Modern Family: The Effects of Family Instability and Parenting on Low- Income Maternal Health

Open Access
Daniels, Susanna Grace
Area of Honors:
Human Development and Family Studies
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Daphne Hernandez, Thesis Supervisor
  • Kathryn Bancroft Hynes, Honors Advisor
  • Paul Richard Amato, Faculty Reader
  • maternal health
  • low-income
  • parenting
  • relationship status
A significant amount of developmental research has focused on the effects of family structure and parenting on children’s development. Less research has focused on how family structure and parenting influences adult health and risky health-related behaviors. Among a sample of socio-economically disadvantaged mothers with young children, I examined the association between family structure and parenting practices on maternal health and risky health-related behaviors (n=4,127). Family structure captured maternal stability (stably married, cohabiting, single) or instability (union formation, union dissolution) over a two year period. Parenting practices captured mother’s engagement with her child, role strain, and perceived coparenting support from the child’s father over a two year period. Maternal health and engagement in risky health behaviors included: poor physical health, depression, and binge drinking. Results indicated that mothers in stable marriages compared to other family structures were less likely to be in poor health; while mothers in unstable relationships compared to those in stable marriages were at an increased probability for experiencing depression or engaging in binge drinking. In addition, higher levels of maternal role strain were predictive of mothers experiencing poor health, depression, and engaging in binge drinking. Further, higher levels of mother involvement and greater levels of perceived coparenting support were also related to mothers less likely being in poor health. Given the growing prevalence of family structure instability, parenting programs and policies should continue to focus on the importance of relationship stability, but also acknowledge that parenting practices are related to maternal health and risky health-related behaviors.