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Parental employment and work-family stress: Associations with family food environments


  • Bauer, Katherine W.
  • Hearst, Mary O.
  • Escoto, Kamisha
  • Berge, Jerica M.
  • Neumark-Sztainer, Dianne


Parental employment provides many benefits to children's health. However, an increasing number of studies have observed associations between mothers' full-time employment and less healthful family food environments. Few studies have examined other ways in which parental employment may be associated with the family food environment, including the role of fathers' employment and parents' stress balancing work and home obligations. This study utilized data from Project F-EAT, a population-based study of a socio-demographically diverse sample of 3709 parents of adolescents living in a metropolitan area in the Midwestern United States, to examine cross-sectional associations between mothers' and fathers' employment status and parents' work-life stress with multiple aspects of the family food environment. Among parents participating in Project F-EAT, 64% of fathers and 46% of mothers were full-time employed, while 25% of fathers and 37% of mothers were not employed. Results showed that full-time employed mothers reported fewer family meals, less frequent encouragement of their adolescents' healthful eating, lower fruit and vegetable intake, and less time spent on food preparation, compared to part-time and not-employed mothers, after adjusting for socio-demographics. Full-time employed fathers reported significantly fewer hours of food preparation; no other associations were seen between fathers' employment status and characteristics of the family food environment. In contrast, higher work-life stress among both parents was associated with less healthful family food environment characteristics including less frequent family meals and more frequent sugar-sweetened beverage and fast food consumption by parents. Among dual-parent families, taking into account the employment characteristics of the other parent did not substantially alter the relationships between work-life stress and family food environment characteristics. While parental employment is beneficial for many families, identifying policy and programmatic strategies to reduce parents' work-life stress may have positive implications for the family food environment and for the eating patterns and related health outcomes of children and parents.

Suggested Citation

  • Bauer, Katherine W. & Hearst, Mary O. & Escoto, Kamisha & Berge, Jerica M. & Neumark-Sztainer, Dianne, 2012. "Parental employment and work-family stress: Associations with family food environments," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(3), pages 496-504.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:3:p:496-504
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.03.026

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Cawley, John & Liu, Feng, 2012. "Maternal employment and childhood obesity: A search for mechanisms in time use data," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 352-364.
    2. Devine, Carol M. & Connors, Margaret M. & Sobal, Jeffery & Bisogni, Carole A., 2003. "Sandwiching it in: spillover of work onto food choices and family roles in low- and moderate-income urban households," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(3), pages 617-630, February.
    3. Schafer, Robert B. & Schafer, Elisabeth & Dunbar, Martin & Keith, Patricia M., 1999. "Marital food interaction and dietary behavior," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 48(6), pages 787-796, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:exl:22evid:v:2017:y:2017:i:4:p:1-17 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Meyer, Sophie-Charlotte, 2016. "Maternal employment and childhood overweight in Germany," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 84-102.
    3. Morrissey, Taryn W., 2013. "Trajectories of growth in body mass index across childhood: Associations with maternal and paternal employment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 60-68.
    4. Haeil Jung & Chaeyoung Chang, 2016. "Is Mothers’ Work Related to Childhood Weight Changes in the United States?," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 37(4), pages 581-593, December.
    5. Siril Alm & Svein Ottar Olsen, 2017. "Coping with Time Pressure and Stress: Consequences for Families’ Food Consumption," Journal of Consumer Policy, Springer, vol. 40(1), pages 105-123, March.
    6. Sophie-Charlotte Meyer, 2015. "Maternal Employment and Childhood Overweight in Germany," Schumpeter Discussion Papers SDP15005, Universitätsbibliothek Wuppertal, University Library.
    7. Venn, Danielle & Strazdins, Lyndall, 2017. "Your money or your time? How both types of scarcity matter to physical activity and healthy eating," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 172(C), pages 98-106.
    8. Strazdins, Lyndall & OBrien, Léan V. & Lucas, Nina & Rodgers, Bryan, 2013. "Combining work and family: Rewards or risks for children's mental health?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 99-107.
    9. Ziol-Guest, Kathleen M. & Dunifon, Rachel E. & Kalil, Ariel, 2013. "Parental employment and children's body weight: Mothers, others, and mechanisms," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 52-59.
    10. repec:eee:ehbiol:v:29:y:2018:i:c:p:42-55 is not listed on IDEAS


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