Relationships among marital status, parenthood status, lifespan development and life satisfaction


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Relationships among marital status, parenthood status, lifespan development and life satisfaction
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ix, 170 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Raup, Jana L
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Counselor Education thesis, Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- Counselor Education -- UF
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1995.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 156-168).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Jana L. Raup.
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University of Florida
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Copyright 1995


Jana L. Raup


With gratitude and appreciation I would like to acknowledge some

individuals who have contributed to the completion of my dissertation

and to some who have encouraged and strengthened me throughout my

doctoral studies.

Members of my committee, Dr. James Pitts, Dr. Larry Loesch, Dr.

Stephanie Puleo, and Dr. Bridgit Franks, deserve special thanks for

working with me to meet university deadlines and for making it possible

for me to complete the dissertation. Dr. Loesch provided invaluable

feedback and both he and Dr. Pitts encouraged and challenged me to

complete my Ph.D.

I am also indebted to the resource persons who were so

instrumental in the identification of study participants and tabulation of

data. A debt of gratitude is also owed to the men and women who

patiently completed the questionnaire and assessment instruments and

without whose cooperation this study would not have been possible. A

special thank you goes to my editor, Barbara Smerage, for her

encouragement and careful preparation of the manuscript.

Finally, it is with heartfelt thanks and sincere appreciation that I

acknowledge some very special persons in my life who have stood by me

during this lengthy process for my Ph.D. My mom and dad have always

been my staunchest supporters, in times of both successes and failures.

Their faith in me as a person has often served as a beacon when

obstacles seemed insurmountable. The countless cards and notes from

my mom have ben a source of encouragement, love, and inspiration. My

sister, brother-in-law, and nephews have been an ongoing source of love

and moral support. I could always count on them to pick up my spirits

when the going got rough, and our feeling of family has been a firm

foundation during this somewhat stressful process.

My best friend, Cathy Thomas, has persevered with me, assisting

with everything from library work for the literature review to serving as a

resource person for the actual data collection. She has encouraged and

challenged me throughout this process and has shared many of the ups

and downs of completing a Ph.D. from a distance. A special thank you

goes to her for her endurance and patience.

Two other persons. Sue Brenton and Sister Lois Wedl, have been

staunch friends throughout, prodding me toward completion and

supporting me with their thoughts and prayers. I could always count on

Sister Lois to support me with not only her prayers but those of her

family and the Benedictine community as well.

In conclusion, very special recognition goes to my four-legged

companion for her unconditional love and acceptance. Jemmie, my

Yorkshire terrier, has been by my side throughout this entire process. It

is with great love and appreciation that I acknowledge her role in my

successful completion of the Ph.D.


ACKNOW LEDGMENTS ....................... ................................ iii

ABSTRACT ........................... .... ......................... viii


I INTRODUCTION ............................... .................. ... 1

Single, Childfree Adults ...................................... ....... 5
Developmental Theorists, Marriage, and Parenthood ......... 6
Purpose of the Study ............................................. 8
Research Questions .................................... ........... 9
Significance of the Study .................................................. 12
Organization of the Study ............................................. 13
Definitions ............................................. ..................... 14

II REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE .............................. 16

Historical Perspectives on Lifestyle Choices .................... 16
Historical Overview of Marriage and Parenthood Roles. 17
Pronatalism .......................................................... 23
Historical Overview of Single, Childfree Adults ........... 26
Theories of Adult Development ....................................... 28
Erikson ............................................ .................... 29
Peck .................................................... ................... 32
Havighurst ........................................ .................... 33
Gould ................................................ ................. 34
Levinson .......................................... .................... 35
Developmental Issues for Women ............................. 38
Studies Relevant to Adult Development, Marriage,
and Parenthood .................. ................................ 43
General Studies on Development ............................. 43
Studies on M marriage ................................................. 45
Studies on Parenthood ............................................. 49
Studies Specific to Single, Childfree Adults and
Single Parents ................................................... 52
Single, Childfree Adults ............................. 53
Single Parents ............................. .................... .... 63

Counseling Needs of Single, Childfree Adults .................. 75
Summary of Literature Review ...................................... 79

III METHODOLOGY .................................... .................... 81

Population ....................... .. ..................... 82
Sampling Procedure ..................................... .......... 83
Overview of Assessment Instruments .............................. 85
Research Procedures ................................................... 87
Null Hypotheses ............................. ................. 89
Data Analysis ........................... .................. 90
Scoring ............................. .................. 90
Descriptive Statistics .............................................. 91
Factorial Analyses of Variance ................................. 91
Multiple Regression ........................ ..................... 92
Summary of Chapter III ................................. ...... 93

IV RESULTS ................................................................. 94

Descriptive Results .................................................. 94
Selected Demographic Characteristics ...................... 95
Descriptive Statistics for Assessment Instruments ..... 103
Evaluation of Null Hypotheses ..................................... 105
Hypotheses One, Two, Three, and Four .................... 105
Hypotheses Five and Six ......................................... 109
Results of Exploratory Comparisons ............................. 113

V SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS ................................... 118

Limitations ............................................ ................... 118
Evaluation of Hypotheses ............................................ 120
Hypotheses One and Two ......................................... 120
Hypotheses Three and Four ..................................... 121
Hypotheses Five and Six ......................................... 123
Exploratory Questions ............................................ 123
Conclusions .................................... ......................... 124
Implications ............................................... ................ 126
Recommendations for Further Research ........................ 128


A RESOURCE MATERIALS ......................................... 132

B RESEARCH INSTRUMENTS ....................................... 136

C TRAINING FOR RESEARCH ASSISTANTS ...................... 150

D CONSENT FORM .......................... ............................ 153

REFERENCES ............................. .................................. 156

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ...................................................... 169

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Jana L. Raup

December, 1995

Chairperson: James H. Pitts
Major Department: Counselor Education

In light of the assumption that marriage and parenthood are

synonymous with normative adult development, the primary focus of this

study was to gain an understanding of the lifespan development and life

satisfaction of adults on the basis of their marital and parenthood

statuses. Eight groups were selected for study in order to control for

both marital status and parenthood status: single, childfree men and

women; single mothers and fathers; married, childfree men and women;

and married mothers and fathers.

