Theses Doctoral

The Longitudinal Effects of Unintended Pregnancy on Maternal Mental Health and Parenting Behaviors

Morin, Marisa Rose

This dissertation examines associations between unintended pregnancy and future maternal mental health and parenting behaviors. Put simply, I examine whether a mother who self-reports her pregnancy as being unintended at her child’s birth will have longstanding differences in mental health and parenting behaviors as her child ages. Drawing on two separate sources of data, I examine these associations taking into account three different ways of measuring unintended pregnancy. Drawing on the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), unintended pregnancy is measured as such when mothers report, “yes,” to a question asking them whether they considered an abortion prior to their child’s birth. In many respects, consideration of an abortion is the most definitive measure of unintended pregnancy, since it could result in termination of the pregnancy altogether; yet, it is the least utilized in the research literature. More commonly, researchers adopt measures of unintendedness by asking mothers whether or not their pregnancies were “mistimed” or “unwanted.” Drawing on the Building Strong Families (BSF) Project, unintended pregnancy is measured by two questions regarding whether the mother wanted a child with the biological father and whether the pregnancy came sooner, at about the right time, or later than she wanted (mistimed pregnancy). Appreciating the potential influence that the biological father may have on the experience of an unintended pregnancy and later parenting and mental health, all analytic models are conducted separately by family structure at the child’s birth (single mothers and mothers cohabiting with the child’s biological father).
Results across the FFCW and BSF Project show that both considering an abortion and having an unwanted pregnancy were associated with considerable longstanding risk for maternal mental health and parenting behaviors, especially for mothers who report cohabiting with their child’s biological father at baseline. Within both sources of data, unintended pregnancy was associated with increased parenting stress, less engagement in parenting activities, and increased likelihood of spanking for cohabiting mothers. Notably, these identified associations remained relatively unchanged when utilizing propensity score pair matching techniques. Results from moderation analyses with the FFCWS reveal that maternal education moderates the association between considering an abortion and maternal mental health and parenting behaviors. Results from moderation analyses with the BSF Project reveal that assignment to a BSF Program altered associations between unwanted pregnancy and engagement in parenting and spanking behaviors. There was no negative link between cohabiting mother’s unwanted pregnancy and engagement in parenting for those mothers assigned to the BSF program, whereas there was a negative link in the control group. Similarly, if single mothers were assigned to the BSF treatment and reported that their pregnancy was unwanted, they were less likely to spank their three-year-old children. These findings suggest the possibility that an organized program could alter longitudinal associations between unintended pregnancy and parenting behaviors, even if the program is not targeting experiences of unintended pregnancy specifically.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Brooks-Gunn, Jeanne
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2018