Mothering Experiences: How Single Parenthood and Employment Structure the Emotional Valence of Parenting

Ann Meier, Kelly Musick, Sarah Flood, Rachel Dunifon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Research studies and popular accounts of parenting have documented the joys and strains of raising children. Much of the literature comparing parents with those without children indicates a happiness advantage for those without children, although recent studies have unpacked this general advantage to reveal differences by the dimension of well-being considered and important features in parents’ lives and parenting experiences. We use unique data from the 2010, 2012, and 2013 American Time Use Survey to understand emotions in mothering experiences and how these vary by key demographic factors: employment and partnership status. Assessing mothers’ emotions in a broad set of parenting activities while controlling for a rich set of person- and activity-level factors, we find that mothering experiences are generally associated with high levels of emotional well-being, although single parenthood is associated with differences in the emotional valence. Single mothers report less happiness and more sadness, stress, and fatigue in parenting than partnered mothers, and these reports are concentrated among those single mothers who are not employed. Employed single mothers are happier and less sad and stressed when parenting than single mothers who are not employed. Contrary to common assumptions about maternal employment, we find overall few negative associations between employment and mothers’ feelings regarding time with children, with the exception that employed mothers report more fatigue in parenting than those who are not employed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)649-674
Number of pages26
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Earlier versions of this article were presented at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America and the Work & Family Researchers Network; the Work, Family & Time (WFT) Workshop at the Minnesota Population Center, and the weekly demography seminar at the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We thank participants in these sessions for useful comments and suggestions, as well as Liana Sayer and Julie Brines for feedback on earlier drafts. We gratefully acknowledge seed grants from the Minnesota Population Center, Cornell Population Center, and the Cornell Institute for Social Sciences.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Population Association of America.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Emotional well-being
  • Maternal employment
  • Parenting
  • Single mothers
  • Time use

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