This study was designed to (a) determine differences in lifespan

developmental stage resolution and degree of life satisfaction on the

basis of gender, marital status, and parenthood status; (b) determine

relationships between lifespan developmental stage resolution and

perceived social supports, gender, marital status and parenthood status;


(c) determine relationships between degree of life satisfaction and

perceived social supports, gender, marital status, and parenthood status;

and (d) determine differences in the lifespan developmental stage

resolution and degree of life satisfaction of adults based on age; type of

single status; level of educational achievement; labor force participation

and job satisfaction; current living situation; relationship with

significant other; and whether marital status and parenthood status are

by choice or circumstance.

Four instruments (Satisfaction With Life Scale, Perceived Social

Support Family, Perceived Social Support Friends, and Measures of

Psychosocial Development) and a demographic data questionnaire were

completed by 323 participants with a minimum of 20 individuals in each

of the eight groups. Descriptive statistics, factorial analysis of variance,

and multiple regression were used for data analysis. Results showed

significant gender-based differences for lifespan developmental stage

resolution but no interactions among gender, marital status, and

parenthood status. The two-way (gender by marital status) and three-

way (gender by marital status by parenthood status) interactions were

significant for life satisfaction. Perceived social supports were significant

for both life satisfaction and lifespan developmental stage resolution.

Finally, in weighted combinations, age, parental status by choice or

circumstance, type of single status, long-term relationships, and work

satisfaction were significant predictors of life satisfaction and/or lifespan

developmental stage resolution.


At present, marriage and parenthood are almost ascribed
statuses. They are not really chosen, they happen to
people ....
Judith Blake (1973)

Cultural norms and social mores have long conceptualized

marriage and parenthood as essential to the well-being of adults. Many

prominent lifespan developmental theorists have included marriage,

childbearing, childrearing, and launching of the children as important

milestones for normative adult development (Erikson, 1963; Gould, 1972;

Havighurst, 1972; Peck, 1968). Historically, marriage, reproduction, and

motherhood have been synonymous with femininity; marriage and

fatherhood/family provider with masculinity; and marriage and

parenthood with adulthood (Bell & Eisenberg, 1985; Houser, Berkman, &

Beckman, 1984; Jacobson & Heaton, 1991; Somers, 1993; Stein, 1975).

In American culture, to marry is to align oneself with the

predominant value system of society (Faver, 1982; Goldstein & Ross,

1989; Stein, 1975). Conversely, not marrying implies deviant behavior,

and some social sanctions, financial constraints, and stigmas may be

experienced as a result of single status (Allen & Pickett, 1987; Baker,

1968; Dowrick & Grundberg, 1980; Kaslow, 1992; Keith, 1980; Stein,

1975; Thornton, 1989). Marriage has been identified as a social role

important to the normative development of adults; not marrying suggests

the potential for developmental difficulties.

In a pronatalist (i.e., encouraging fertility and parenthood) culture

such as that of the United States, where in 1987, the average number of

children born per woman was 1.4 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989a),

not having children may accord a woman a devalued, and possibly

deviant, status (Keith, 1983; Lott, 1987; Miall, 1986; Woollett, 1985).

Socialization for the maternal role begins in early childhood, and the

roles of wife and mother are accepted as an inevitable and indeed vital

part of women's normative development (Harper, 1980; Peck &

Senderowitz, 1974; Veevers, 1980). Regardless of other roles that women

may select for themselves (e.g., labor force participation), social and

cultural pressures still exist for marriage and motherhood first, anything

else second (Faver, 1982; Gerson, 1985; Harper, 1980).

Socialization of males for the roles of husband and father/family

provider does not become a significant issue until late adolescence and

early adulthood (Peck & Senderowitz, 1974). Even then, male

socialization in a work-oriented society equates male status with work

achievement, and the husband, father/family provider roles are linked

with the work status (Greif, 1985a, 1985b). However, roles for men other

than those of husband and father/family provider are still considered

secondary in pronatalistic society (Blake, 1974; Peck & Senderowitz,


Though childbearing age for women has been identified as the

years from 18 to 44 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989a), postponement

has created the additional stress of the "biological clock ticking away,"

with the potential for decreased fertility with advancing years (Fabe &

Wikler, 1979). Women approaching the end of their biological timeframe

for childbearing may rush into matrimony just to experience "what has

been celebrated throughout history as the most fulfilling experience in a

woman's life" (Fabe & Wikler, 1979, p. 15). On the other hand, the

percentage of children born to unmarried women has been steadily

increasing from a rate of 6.8% in 1970 to 30.5% in 1988 (U.S. Bureau of

the Census, 1989b; Fabe & Wikler, 1979). Data do not indicate reasons

for the increase, but the biological clock and women outnumbering men

may be factors in the decision to become single mothers. Motherhood is

considered by many women to be a "mandate," and it is important that

counselors identify the short- and long-term social and emotional

consequences of women's choice to remain childfree.

Though men are not generally confronted with biological

timeframes for "siring" children, age 30 has been identified as a pivotal

point in their development (Levinson, Darrow, Klein, Levinson, & McKee

1978; Moreland, 1980). It is the time when their focus on work

orientation begins to level off somewhat, and they are capable of greater

intimacy and begin to contemplate "settling down" (Levinson et al., 1978;

Moreland, 1980). Fatherhood is a socially accepted and expected aspect

of that "settling down" period.

