Transitions to parenthood and life course trajectories: variations between mothers and fathers as well as Māori and non-Māori (2021)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
Background: There is an abundance of research on the onset and outcomes of young parents. However, little is known about delayed onset of parenthood and subsequent life course outcomes. This research intends to address this gap in the literature, as well as provide new findings relating to gender and Māori ethnic differences in the onset of parenthood and life course outcomes.
Aim: The aims of this dissertation were (1) to document the onset of parenthood in the Christchurch Health and Development Study cohort up to age 40 and identify factors predictive of an early versus a delayed transition to parenthood; (2) to examine the associations between the onset of parenthood and life course outcomes at age 40 years, by investigating whether any outcome differences were explained by prior childhood and adolescent characteristics or by mediating processes associated with an earlier onset of parenthood; (3) examine gender and ethnic differences in (a) the timing of the transition to parenthood, and (b) the nature of the associations between timing of parenthood and subsequent outcomes; and (4) explore the role of cultural affiliation as a further explanatory factor within the Māori cohort.
Method: The studies conducted in this dissertation were based on the Christchurch Heath and Development Study (CHDS). The CHDS is a longitudinal study of a birth cohort born in 1977 and assessed up to the age of 40. For Study 1 (N = 1055), life table methods were applied to produce Kaplan–Meier estimates of the accumulative rate of parenthood in the cohort from age 16–40 years old. To examine the extent to which the timing of early parenthood was influenced by an individual’s earlier childhood and adolescent experiences as well as an individual’s changing circumstances, a series of measures was obtained from the CHDS database and included in the analyses. These included childhood and adolescent fixed factors examining socio-demographic background, family structure, family functioning, childhood abuse exposure, childhood behaviour, school achievement, adolescent functioning and individual traits, as well as time dynamic factors to account for changing circumstances relating to relationship duration, employment, welfare, mental health, substance use, educational pursuit and attainment. Study 2 (N = 693) examined the extent to which the onset of parenthood was associated with adult functioning outcomes at age 40, a series of outcomes related to socio-economic well-being, education, household composition, psychosocial well- being and mental health. A range of fixed factors and mediating factors were obtained from the CHDS database to examine the extent to which outcomes were influenced by childhood/adolescent and mediating factors that were associated with parenthood.
Results: Earlier onset of parenthood was associated with family, social and individual disadvantage during childhood and adolescence, whereas delayed onset of parenthood was associated with economic and relationship stability. Gender and Māori ethnic differences were observed for an earlier onset of parenthood, but not for delayed onset of parenthood. No factors identified in this dissertation explained the gender difference observed in earlier onset of parenthood. For the Māori cohort, greater Māori cultural affiliation was associated with an earlier onset of parenthood, whereas less Māori cultural affiliation was associated with delayed parenthood. For every outcome assessed, younger parents were more likely to be disadvantaged than peers who delayed parenthood. The disadvantage experienced by younger parents was associated with an accumulation of childhood and adolescence adversity as well as reduced support and opportunities during early adulthood. When accounting for confounding and mediating factors, no difference was observed in outcomes between males and females or Māori and non-Māori.
Conclusions: There are multiple pathways towards the onset of parenthood, yet these pathways do not differ between men and women, nor between Māori and non-Māori. Furthermore, young parents are more likely to experience greater disadvantage by age 40 than older parents. The disadvantages younger parents experienced were not necessarily due to the timing of parenthood per se, but rather due to the accumulation of disadvantage experienced during childhood and adolescence. For the onset of parenthood, Māori cultural affiliation, or lack thereof, during early adulthood was associated with the onset of parenthood; however, cultural affiliation was not associated with any differences in outcomes by age 40 except for that of cultural affiliation at age 40.
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