Abstract: Cooperative Parenting and Maternal Depression Among Unmarried Parents (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

Cooperative Parenting and Maternal Depression Among Unmarried Parents

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Yu-Fu Michael Chen, PhD, Assistant Professor, Nazareth College, Rochester, NY
Courtney Olson-Chen, MD, Assistant Professor, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY
Background and Purpose: Cooperative parenting (CP) can be defined as the extent to which parents “work together in a cooperative manner in the best interests of their child(ren).” With the rise of nonmarital childbearing and marital dissolution, CP has become an important determinant of mental health, family functioning, and child development. However, the degree to which these outcomes are affected by CP remains poorly understood. In this study, we sought to estimate the association between CP and maternal depression among parents who were neither married nor romantically involved with each other at the 1-year postpartum period.

Methods: Secondary data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study were examined in this study. The analytic sample consisted of 665 mother-child dyads, with average maternal age of 25.0 years, 67.7% non-Hispanic black, 17.6% Hispanic, and 44.2% with less than high school education.

Maternal depression was measured using 11 items from the Composite International Diagnostic Interview Short Form (CIDI-SF). CIDI-SF provides a valid and reliable indication of whether a mother would be positively diagnosed with depression if given a full CIDI interview (Kessler et al., 1998).

CP was measured using 6 items from maternal responses: father behaves as expected, can be trusted with the child, respects established schedules/rules, supports mother’s childrearing goals, can discuss problems with parenting, and is a dependable childcare provider. Response options included rarely (1), sometimes (2), or always (3) true. These items were summed to create a scale score, with higher values reflecting stronger cooperation among parents.

To mitigate potential confounding and improve precision, covariates were chosen based on the existing literature. These variables included maternal demographic (age, race/ethnicity) and socioeconomic characteristics (household income, educational attainment), cohabitation status, presence of grandparent(s) and number of children in the household, and whether the child had any physical disability(s). A multivariate logistic regression with robust standard errors was estimated, followed by Hosmer-Lemeshow goodness-of-fit and specification link tests to verify that the posited model was statistically adequate.

Results: In the 1-year wave, approximately 20.6% of mothers were identified as being depressed, and they reported moderate to high levels of cooperation with fathers (mean=13.7, SD=3.7, range=6-18). 63% and 29% of mothers identified their relationship with the father as “just friends” and “no relationship,” respectively. Our modeling results found that a one-unit increase in the CP scale score was associated with a 7.2% reduction in the relative odds of experiencing maternal depression during the 1-year postpartum period (AOR=.93, 95%CI=.88-.97, p=.003). Household income was also found to be inversely associated with maternal depression (AOR=.99, 95%CI=.99-.99, p=.03).

Conclusion and Implications: CP appears to confer a protective effect against maternal depression among parents who were neither married nor romantically involved with each other. Given that maternal depression can produce crossover and spillover effects on family functioning and child development, our findings provide further evidence highlighting the importance of cooperation among parents. CP should continue to be integrated in future interventions and social policies as a strategy to mitigate the risks of maternal depression and to improve overall health.