In this last decade of the 20th century, individuals are still

encouraged to marry, and married couples are encouraged to have

children, but since the advent of reliable birth control techniques, adults

now have more of a choice regarding both marriage and parenthood (Fabe

& Wikler, 1979; Kammeyer, 1975; Thomton, 1989; Veevers, 1980).

Changing sexual norms, reliable birth control techniques, as well as a

realization that childlessness is a choice have now acted in combination

to offer both men and women a choice relative to marital status and

parenthood status.

Current population trends indicate that both singlehood and

childlessness are slowly but consistently increasing (Jacobson & Heaton,

1991; Jacobson, Heaton, & Taylor, 1988; Morgan, 1991). It is important

that more information be obtained about this growing segment of the

population--the single, childfree adult, both male and female.

For the purposes of this study, the terms childless and childfree

were used interchangeably. Harper (1980) wrote of the "language hassle"

created when attempting to define someone without children. Childless

has negative connotations and to many represents an inability to have

children or that the "lack of' children implies a loss; childfree, though

generally seen in a more positive light, may be interpreted as negative

and suggests that to be free of children is a good thing rather than just

implying that the individual has no children (Harper, 1980). Since the

focus of this study was on the marital status and parenthood status of

single adults without children, childfree was the term of choice whenever


Single. Childfree Adults

The median age of first marriage for women has risen from 20.8 in

1970 to 23.6 in 1988 and for men from 23.2 in 1970 to 25.9 in 1988 (U.S.

Bureau of the Census, 1989a: 1989b). However, in 1970, 6.2% of women

and 9.4% of men aged 30-34 had not yet married compared to 16.1% of

the women and 25% of the men in that same age bracket in 1988. For

adults aged 35-39, 1970 statistics show that 5.4% of the women and

7.2% of the men had not yet married. For that same age group in 1988,

9% of the women and 14% of the men had not married (U.S. Bureau of

the Census, 1989a; 1989b). In 1988, 4.6% of men aged 65 years and over

were never married while another 3.9% were divorced and 13.9%

widowed. For that same year and age range, 5.3% of women were never

married, 4.5% divorced, and 48.7% widowed (U.S. Bureau of the Census,


It is currently estimated that 10% of adults will never marry (U.S.

Bureau of the Census, 1989b). Of the 90% of who do marry,

approximately 50% will eventually divorce and 70% of those will remarry;

a large percentage, particularly of women, will experience widowhood

(U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989b). Given these current trends, an

increasing percentage of adults are living a larger portion of their lifespan

as single adults than ever before (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989b). In

1988, approximately 84% of the nonfamily households (i.e., a

householder living alone or with a nonrelative) were individuals living by

themselves. Of that number, approximately 60% were women, but the

percentage of men living alone is increasing at almost twice the rate of

women living alone. Census data for 1988 show that 24% of all

households were individuals living by themselves (U.S. Bureau of the

Census, 1989a).

In 1976, 15.6% of women aged 30-34 years of age were childless,

while in 1987, 23.6% of women in this age group were childless.

Similarly, 10.2% of women aged 40-44 were childless in 1976 compared

to 14.2% in 1987 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989a). This increase is

especially significant in a society as pronatalistic as that of the United

States. Regardless of the reasons for childfree status, whether voluntary

or involuntary, societal expectations for normative adult roles continue

to include the necessity for marriage and parenthood.

Developmental Theorists. Marriage, and Parenthood

Many prominent lifespan developmental theorists have emphasized

the developmental task accomplishments of marriage and parenthood for

the years of adulthood while neglecting developmental trends for that

segment of the population who have remained single and childfree. Most

of the developmental theories have not made reference to gender-specific

issues and, in fact, have been primarily based on men's experiences but

attributed to the developmental processes for both men and women.


Erikson (1963) and Havighurst (1972) each considered the developmental

tasks of marriage and parenthood as milestones critical to successful

development. Gould (1972), Levinson et al. (1978), and Peck (1968) also

mentioned marriage and parenthood issues as key components of their

theories but with not quite the same emphasis as Erikson and

Havighurst. Also, Levinson currently has research in process for a book

on women's development.

A number of researchers have studied different aspects of

developmental patterns, particularly in reference to the dissimilarities

between men and women. Miller's work on women's development (1976),

further substantiated by the research of Bardwick (1980), Barnett and

Baruch (1978; 1980), Giele (1978; 1982), and Reinke (1982), addressed

the idea that attachment, care, and relationship issues are the initial

developmental milestones for adult women rather than the achievement

and autonomy issues identified for men. In addition, when men are

turning more to relationship development in midlife, women may well be

increasing their need for autonomy and achievement. Still another gap

in lifespan developmental theories is a failure to address individual

differences and lifestyle patterns (Reinke, 1982). The work of these

theorists suggests that there may be gender as well as individual

differences in lifespan development. The lifespan development of women

has received limited attention while research specific to single and

childfree adult development has been virtually neglected (Harris, Elllcott,

& Holmes, 1986).

Women have been socialized to marry and bear children, and

although they have a choice to make regarding both institutions, there is

social pressure in a pronatalist culture to conform to the normative roles

of wife and mother (Faver, 1982; Harper, 1980). The choice to remain

childfree or single and childfree is a momentous one for women. The

cohorts now making these choices do not have the privilege of seeking

advice from many role models of earlier generations nor do they have

guidelines which will allow them to assess adequately the consequences

of such a choice (Fabe & Wikler, 1979; Holahan, 1983). Advanced

education, labor force participation, and the presence of a supportive

reference group are key factors in a woman's choice to remain childfree or

single and childfree (Ambry, 1992; Crispell, 1993; Houseknecht, 1978,

1979a, 1979b, 1982), but the long-term consequences of such a decision

have received only minimal attention. Men also have been socialized to

marry and become fathers, but sociocultural pressures are not quite as

intense for men as for women. Men's and women's decisions to remain

single and childfree warrant further investigation for the impact on

normative development and life satisfaction.

