Gender, parenthood and health : a study of mothers' and fathers' experiences of health and illness
This study makes an original contribution to the literature on gender differences in health and illness which attempts to explain why 'women get sick and men die'. It focuses on how women and men as parents experience health and illness. It also contributes to studies of motherhood, specifically women's experiences, and extends this by making visible men's experiences of fatherhood. A qualitative study of fifteen working class families, involving both parents, was undertaken. Using a feminist theoretical framework based on parents' lived experiences' of health, I explored gender differences in health status, attitudes and behaviour; and the additional role of material and social resources. Each parent was interviewed three times over the course of a year. Data were also collected using health diaries. The mothers reported more health problems than the fathers. The data lend support to the 'nurturant role hypothesis' ie. that mothers' social role as carer leads them to have different experiences of health and illness from fathers. The mothers experience their role as more stressful than the fathers, particularly with regard to the lack of opportunity to rest. The finding that the 'mothering' role has a significant negative impact on health is supported by data that show that fathers who are more involved in childcare report more health problems than fathers less involved. Three typologies of parenthood have been developed which extend the hypothesis in important ways: (a) the congruence between mothers' ideologies of parenthood and their actual situation; (b) fathers' degree of involvement in childcare; and (c) the congruence between mothers' and fathers' ideologies. An analysis of gender differences in concepts of health adds to the explanation of parents' different health experiences. Finally, the structural context within which women and men carry out their roles as parents helps to account for the health differences found.