Living Arrangements and Maternal Parenting Stress: Doubling Up in Housing, Doubling Down On Stress
A number of major demographic trends on the last several decades, including high rates of non-marital childbearing, multi-partnered fertility, divorce, and cohabitation, have caused families to become less stable and more complex (Osborne, Berger, & Magnuson, 2012). Household and family instability is in turn associated with diminished maternal wellbeing, as well as reduced access to social and economic resources (Beck, Cooper, McLanahan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2010). These trends—including unstable living arrangements—are especially pronounced among disadvantaged groups (Cooper, McLanahan, Meadows, & Brooks-Gunn, 2009; Ventura & Bachrach, 2000).
When confronted with financial distress and possible housing insecurity, many families seek relief by moving into the homes of relatives or friends. These “doubled up” families are often considered “at risk” for homelessness (Danseco & Holden, 1998; Fertig & Reingold, 2008). Since doubling up is typically a time-limited arrangement, these families experience high rates of residential mobility (Park, Fertig & Metreaux, 2011). Such instability can have serious implications for the wellbeing of parents and their children. Related research has addressed the effects of living arrangements on children (London & Fairlie, 2006; Pilkauskas, 2012), and the effects of family structure transitions on children (Craigie, Brooks-Gunn, & Waldfogel, 2012) and maternal mental health and parenting stress (Beck et al., 2010; Cooper, McLanahan, Meadows, & Brooks-Gunn, 2009; Meadows, McLanahan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2008). However, empirical assessment of the association between doubling up and maternal mental health and parenting stress has largely not been addressed in the literature (Park, Fertig, & Metraux, 2011).
Drawing on data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Survey, a longitudinal birth cohort study, this paper explores the effect of doubling up on maternal parenting stress. This paper explores the association between doubling up with grandmothers and other kith and kin and maternal parenting stress when children are 1 and 3 years old. Additionally, we examine whether there are differential effects when stratifying by maternal relationship status across and within waves.
In a series of logistic regression models we find that doubling up with grandmothers reduces the odds of maternal parenting stress when children are both 1 and 3 years old, while doubling up with kith and kin increases the odds of experiencing maternal parenting stress. These associations remain when stratifying by current relationship status or by consistent relationship status across waves. In a final set of models we control for parenting stress at the prior wave and find similar associations. We conduct a number of robustness checks to explore the effect of maternal age, immigrant status, poverty, and mental health on parenting stress. This work has broad implications for housing policy and social work practice.