Purpose of the Study

In light of the assumption that marriage and parenthood are

synonymous with normative adult development, the primary focus of this

study was to gain an understanding of the lifespan development and life

satisfaction of adults on the basis of their marital and parenthood

statuses, in particular adults who are both single and childfree. Eight

groups were selected for study in order to control for both marital status

and parenthood status: single, childfree men and women; single mothers

and fathers; married, childfree men and women; and married mothers

and fathers.

This study was designed to (a) determine differences in lifespan

developmental stage resolution on the basis of gender, marital status,

and parenthood status; (b) determine differences in degree of life

satisfaction on the basis of gender, marital status, and parenthood

status; (c) determine relationships between lifespan developmental stage

resolution and perceived social supports, gender, marital status and

parenthood status; (d) determine relationships between degree of life

satisfaction and perceived social supports, gender, marital status, and

parenthood status; and (e) determine differences in the lifespan

developmental stage resolution and degree of life satisfaction of adults

based on age, type of single status (i.e., never married, divorced,

widowed), level of educational achievement, labor force participation and

job satisfaction, current living situation, relationship with significant

other, and whether marital status and parenthood status are by choice

or circumstance.

Research Questions

The following research questions were identified in an effort to

determine the relative importance of gender, marital status, parenthood


status, perceived social supports, and other related independent variables

to the dependent variables of life satisfaction and lifespan development

of adults, in particular adults who are both single and childfree.

1. What are the differences in degree of lifespan developmental

stage resolution on the basis of gender, marital status, and

parenthood status?

2. Are there any significant gender, marital status, and

parenthood status interactions for degree of lifespan

developmental stage resolution?

3. What are the differences in degree of life satisfaction on the

basis of gender, marital status, and parenthood status?

4. Are there any significant gender, marital status, and

parenthood status interactions for life satisfaction?

5. What are the relationships among degree of lifespan

developmental stage resolution, perceived social supports,

gender, marital status, and parenthood status?

6. What are the relationships among degree of life satisfaction,

perceived social supports, gender, marital status, and

parenthood status?

In addition to these six primary research questions, an additional

sixteen questions were formulated for data gathered in the demographic

questionnaire. The first eight questions relate to lifespan developmental

stage resolution and the second eight to life satisfaction. These

questions, asked for exploratory comparisons, are as follows:

1. Is there a difference in lifespan developmental stage

resolution based on age?

2. Is there a difference in lifespan developmental stage

resolution based on type of single status?

3. Is there a difference in lifespan developmental stage

resolution based on level of educational achievement?

4. Is there a difference in lifespan developmental stage

resolution based on labor force participation and job


5. Is there a difference in lifespan developmental stage

resolution based on current living arrangement?

6. Is there a difference in lifespan developmental stage

resolution based on relationship with a significant other?

7. Is there a difference in lifespan developmental stage

resolution based on whether marital status is by choice or


8. Is there a difference in lifespan developmental stage

resolution based on whether parenthood status is by choice

or circumstance?

9. Is there a difference in life satisfaction based on age?

10. Is there a difference in life satisfaction based on type of

single status?

11. Is there a difference in life satisfaction based on level of

educational achievement?

12. Is there a difference in life satisfaction based on labor force

participation and job satisfaction?

13. Is there a difference in life satisfaction based on current

living arrangement?

14. Is there a difference in life satisfaction based on relationship

with a significant other?

15. Is there a difference in life satisfaction based on whether

marital status is by choice or circumstance?

16. Is there a difference in life satisfaction based on whether

parenthood status is by choice or circumstance?

Significance of the Study

Information about the life satisfaction and lifespan development of

adults who have not completed the normative developmental tasks of

marriage and parenthood is limited. The general assumption is that to

be single and childfree is only a temporary status, and any gesture

towards permanency of the situation indicates a potential deficiency in

personality. The lack of information about single, childfree men and

women serves to fuel the stereotypes that already abound and a growing

segment of the population may be both underutilized and underserved.

It is important to investigate the degree of life satisfaction and life

satisfaction that may be realized by individuals who have not completed

the normative tasks of marriage and parenthood. The results will provide

information of benefit to counseling professionals in more adequately

addressing the needs of this particular population.

The results of this study could have both training and practical

implications for counselors and counselor educators as developmental

issues and influences for the life satisfaction and lifespan development of

single, childfree men and women are identified. Training programs will

be able to utilize the results of this study to provide students with

specific information about the lifespan development of single, childfree

adults and potential problem areas for this population, as well as

teaching the proactive role that counselors may take in helping men and

women to realize that the choice is theirs to make. Both counselors in

training and those currently in practice must be aware of the short- and

long-term consequences and benefits of such a choice. Theoretical bases

may be expanded and practical skills and techniques enhanced when the

findings of this study are applied by counseling professionals. The

results of this study should provide specific information relative to

lifespan developmental theory and single, childfree adults that will

increase the knowledge base about lifespan human development.

Further, the results of this study suggest ideas for other research.

Organization of Study

This research study is presented in five chapters. Chapter I is both

an introduction and an overview of the research relative to marriage,

parenthood, and lifespan development. Chapter II, Review of Related

Literature, contains research and other literature pertaining to adult

development. Chapter III presents the methodology for the study.

