Abstract: Family Cohesion, Marital Role-Sharing, and Mental Health for Asian American Men and Women (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

262P Family Cohesion, Marital Role-Sharing, and Mental Health for Asian American Men and Women

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Eunwoo Lee, MSW, Doctoral Student, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY
Lynn Warner, PhD, Associate Dean & Professor, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY
Purpose: Males in families of Asian descent have traditionally had dominant roles in household decision making. However, the extent to which Asian families in the U.S. maintain patriarchal norms is not well understood. Spouses may share responsibilities more equally, or depending on employment possibilities, wives may exert more influence over financial decisions.  Sucharrangements might negatively affect mental health because they are counter to traditional expectations. Moreover, when spousal roles deviate from cultural norms, conflict theory suggests that family cohesion may be disrupted, with potential consequences for family violence.This study explores marital role-sharing, family cohesion, and mental health in a nationally representative sample of Asian American spouses, and examines if the associations between them differ for men and women. 

Methods: Data are from the National Latino and Asian American Study, a publicly available nationally representative psychiatric epidemiological study. Analyses were limited to Asian American men (N= 707, 47%) and women (N= 763, 53%) in a married relationship (27.5% Chinese; 13.49% Vietnamese; 21.43% Filipinos; and 37.56% all other Asians). At the bivariate level ANOVAs were run to determine if men and women significantly differ on self-reported mental health, family cohesion and marital role-sharing (responsibility for financial decisions, other decisions, and chores). Multivariate regression models examined the association between mental health, family cohesion and marital role-sharing, controlling for gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, years in USA, income, size of household, and acculturative stress. All analyses were conducted with Stata 14.0, weighted, and adjusted for the multi-stage area probability sample design.

Results: Husbands reported more responsibility for making household and financial decisions, whereas wives reported more responsibility for household chores. For both husbands and wives, marital role-sharing was not significantly associated with family cohesion. Wives reported lower mental health and higher family cohesion compared to husbands. For all spouses, family cohesion was positively associated with mental health (husbands r= .09, p= 0.001; wives r= .10, p= 0.001). Controlling for other factors, mental health was significantly greater when household roles were shared, but this association was significant only for women (r= .09, p= 0.017).

Implications: Results from this nationally representative sample suggest that cultural norms regarding gender differences in household responsibilities are prevalent among Asian spouses in the U.S. When there is a departure from cultural norms, such as when marital roles are more egalitarian, Asian American wives experience positive mental health effects. Family cohesion does not appear to be influenced by marital role-sharing, but it is a positive and significant predictor of mental health for both genders. These findings may be helpful to social work practitioners serving Asian American families in social service or behavioral health settings. The importance of family cohesion for husband and wives, and the positive implications for wives’ mental health when household responsibilities are shared offer targets for strengths-based counseling and intervention.