For low-income families, difficulty paying utility bills, rent, mortgages, or health care costs sets the stage for parental mental health problems, which can then lead to potentially violent family conflicts. Fathers are especially at risk, according to a study I did. published in May in Family Relations magazine..
Previous studies of poverty have been conducted mainly with mothers, with a focus on low-income families, without taking into account the role of so-called “material hardships” and their impact on fathers. Household income refers to a certain amount of dollars that parents earn from paid work. for example, annual household income of $27,750 for a family of four.while material hardship — or “day-to-day hardship of making ends meet” — refers to whether the family experienced any problems meeting basic needs such as food, utilities, and health insurance.
One of the main findings was that the link between financial difficulties, such as difficulty paying bills, rent, and health insurance, and destructive conflict behavior worked primarily through depression symptoms in the fathers, not in the mother.
My research team found that it was not low family income, but rather everyday difficulties in making ends meet, that was associated with fathers’ poorer mental health, which then led to more negative conflict behaviors with their partner. Such conflicting behavior included blaming one’s partner that something was wrong; suppression of feelings, opinions or desires of a partner; or petty quarrels that turn into ugly fights with accusations and name-calling. Such verbal aggression can damage relationships with a partner and shown to be harmful to young children who see their parents behave in a similar way.
To conduct this study, my team used data Project “Building a Strong Family”., a large and racially diverse sample of 2,794 heterosexual couples, mostly unmarried, caring for young children and living on a low income. Our aim was to examine how economic insecurity, defined as low family income and material hardship, was associated with maternal and paternal mental health and relationship functioning.
One of the key findings was that the association between material hardship and destructive conflict behavior led to depressive symptoms in the fathers, not in the mother, in the first place. Examples of depressive symptoms included feelings of sadness, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, lack of interest in food, and loneliness.
These data suggest that material hardship in households is more detrimental to the mental health of fathers than mothers. Due to traditional gender norms, fathers may experience more stress than mothers when they are unable to fulfill the primary role of breadwinner. When fathers feel they are not economically secure to relieve everyday economic stresses in their families, which can lead to more mental health issues and more conflict between fathers and mothers. Our research shows the importance of paying equal attention to fathers and how family interventions can help mitigate problems that lead to depressive symptoms in fathers and negative conflicts between parents.
Accordingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents — including low-income fathers have experienced high levels of pandemic-related unemployment, economic insecurity and mental health problems. Thus, addressing the mental health of fathers and mothers seems to be of the utmost importance and can contribute to the healthy functioning of the family during the ongoing pandemic.
I am beginning to explore how families can be resilient to the negative effects of poverty, looking at how good relationships between parents can be a source of strength. For example, in another study I supervisedI showed that when mothers and fathers focused on positive behaviors, such as being a good parenting team for their children, they were more likely to withstand the economic stresses of poverty and exhibit the warm and empathetic parenting that benefit to their children. social development of children.
Joyce Y. Lee is an assistant professor of social work at The Ohio State University.