Chapter IV presents results of the study. Chapter V presents limitations,

a discussion and summary of the results, implications for counselors

and counselor educators, and conclusions.


For the purposes of this study the following definitions are used:

Childfree adults are those individuals who have no children, regardless of

whether that decision is by choice or circumstance.

Childless adults are those individuals who have no children, regardless

of whether that decision is by choice or circumstance.

Family household is a minimum of two persons living together, the

householder plus a relative by birth, marriage, or adoption (U.S.

Bureau of the Census, 1989a). For purposes of this study, the

operational definition will be expanded to include householder

plus significant other defined as life partner.

Household refers to a person or persons who occupy a unit of housing,

regardless of type (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989a).

Life satisfaction is a subjective assessment of an individual's overall

quality of life which, for purposes of this study, is defined

operationally as the score received on the Satisfaction with Life

Scale (SWLS) (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985).

Lifespan development is a subjective assessment of an individual's

psychosocial growth which, for purposes of this study, is defined

operationally as the scores received on the Measures of

Psychosocial Development (MPD) (Hawley, 1988).

Marriage refers to the legally recognized union between two persons.

Nonfamily household is a householder who may be living alone or who

may have a nonrelative living with him or her (U.S. Bureau of the

Census, 1989a).

Parent refers to an adult who has or shares custody of at least one child

under the age of 18 or who raised a child and that child has now

reached the age of majority.

Single person is an individual who either never has been married, is

divorced, or widowed (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989b). For

purposes of this study, the operational definition will require that

an individual must have been divorced or widowed for at least 4


Significant other refers to an individual identified as a partner, one with

whom there is a special relationship (e.g., life partner, mate,

unmarried couples of the same or opposite sex).

Social support refers to an individual's perceptions of the support

received from friends and family. For purposes of this study, social

supports will be defined operationally as the scores received on the

Perceived Social Support Friends (PSS-Fr) and Perceived Social

Support Family (PSS-Fa) (Procidano & Heller, 1983).


To study the relationships among developmental task

accomplishments, life satisfaction, and childlessness in single adults

requires familiarity with a variety of topics. The literature reviewed has

been organized into sections in order to provide the reader with a

comprehensive, systematic foundation for this study. The sections are

(a) Historical Perspectives on Lifestyle Choices, including marriage,

parenthood, pronatalism, and single, childfree adulthood;

(b) Theories of Adult Development, including subsections on the

prominent developmental theorists and developmental issues specific to

women; (c) Studies Relevant to Adult Development, Marriage, and

Parenthood; (d) Studies Specific to Single, Childfree Adults and Single

Parents; (e) Counseling Needs of Single, Childfree Adults; (f) Overview of

Assessment Techniques; and (g) Summary of the Literature.

Historical Perspectives on Lifestyle Choices

Marriage and parenthood and the associated roles of

husband/father and wife/mother have been identified as critical, gender-

related developmental tasks essential for successful adult development

(Erikson,1963; Gould, 1972; Havighurst, 1972; Peck, 1968). However,

1991 statistics show that 25% of American households are single adults

living alone and another 8% of households are single parents with

children under 18. Overall, 45% are identified as either nonfamily

households or households with no spouse present (U.S. Bureau of the

Census, 1992). Considering the historical precedents for marriage and

family, the number of theorists identifying marriage and parenthood as

critical tasks for developmental growth, and the social/cultural attitudes

and mores emphasizing marriage and parenthood, this 45% represents a

significant percentage of households in America not conforming to

normal expectations. The review of literature for this section illustrates

the evolution of marriage and parenthood roles in America as well as

provide a historical overview of single, childfree adults. The section

includes (a) historical overview of marriage and parenthood roles; (b)

overview of pronatalism; and (c) historical overview of single, childfree


Historical Overview of Marriage and Parenthood Roles

In colonial America, marriage was the primary means of gaining

independence from one's family of origin. Though choice of partner was

usually between the prospective partners, parents or guardians had

considerable control over the timing and suitability of the marriage.

Social and economic factors played a strong role in the approval process,

and choices could be vetoed that were not viewed as beneficial to the

family (Scott & Wishy, 1982). Social structure also dictated that a man

possess property and that a woman have a dowry as prerequisites for

marriage; those without property were considered dependents and

marriage was forbidden to them (Gordon, 1978; Scott & Wishy, 1982).

Life expectancy in the 17th century was only 35 years for both men

and women. Due to the high death rate, most marriages did not last

longer than 10 years, and those adults surviving to their fifties could

expect to have two to three spouses. A woman marrying at age 25, if she

survived childbirth, could expect to bear eight children before

menopause. In all likelihood, only 50% of those children would survive

to adulthood (Scott & Wishy, 1982). The high birth rate was due not so

much to lack of successful contraceptive measures but rather to the fact

that children were an economic necessity. They contributed to the

production capacity of the family and thus were perceived as economic

assets. The family was not a child-centered unit but the center of

economic activity and a production unit (Davis, 1982; Gerson, 1985).

Records indicate that although the American settlers' European

heritage and the continuing legacy of land passing from father to son

dictated patriarchal authority at the apex of the family hierarchy, there

was still a strong, collaborative, need-based relationship between the

husband/father and wife/mother in the colonial family (Demos, 1974).

A religious revival in the mid-1700s emphasizing individualistic beliefs

and responsibility for self in the personal confession of faith further

strengthened women's position in the patriarchal hierarchy (Giele, 1978).

Regardless of the working, need-based relationships developed

between men and women, men remained in a position of power over both

the women and children of his family. If the marital union were to be

dissolved, whether due to the death of the wife and mother or because of

turmoil, the father almost always received both custody of the children

and of any possessions. Women were viewed as "second class citizens"

with no viable means of support, and children were viewed as property of

the father with no rights of their own (Greif, 1985b).

