Perceived Underemployment and Couple Relationships Among African American Parents: A Dyadic Approach

Xiaoran Sun, Susan M. McHale, Ann C. Crouter

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6 Scopus citations


Objective: In the United States, underemployment is more common among ethnic minorities, especially African Americans. At the same time, African American couples are at higher risks of marital difficulties than other racial/ethnic groups. This study used a dyadic approach to examine implications of underemployment, as perceived by African American mothers and fathers, for their own and their partners’ couple relationship experiences, including relational love and coparenting satisfaction. The vulnerabilitystress-adaptation framework of couple relationships guided tests of moderation by depressive symptoms, work hours, workplace discrimination, and expressive personality. Method: The sample included 164 African American dual-earner parents (mean age = 40.53 and 43.11 for mothers and fathers) who were interviewed on two occasions across two years. Actor-partner interdependence modeling was used for the analyses. Results: Fathers’ underemployment perceptions negatively predicted their own reports of love and coparenting satisfaction. Significant interactions indicated that the negative effects of fathers’ perceived underemployment on their own relational love were stronger for fathers with more depressive symptoms, and, for less expressive mothers, on mothers’ love and coparenting satisfaction. However, mothers’ perceived underemployment was a positive predictor of mothers’ love when they worked fewer hours and a negative predictor of mothers’ coparenting satisfaction when they had high expressive personality. Conclusion: Implications of underemployment experiences for couple relationships differ across gender and need to be considered in the context of partners’ vulnerabilities, adaptive characteristics and other stressors. Findings advance understanding of underemployment and work-marriage linkages among African Americans, and highlight the utility of a dyadic approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-91
Number of pages10
JournalCultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01-HD32336) to Susan M. McHale and Ann C. Crouter, Co-Principal Investigators. Xiaoran Sun was supported by National Science Foundation under IGERT Grant (DGE-1144860), “Big Data Social Science.” The authors are grateful to the undergraduate and graduate assistants, staff, and faculty collaborators for their help in conducting this study, as well as the participating families for their time and insights about family relationships

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Psychological Association


  • African american couple relationships
  • Dyadic analysis
  • Ethnic homogeneous design
  • Parents
  • Perceived underemployment


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