Koropeckyj-Cox+et+al+2007 - J AGING AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT...

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. J. AGING AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, Vol. 64(4) 299-330, 2007 WOMEN OF THE 1950s AND THE “NORMATIVE” LIFE COURSE: THE IMPLICATIONS OF CHILDLESSNESS, FERTILITY TIMING, AND MARITAL STATUS FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING IN LATE MIDLIFE TANYA KOROPECKYJ-COX University of Florida, Gainesville AMY MEHRABAN PIENTA University of Michigan TYSON H. BROWN University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill ABSTRACT We explore women’s psychological well-being in late midlife in relation to childlessness and timing of entry into motherhood. Using two U.S. surveys, Health and Retirement Study (HRS) (1992) and National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) (Sweet, Bumpass, & Call, 1988), we assess the well-being of childless women in their 50s compared to mothers with early, delayed, or normatively timed first births. We focus on the cohorts born between 1928 and 1941, who experienced strong normative pressures during the baby boom with regard to marriage and child-bearing. We find few differences among childless women but lower well-being among early mothers, related to singlehood and poorer socioeconomic status. Unmarried mothers are significantly disadvantaged regardless of maternal timing, con- trolling for socioeconomic status. Current maternal demands are indepen- dently related to well-being and help to explain observed differences in family satisfaction. Overall, childlessness and off-time child-bearing are related to midlife well-being through their link with more proximate factors, particularly current marital status, health, and socioeconomic status. 299 Ó 2007, Baywood Publishing Co., Inc.
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INTRODUCTION “The institution of marriage had a power and inevitability in the fifties that it has never had since. You simply didn’t ask yourself if you wanted marriage and children; the only relevant questions were when and how many? And the answers were, as soon as possible and as many as possible” (Harvey, 1993, p. 69). Women who were adolescents or young adults during the 1950s experienced the historically and demographically unique post-World War II, baby-boom era. These “mothers of the baby boom” are distinguished by early and near-universal marriage (median age of 19-20), earlier fertility (most first births occurred between 19 and 25), and higher fertility (Rindfuss, Morgan, & Swicegood, 1988). Only 8 to 10% of women born between 1928 and 1941 remained perma- nently childless, and voluntary childlessness was regarded as “nearly extinct” (Whelpton, Campbell, & Patterson, 1966, pp. 162-163). For women born in the late 1920s and 1930s, the distinctiveness of their birth cohorts reflects child- hood experiences of the Great Depression, which steered many toward seeking economic stability and domestic home lives as adults (Elder, 1974). Their early hardships and modest expectations, combined with having been born into a small birth cohort, placed them in a position to benefit greatly in the postwar years (Easterlin, 1980). Those born in the late 1930s or early 1940s had little experience of the Great Depression, but were young children during the economic and social upheavals of World War II. For both the younger and older cohorts, the prosperity
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