner and dual-earner parents during the study interval.


Method: This panel study compared marital quality, psychological well-being, and parental sensitivity of single-earner and dual-earner parents when their first-born children were 3 months of age and again when they were 2 1/2 years of age.


Results: Employed mothers were more sensitive to their 3-month olds than were nonemployed mothers. When children were 2 1/2 years of age, dual-earner parents had lower marital quality than single-earner parents. Marital quality was positively associated with parental sensitivity at both study phases. Regardless of maternal employment status, parents' marital quality declined during the study interval.


Conclusions: Regardless of mothers' employment status, well-educated, middle-class parents tend to provide sensitive parenting. Marital quality and psychological well-being are important supports of sensitive parenting for dual-earner and single-earner families.