Negative affect caused by stressful life events can carry over to parental relationships and induce parental distress. Such spillover effects, however, may not operate uniformly in men and women, and may not be the same for different types of stressful life events. Employing life history theory, we hypothesized that male parents should experience more parental distress following exposure to cues of extrinsic morbidity-mortality (illness or death of someone close) or economic unpredictability (financial or occupational changes). We tested this hypothesis in two studies. In Study 1 (N = 207), recent exposures to morbidity-mortality and economic unpredictability were uniquely associated with parental stress, but the effect of economic unpredictability existed only in men. Stronger unpredictability beliefs partially mediated these effects. Moreover, morbidity-mortality and economic unpredictability were indirectly associated with less positive parenting through greater parental stress. Study 2 used a dyadic sample of 105 families transitioning to parenthood. Recent exposures to morbidity-mortality and economic unpredictability were uniquely associated with parental distress (parental stress and postpartum depression) in men only, whereas exposure to other sources of stress was more strongly associated with women’s parental distress. The effects of morbidity-mortality on men’s parental distress were mediated by their lower parental self-efficacy. These findings imply that men’s parental experiences are particularly vulnerable to risky and unpredictable environments.
- life history theory
- morbidity and mortality
- parental stress
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science