Parenthood and Trajectories of Distress among Women in Later Life: Race Differences

Naomi J. Spence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Daniel E. Adkins, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Although mental health consequences of parenthood are well-documented, little research has investigated change over time or race differentials. Analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women shows that parental status is influential among white, but not black, women in later life. Specifically, childless white women have lower levels of depressive symptoms than white mothers in mid-life, but the groups converge in late life. The benefits of childlessness are greater for never married white women than for other marital statuses. Sensitivity analyses demonstrate that the pattern described above holds generally for white women, but it is more dramatic among white women who died during the course of the study. The results suggest that: (1) important race differences may be masked by analyses that combine black and white women, and (2) longitudinal analyses help to clarify discrepancies in previous studies of the relationship between parenthood and distress.

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Presented in Session 32: Social Factors and Mental Health in Late Life