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Assessing Sex Differences in Vulnerability among Employed Parents: The Importance of Marital Status

Robin W. Simon
Journal of Health and Social Behavior
Vol. 39, No. 1 (Mar., 1998), pp. 38-54
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2676388
Page Count: 17
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Assessing Sex Differences in Vulnerability among Employed Parents: The Importance of Marital Status
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Abstract

Despite earlier claims that women are generally more vulnerable than men to stressors, recent research on mental health indicates that sex differences in vulnerability are highly specific and depend on the type of stressor and disorder considered. My paper extends previous work on this topic by suggesting that gender variation in stress-reactivity is also contingent upon people's marital status. To illustrate the importance of marital status for differential vulnerability, my study assesses sex differences in the impact of work and family role strains on depression and alcohol use-abuse among married and unmarried employed parents who participated in the second wave of the National Survey of Households and Families (N = 2937). My analyses indicate that mothers generally are not more vulnerable than fathers, but that sex differences in parents' response to stress depend on the type of stressor and disorder involved. My analyses also reveal significant marital status contingencies in the effects of stress on mothers' compared to fathers' symptoms of distress. Finally, although married and unmarried mothers do not differ in their response to work or family stress, my analyses show that parental strain is more harmful to unmarried than married fathers. Overall, my research identifies an important, though previously overlooked, factor influencing sex differences in vulnerability and further specifies the types of stressors which are etiologically important for married and unmarried mothers and fathers. I interpret findings from the contextual approach to differential vulnerability, arguing that the circumstances in which stressors occur influence their meaning, emotional significance, and psychological impact.

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