Abstract: Patterns of Coparenting and Young Children's Social-Emotional Adjustment in Low- Income Families (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Patterns of Coparenting and Young Children's Social-Emotional Adjustment in Low- Income Families

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Valley of the Sun A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Jingyi Wang, PhD student, Ohio State University, OH
Junyeong Yang, Doctoral student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Minjung Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Yiran Zhang, MSW, PhD student, Ohio State University, OH
Susan Yoon, PhD, Associate Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Objectives: Coparenting relationship quality is closely and directly related to children’s outcomes, including child social-emotional adjustment. To date, most research on coparenting relationships has used variable-centered approaches, even though family systems theory supports a more holistic, multi-dimensional perspective to understand the construct of coparenting. Further, past studies that attempted to identify patterns of coparenting have often relied on mothers’ reports of coparenting without considering fathers’ reports. To fill these key research gaps, the current study aimed to (1) uncover patterns of coparenting via a person-centered analytic approach and (2) examine relations between coparenting patterns and children’s social competence and externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Based on theory and prior research we posited that: (1) four conceptually meaningful patterns of coparenting would be identified on the basis of mothers’ and fathers’ reports; and (2) coparenting patterns reflecting the highest quality and convergence in mothers’ and fathers’ perspectives would be associated with more positive child social-emotional development.

Method: We used data from the Supporting Healthy Marriages (SHM) program, which is a multi-site marriage education program for low-income couples. The analytic sample of this study consisted of 2,915 SHM couples who had a focal child that was under 5 years old (M = 3.65; SD = 1.31; 48% girls). Coparenting relationship quality was measured using the Cooperative Coparenting Scale, child social competence was measured using the Social Competence Scale, and child behavior problems were measured using project-developed internalizing and externalizing problems scales. We conducted latent profile analysis using Mplus v.8 to identify patterns of coparenting and the associations of these patterns with children’s social-emotional development.

Results: Latent profile analysis revealed four coparenting patterns: mutual high-quality (43%); moderate-quality, mothers less satisfied (31%); low-quality, fathers less satisfied (17%); and low-quality, mothers less satisfied (9%). For the child’s social competence, the distal means for the mutual high-quality coparenting profile were significantly higher than all the other profiles, while the low-quality, fathers less satisfied profile showed the lowest distal means. For child internalizing and externalizing behaviors, the mutual high-quality coparenting profile showed the lowest mean scores, though the scores were not significantly different from those of the moderate-quality, mothers less satisfied profile. The low-quality, fathers less satisfied profile had the highest mean scores on internalizing and externalizing behaviors.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that distinct patterns of coparenting, including different levels of quality and convergence/divergence in mothers’ and fathers’ perspectives, are significantly associated with young children’s social and emotional development. Prevention and intervention programs for coparents can emphasize that high-quality coparenting promotes children’s social competence. The development and implementation of social policies in the U.S. that support new parents to develop high-quality coparenting relationships, such as paid parental leave for fathers as well as for mothers, is warranted. Practitioners who work with expectant and new parents may want to pay special attention to mother-father coparenting relationships that are not only low in quality, but those in which fathers are markedly less satisfied than mothers, which may confer or covey heightened risk for children’s social-emotional development.