Sociology, Department of


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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Sociology (Women’s and Gender Studies), Under the Supervision of Professors Christina Falci and Lisa Kort-Butler. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 Kayla M. Pritchard


Motherhood represents a status that has substantial cultural meaning. The ways in which people think about motherhood, however, tend to be limited to biology. Among partnered or married women, this study seeks to compare variations in motherhood by recognizing women as biological mothers, stepmothers, and double mothers. Double mothers are a previously unexamined category of motherhood that refers to women who are both biological and stepmothers. Using the National Survey of Fertility Barriers, I assess potential differences in life satisfaction and psychological distress across these three mother statuses and two types of non-mothers (voluntary childfree and involuntary childless women). Factors that moderate (i.e., importance of motherhood) or mediate (i.e., self-esteem, social support, relationship satisfaction, and job status and satisfaction) well-being across mother status are also explored. Results indicate that biological mothers have significantly higher life satisfaction than all other mother statuses. Additionally, double mothers have significantly more psychological distress compared to biological mothers and both groups of non-mothers. Importance of motherhood, however, significantly moderated well-being across mother statuses. Specifically, life satisfaction does not significantly vary across mother status when importance of motherhood is low, and there are no differences in psychological distress between biological mothers and involuntary childless women when the importance of motherhood is high. Moreover, self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, job satisfaction, and importance of motherhood mediated well-being across mother status. First, differences in life satisfaction between stepmothers and biological mothers are explained by biological mothers’ higher self-esteem and importance of motherhood. Second, differences in life satisfaction between biological mothers and involuntary childless women are explained by biological mothers’ higher self-esteem, job satisfaction, and importance of motherhood. Finally, differences in psychological distress between double mothers and voluntary childfree women are explained by higher relationship satisfaction among voluntary childfree women. These results highlight the importance of taking multiple dimensions of motherhood and non-motherhood into account when examining differences in well-being among women. They speak to broadening cultural definitions of motherhood to be more inclusive of women’s diverse experiences.

Advisors: Christina Falci and Lisa Kort-Butler