The structure, strength, and foundation of 17th- and 18th-century

America was primarily provided by the family with all its attending

hierarchy, order, and authority. Education and training were ordinarily

provided in the primary family unit or by means of an apprenticeship.

Production and domestic activity were closely intertwined as functions of

the family with children and adults alike participating in both facets.

Fathers played a strong leading role in the domestic and production

training of children, particularly that of the sons of the family (Demos,

1986). The family functioned much like a small business with children

an integral part of the work force (Gerson, 1985).

As the frontier expanded and land became more readily accessible

in the last half of the 18th century, the power and control of the father

and the family began to diminish. Young men could move ahead on

their own to build a homestead so that it was no longer necessary to

wait for the father to bequeath property in order for them to marry

(Demos, 1974, 1986; Henretta, 1973). Women and men continued to

work side by side for survival and establishment of homesteads and


Though it was still primarily an agrarian economy in the early 19th

century, industrialization was slowly precipitating changes in America.

As industrialization gained momentum, production centers were moved

from the home to workplaces outside the home (Kimmel & Messner,

1992). Sometimes entire families worked in factories to earn sufficient

wages to support the family. Women not participating in the paid work

force often took in boarders to aid the family economic situation, and a

division of labor occurred within the family (Epstein, 1988). The

woman's role was specifically defined as domestic in nature and centered

in the home while the man's was more production oriented and centered

in the workplace. The women were primarily caretakers, responsible for

household management, family health (including contraception), and

childrearing (Bardwick, 1974; Giele, 1978). Men were viewed as the

economic providers for the family unit, a role that further removed them

from the day-to-day involvement with the children. This division further

diminished patriarchal authority (Kimmel & Messner, 1992). Adult roles

for men and women were viewed as very different, yet quite

complementary and equally necessary for the well-being of the family.

As the 19th century drew to a close, motherhood was emerging as a

more central role for women even as economics had them becoming more

involved in work outside the home (Gerson, 1985; Hareven, 1977). The

work was primarily domestic or mill work, but, over the coming decades,

employment was to play a significant role in the changing dynamics of

family life and in the roles of adult men and women (Giele, 1978;

Smelser, 1959). Morgan (1991) asserted that it was in the late 19th

century that rationales for the delay of marriage and parenthood emerged

with more clarity and force. The dual roles for women of worker and

wife/mother were generating conflicts, and many women were forced to

make a choice between family and work. Even though most chose

family, women continued to expand their horizons beyond the home and,

it has been suggested, that this change in focus of interest contributed

to the concomitant delay and decrease in childbearing (Morgan, 1991).

Social programs of the late 19th century were challenging the

traditional views of children as property of the father; a movement was

underway to endow children with rights and to assert the mother's role

in the childrearing process (Greif, 1985b). As a result of these efforts and

others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, motherhood emerged as

a dominant issue for women, and patriarchal authority deteriorated


The 20th century saw a phenomenal rise in life expectancy at birth

for both men and women. In 1800, the general life expectancy was 35

years; in 1900 it was 47 years; and by 1990 the average life expectancy at

birth had risen to 77 years (Scott & Wishy, 1982). With improved

methods of contraception coinciding with increasing economic and

demographic constraints in the first three decades of the 20th century,

the average birth rate dropped from eight children in the 17th century to

an average of two in the 20th century (Cookingham, 1984; Giele, 1978;

Scott & Wishy, 1982).

Social, demographic, and economic factors precipitated significant

changes in family structure, particularly in children's position in the

family economy. It was not until the early part of the 20th century that

children came to be viewed as an economic liability rather than an asset.

They had been working members of the family unit, their productivity

necessary to the family economy; now, because of school attendance and

child labor laws, they became students rather than producers (Davis,

1982; Gerson, 1985; Holmstrom, 1972). As the birthrate decreased and

motherhood status assumed a significant degree of social significance in

the first few decades of the 20th century, families became more

child-centered (Gerson, 1985; Giele, 1978; Hareven, 1977). Production

responsibility fell primarily on the father, but the family economic

picture that prevailed since the onset of industrialization continued to

force some women to maintain their paid employment while continuing

to maintain the domestic balance of the home (Gerson, 1985).

Women's responsibilities and prominence in the home, both as

wives and mothers, continued to increase with each passing decade of

the 20th century. The strong domestic profile outlined for women in the

mid-19th century, the increased stature of the motherhood role, and the

post-World War II "baby boom" were all factors in the pronatalist fervor

that was sweeping across America.


Pronatalism refers "to any attitude or policy that is 'pro-birth,' that

encourages reproduction, that exalts the role of parenthood" (Peck &

Senderowitz, 1974, p. 1). Men and women alike are exposed to the social

and cultural pressures to marry and have children. Pronatalism may be

subtle or overt, but it has been and continues to be pervasive throughout

society (Veevers, 1980). Ordinary socialization experiences exemplify the

pronatalistic ideology that directs young men and women toward

marriage and parenthood. Identity as an adult is oftentimes considered

synonymous with the ritual of marriage and the subsequent passage to

parenthood (Keith, 1980).

Historically, the social/cultural pressures to marry and have

children are most pronounced for women. The socially accepted

definition of women's role revolves around the reproductive cycle and

motherhood (Russo, 1976, 1979; Veevers, 1977). Womanhood seems to

be synonymous with motherhood and is characterized by a mandate

which "requires that one have at least two children (historically as many

as possible and preferably sons) and that one raise them 'well'" (Russo,

1976, p. 144). Little girls are socialized almost from birth in their

caregiving roles; advertising romanticizes marriage and motherhood;

popular magazines and professional journals make reference to the

maternal instinct; and then there is the sometimes relentless pressure

from family and friends to have children (Peck & Senderowitz, 1974;

Russo, 1976). The role expectations are such that they are socialized to

grow up and be just like their mothers (McWilliams, 1992).

