The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The Role of Educational Attainment in the Association Between Perceived Support and Maternal Stress Among Unmarried Urban Mothers

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 3:30 PM
Marina 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
McClain Sampson, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Background: The first year postpartum can be an intense time of transition to new roles, increased time demands and possibly chronic stress. Prior research on maternal parenting stress suggests a buffering effect of support yet, most studies involve homogenous samples and mothers of children of various age. Theory suggests that social support is likely to differ based on one’s socioeconomic status since support only matters when it matches the need. Consequently, levels and effects of support may differ across educational levels since education is associated with resources. Four hypotheses were tested: 1) Higher educated mothers have higher levels of perceived support; 2) All types of perceived support lower maternal stress; 3) Perception of financial support will matter most for lower educated mothers; 4) Perception of emotional or mothering support will matter most for higher educated mothers.

Methods: Study sample is drawn from the first year follow-up wave of the Fragile Families and Child Well-being dataset (n=2412) and includes only mothers who were involved with the father of the child at the time of the child’s birth. Fragile Families is a nationally based, longitudinal birth cohort study of approximately 4,800 mothers and their children. Data were analyzed using ordinary least squares regression (OLS) to investigate direct effects of perceived support and education on maternal stress as well as testing a moderating effect of education on the association between perceived support and maternal stress. Three types of partner support: emotional, mothering and instrumental and one type of non-partner support: perceived financial, were used. First order interaction terms were created to test the moderating effect.

Results: A significant main effect of education on support was found, Wilk’s lambda = .961, F (8, 12,635), p < .001. ANOVAs reveal college educated mothers perceive higher levels of support for all types but instrumental partner. OLS results showed that perceived partner support significantly lowers maternal stress regardless of the level or type of support (emotional: B=-.20; mothering: B=-.13; instrumental= B=-.09; p<.05 for each). Expected support from kin or friends does not have an effect on maternal stress. Although separate regression models, by groups of education category revealed differing impacts of support on stress, only one moderating effect was found. Support of mothering practices has more positive impacts on lowered stress levels for mothers who have a high school degree than for mothers with less than high school education (B=-.30,p<.001). Increased symptoms of depression and fussy child temperament each increase maternal stress levels regardless of all other variables (Bs=.12 and .10,p<.05 respectively).

Conclusion and Implications: Effect of type of support (financial vs. emotional) on stress does not depend on educational attainment. In fact, emotional support—feeling your partner is willing to listen and empathize---had the strongest effect regardless of education and marital status or ethnicity. Providers of social services and healthcare as well as policy makers should be aware of the influence of father’s emotional support in first year postpartum. Assessment for depression in perinatal period is suggested because of its influence on maternal stress.