Money Can Sometimes Make Parenting Less Meaningful
February 15, 2014

Parents Who Keep Work And Family Tasks Separate Find Life More Meaningful

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Conflict between earning a living and caring for their children can make working parents feel as though what they are doing at any given time is less meaningful, according to research presented Friday at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference in Austin, Texas.

According to Kostadin Kushlev, of the University of British Columbia (UBC), and his colleagues, simply thinking about money diminishes the meaning that mothers and fathers derive from parenting. Their findings are among an increasing number of scientific research identifying how, when and why parenthood results in either joy or misery.

“The relationship between parenthood and well-being is not one and the same for all parents,” Kushlev said. While that would appear to be a fairly obvious statement, social scientists had not previously determined which psychological and demographic factors affect a parent’s level of happiness.

The study authors were inspired by previous research associating parenthood with a reduced level of well-being.

In their research, the doctoral student and his adviser, Dr. Elizabeth Dunn of the UBC Department of Psychology, set out to determine which aspects of life could influence the amount of pleasure and/or pain that men and women derived from being parents. They focused specifically on the issue of wealth.

One study, appearing in a recent edition of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Kushlev and Dr. Dunn discovered that parents with a higher socioeconomic status experienced a reduced sense of meaning while caring for their youngsters, but not when it came to other day-to-day activities.

Furthermore, a field study conducted as part of that same paper revealed that showing people images of currency while having them complete a questionnaire at a festival with their children also lowered their levels of meaning in life. In later research, the duo expanded on that study by showing participants money while testing the influence of parental objectives while they were also caring for kids at this type of event.

In the latter study, Kushlev’s team had one group of parents read a paragraph about the festival in terms of achievement and productivity and a second group read a different paragraph that discussed the event solely in terms of satisfying their children’s needs. Both groups were then polled about parenting and their sense of meaning.

“This design allowed us to see whether money compromises meaning because of the conflict between the goals associated with money and the goals and the behaviors that parenting normally demands,” Kushlev explained.

They discovered that activating goals related to both money-making and child-satisfying created an internal conflict within parents in which those men and women felt less meaning in what they were doing. While the effect was also experienced by fathers, the researchers said that it was more pronounced in women.

“Money seems to compromise meaning for mothers but not for fathers when they are spending time with their children,” Kushlev explained. “This finding is consistent with other, unpublished research that suggests that money tends to activate achievement and self-promotion motivations more strongly in women than men.”

While he and Dr. Dunn work to better understand this gender discrepancy, he advises parents to make sure that they keep their work life and their family life as distinct from one another as possible, “so that work- or money-related goals are not active when parents are spending time with their children. The less we mix our various goals and motivations, the more meaning in life we may be able to experience from our various daily activities.”