Male experience with pronatalism is somewhat more subtle in

childhood because the initial emphasis is not on development of paternal

skills but rather on decreasing dependence on mother. Boys learn to

substitute involvement in outside activities and increased autonomy for

the connectedness with mother (Goodman, 1992). Role expectations for

young boys are such that they are socialized to be better than their

fathers, to do something more with their lives than even what their

fathers have accomplished (McWilliams, 1992). As a male adolescent

enters adulthood, the parenthood role takes on more significance; other

roles are supplemental to those of father and provider (Blake, 1974). The

pressure is on not only to produce children but to father sons to carry on

the family name and traditions (Peck & Senderowitz, 1974). Depending

on the status of the work role, "family" may be a prerequisite for

advancement or proof of a man's virility (Peck & Senderowitz, 1974).

Pronatalism has been viewed by some as a coercive form of social

control over reproductive decision making (Blake, 1974). Children are

socialized from birth for their respective gender roles, presumably

culminating in marriage and parenthood to fulfill their developmental

needs as adults. Society as a whole places a high premium on marriage

and parenthood as valued social positions. Single individuals are

encouraged to marry. Married couples are not only expected to have

children but to want to have them (Veevers, 1980). Economic benefits

such as tax deductions, social occasions recognizing engagements,

weddings, childbirths, and insurance plans that cover pregnancy but not

the termination of pregnancy all reward decisions to marry and to bear

children (Peck & Senderowitz, 1974). Motherhood has been depicted as

the ultimate experience in a woman's life and to even consider a childfree

lifestyle is to expose a woman to significant, negative social pressures

(Fabe & Wikler, 1979).

Blake (1974), in researching pronatalism, identified two "pronatalist

coercions in modern American society--the prescribed primacy of

parenthood in the definition of adult sex roles and the prescribed

congruence of personality traits with the demands of the sex roles as

defined" (p. 33). She further stated that "there is, in American society,

not only an absence of legitimate alternatives to sex roles having

parenthood as a primacy focus, but that change is particularly difficult

to effect because those individuals who might aspire to such alternatives

are suppressed and neutralized" (p. 33). The overwhelming societal

support for the gender roles of mother and father as well as the influence

of the often cited "biological clock" elicit a pronatalistic fervor that has

had a profound impact on gender role. Pronatalism in and of itself

manifests a significant presence as men and women, both married and

unmarried, make critical decisions regarding parenthood.

Historical Overview of Single. Childfree Adults

Though husband/father and wife/mother roles have been and

continue as the primary roles for men and women, to remain single and

childfree has also been a lifestyle alternative throughout history. In the

past that status has usually been reserved as a choice for women of the

middle or upper class who were caretakers, either for their own family

members or for more well-to-do families (Allen, 1989). The choice of a

religious vocation was another socially acceptable path to lifelong

singlehood for both men and women (Adams, 1976).

Marriage and parenthood were the roles of choice during the

Colonial period because they represented the most accessible path to

independence from parents. However, a dowry was an economic and

social necessity for marriage. Families incapable of providing such a

dowry for either sons or daughters found the lifestyle alternative of

singlehood as the only viable option.

In the early 19th century, as textile mills hired workers and

employment opportunities expanded for women, marital status became a

labor issue; a married woman needed her husband's permission in order

to work, and it was not until the 1850s that that law was changed

(Glele, 1978). The economic picture of the time was such, however, that

all able-bodied persons (men, women, and children) were forced to work

in order to survive. In the meantime, mill work provided the opportunity

for young single women to achieve some degree of independence from

family and yet contribute to its support (Morgan, 1991). The term

"spinster" was originally a professional designation meaning "female

spinner." As time evolved, however, the term took on negative

connotations and became synonymous with status as an unmarried

woman (Chambers-Schiller, 1984). Subsequently, women choosing a

career path delayed and/or deferred marriage and parenthood (Morgan,


As industrialization gained momentum in America, there was an

increased need for work force participation. The move from an agrarian

economy to one based on centralized, industrial output lessened the

value of the family unit and its impact on the economy. Singlehood

acquired unexpected benefits as individuals unattached to spouses or

children created a more mobile work force whose attentions were not

divided between home and work (Chambers-Schiller, 1984). This

exposure to life outside the home provided women with the opportunity

to develop new interests and direction for themselves. Singlehood,

however, while valued for its economic contributions, remained a deviant

social status for both men and women.

Historically, women's work role has always been overshadowed by the

assumption that they would first fulfill their reproductive role and the

motherhood mandate (Hare-Mustin & Broderick, 1979). However,

women choosing a career path often delayed and/or deferred both

marriage and parenthood (Morgan, 1991). It was also the sentiment that

women, even single women, should not be competing for positions in the

workplace when jobs were scarce and men needed to work to support

their families (Blake, 1974). The only really appropriate times for women

to enter the workforce were out of economic necessity or to fill gaps in

the labor force if an insufficient number of men were available for work.

Societal changes such as gender role equality, increased labor force

participation, and educational opportunities for women have somewhat

altered attitudes toward parenthood (Gerson, Berman, & Morris, 1991;

Jacobson & Heaton, 1991). However, age and marital status continue as

the most significant variables impacting the rate of childlessness

(Jacobson, Heaton, & Taylor. 1988; Jacobson & Heaton, 1991). Gerson,

Berman, and Morris (1991) stated, "As American culture changes and

parenthood becomes more an option than an imperative, it is important

to understand what parenthood means to the evolving adult--both to

women and to men--and its role as a pivotal point in adult development"

(p. 337).

