Sociology, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in Family and Health: Evolving Needs, Responsibilities, and Experiences, Contemporary Perspectives in Family Research, Volume 8B, 45–77. doi 10.1108/S1530-35352014000008B011


Copyright © 2014 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Used by permission.


Purpose – This study examined whether life satisfaction varied among women who occupy different motherhood statuses, and if these variations were influenced by differences in women’s internalization of cultural motherhood norms. We distinguished among women as biological mothers, stepmothers, and “double mothers,” who were both biological and stepmothers. We also included two groups of women without children: voluntary childfree and involuntary childless women.

Design/methodology/approach – Data were drawn from the National Study of Fertility Barriers and analyzed using OLS regression.

Findings – Biological mothers reported greater life satisfaction than women in other motherhood statuses. Accounting for the internalization of motherhood norms, double mothers had significantly lower life satisfaction compared to biological mothers, but voluntary childfree women had significantly greater life satisfaction. More detailed analyses indicated that internalization of cultural norms only appears to influence the life satisfaction of women with biological children.

Research limitations/implications – The results suggest that it may not simply be motherhood that affects women’s well-being, but rather that women’s internalization of motherhood ideals, particularly when it corresponds with their motherhood status, significantly impacts well-being. Limitations of this study include small cell sizes for some categories of women where additional distinctions may have been useful, such as lesbian or adoptive mothers. Future work should incorporate diverse family forms and expand on the newly named category “double mothers.”

Originality/value – By providing a more nuanced approach to categorizing motherhood status, including identifying double mothers, stepmothers-only, and two groups of childless women, the study added detail that has been overlooked in previous work on well-being.