Research Briefs are brief information about interesting academic work.
For low-income families, difficulty paying utility bills, rent, mortgage or health care costs sets the stage for parental mental health problems, especially for fathers, which can lead to potentially violent family conflicts. causes. These are the key findings of a study I conducted that was recently published in the journal Family Relations.
Prior poverty research has been conducted primarily with mothers, with a main focus on low incomes, without considering the role of so-called “material hardship” and its impact on fathers. Family income refers to a specific dollar amount that parents bring in through paid work, such as an annual household income of US$27,750 for a family of four, while having material hardship – or “the need to make ends meet”. meeting everyday hardships” – indicating whether a family has faced any challenges in meeting basic needs like food, utilities and health insurance.
My research team found that it was not low family income, but rather the difficulties of meeting everyday life that was associated with poor mental health of fathers, which led to more negative conflict behavior with mothers. Such conflict behaviors include blaming the partner for things that go wrong; Minimizing a partner’s feelings, thoughts, or desires; Or petty arguments turn into ugly battles with accusations and name-calling. This type of verbal aggression can be harmful to partner relationships and proves harmful to young children who see their parents engaging in such behavior.
To carry out this study, my team used data from the Building Strong Families project, a large and racially diverse sample of 2,794 mostly unmarried heterosexual couples who cared for young children and were with low incomes. Use to live. Our goal was to examine how economic insecurity – defined as low family income and material hardship – was linked to mothers and fathers’ mental health conditions and relationship functioning.
One of the key findings was that the relationship between material difficulties such as difficulty paying bills, rent and health insurance and destructive conflict behavior worked primarily through the father’s depressive symptoms, not the mother’s. Examples of depressive symptoms include feelings of sadness, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, aversion to food, and loneliness.
why it matters
These findings suggest that the negative effects of physical hardship on relationship dynamics within couples cause more harm to the father’s mental health than the mother. In light of traditional gender norms, fathers may feel more stressed than mothers when they are not able to fulfill the role of the primary earner. That is, when fathers feel they are not providing financially to ease the everyday economic stress in their families, which can lead to mental health problems and more conflict between father and mother. Our study suggests the importance of an equal focus on the father and how family intervention can help reduce the issues that lead to father’s depressive symptoms and negative parent-child conflict.
Relatedly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents – including fathers of low-income status – have experienced high levels of unemployment, economic insecurity and mental health problems related to the pandemic. As such, addressing the mental health of fathers and mothers seems to be extraordinarily important and has the potential to support healthy family functioning during the ongoing pandemic.
What other research is being done
I am beginning to explore how families can be resilient against the negative effects of poverty by seeing the positive relationship between parents as a source of strength. For example, in another study I led, I showed that when mothers and fathers focused on positive behaviors on the part of their children, such as having a good co-parenting team, they were more likely to cope with the economic stresses associated with poverty. and were more likely to engage in it. Warm and sensitive parenting that benefited the social development of their young children.