Gender Differences in Parental Strain: Parental Role or Gender Role?

Jacqueline Scott, Duane F. Alwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


This article examines gender differences in the strains associated with parenting. We hypothesize that due to the different role experiences of being a parent, mothers are more likely than fathers to experience greater role strain. Women who parent are more likely than their male counterparts to be exposed to strain-inducing experiences because they spend more time in child care and other household chores, because they are more likely to be doing so as a “single-parent,” because they are more likely to be juggling family responsibilities and work commitments, and because being a parent has greater role salience for women. We also hypothesize that by taking into account the different role experiences of mothers and fathers we can partially account for the expected gender differences in parental strain. These hypotheses are explored using survey data from a probability sample of Detroit parents obtained in 1982-83 (n = 1,040) which assessed their parental role experiences and psychological well-being. The results confirm the hypothesized difference between mothers and fathers in reported strain, among both blacks and whites, with mothers expressing significantly greater role demands and parental strain than fathers. We find, however, that little of this difference is attributable to the differential role experiences we analyzed. We conclude that gender differences in parental strain may be linked more strongly to “gender role” than “parental role,” in that women are socialized more than men into taking responsibilities for relationships and are therefore more likely to experience the greater stresses associated with intimacy and emotional involvement with others. The greater strains of parenting felt by mothers as opposed to fathers may, thus, be due as much to the differential orientations they bring to the parental role as it is due to the objectively-assessed differences in role experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)482-503
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Family Issues
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1989

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Gender Differences in Parental Strain: Parental Role or Gender Role?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this