Theories of Adult Development

This section is primarily an overview of the predominant theories

of adult development that, coincidentally, have been written primarily by

men and are almost exclusively based on men's experiences. The review

also provides insight to each theorist's perspective on marriage and

parenthood and the relative importance of the associated roles,

husband/father and wife/mother, for successful development. The

developmental significance of being a single parent or remaining both

single and childfree also are addressed. The final portion of this section

addresses specific developmental issues for women.


Erikson (1963, 1964. 1982) and Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick (1986)

identified sequential developmental crises and corresponding basic

virtues or strengths as central features of his "eight ages of man" model

of lifespan development. He then utilized the principles of epigenesis to

establish the sequence and flow of the developmental process.

Epigenesis, inherent to stage theory because of its building block

approach to development, implies that "for a given developmental process

to transpire, others have to have transpired before it, and that the

resolution of any given prior crisis is not fixed for all time but must

develop further at all subsequent stages" (Smelser, 1980, p. 20). The

implication is that the crisis resolution must be adequate at each stage

or it will hinder development in subsequent stages (Dacey, 1982).

The crises are the focal point for each of the eight stages; five

stages pertain to childhood and adolescence and three are specific to

adult development. The identified crisis for each stage, for example,

intimacy versus isolation, represents the extremes or positive and

negative forces at either end of a social interaction continuum. The

basic virtue which is acquired upon successful resolution of the crisis for

each stage is a prerequisite for individual growth and the well-being of

society (Elkind, 1982; Erikson, 1963, 1964, 1982; Erikson et al, 1986).

Erikson's three stages of adulthood are based on the premise that

"when childhood and youth come to an end, life, so the saying goes,

begins: by which we mean work or study for a specified career, sociability

with the other sex, and in time, marriage and a family of one's own"

(Erikson, 1959, p. 95). The stage six crisis represents the continuum of

intimacy versus isolation; the desired strength resulting from crisis

resolution in stage six should be the capacity to love. It is at this point

in the developmental process that an individual should be able to

commit to another individual without regard for the gain and/or cost to

self. This commitment usually manifests itself in a marriage

relationship (Erikson, 1963).

Stage seven represents a crisis of generativity versus stagnation

whereby the individual should be able to demonstrate a concern for

generations to come; the capability to care and be concerned should

result from successful resolution of that crisis. Parenthood is the most

commonly accepted means of achieving generativity (Erikson, 1963).

Erikson (1964) expressed the idea that the strengths which result from

successful resolution of these crises are essential both for individual and

societal growth. He stated that "strength of the generations depends on

the process by which the youths of the two sexes find their respective

identities, fuse them in love and marriage, revitalize their respective

traditions, and together create and 'bring up' the next generation" (p.

586). However, interpretations of Erikson's work suggest that though

parenthood is important, it is not sufficient by itself to achieve

generativity (Snarey, Kuehne, Son, Houser, & Vaillant, 1987).

The final stage of Erikson's model is a crisis of ego integrity versus

despair and disgust. Eriksonian theory suggests that ego integrity may

be realized from the knowledge that one has lived a reasonably satisfying

life and that the crisis resolution includes the development of wisdom as

a strength (Erikson, 1963).

According to Erikson's theory, marriage and parenthood are two

developmental tasks that should be accomplished in order to facilitate

individual growth. As mentioned previously, intimacy is best established

in the marital relationship, while the crisis of generativity versus

stagnation is most logically resolved by the procreation and raising of

children. The implications in Eriksonian theory for lifespan

development and life satisfaction are that only with the successful

resolution of the crisis at each stage can one expect to have both positive

individual growth in lifespan development and a positive degree of life


Erikson's model of lifespan development has been described by

some as the cornerstone for more in-depth study of the adult life cycle

and as one of the more comprehensive theories on human development

(Morgan & Farber, 1982; Simmermon & Schwartz, 1986; Wrightsman,

1988). His work is a forerunner of the theories yet to be presented.

Peck (1968) modified Erikson's eighth stage of development, Ego

Integrity versus Despair, to include seven stages encompassing the

chronological periods of middle age and old age. For middle age, Peck

proposed the following crises to be resolved: Valuing Wisdom versus

Valuing Physical Powers, Socializing versus Sexualizing in Human

Relationships, Cathectic Flexibility versus Cathectic Impoverishment,

and Mental Flexibility versus Mental Rigidity. The stages for old age

included: Ego Differentiation versus Work-Role Preoccupation, Body

Transcendence versus Body Preoccupation, and Ego Transcendence

versus Ego Preoccupation. This breakdown proposed by Peck would allow

for a similarly intense study of the adult years as Erikson provided for

the childhood and adolescent years.

Contrary to Erikson's premise of age-related stages, Peck (1968)

proposed that the variability in timing of events in adulthood precludes a

sequential process for the stages and the crises they represent. Events

will happen at different times for different people, hence chronological

age may need to be disregarded when looking at homogenous groupings

for developmental tasks. Peck was quite clear when presenting his ideas

that it was not chronological age but developmental tasks that should

link adults with specified stages in the developmental process.

In Peck's (1968) presentation regarding adult development,

marriage and parenthood were not specifically listed as necessary

prerequisites for successful development, but there are some underlying

assumptions that may be noted throughout the narrative. Several of

the examples provided by Peck focus on one's children, on those children

growing up and leaving home, and on a parent's relationship with adult

children. Examples provided were primarily presented from a male

perspective. The implications are that satisfactory resolution of each

stage's crisis would be indicative of positive developmental growth and a

positive degree of life satisfaction.


Havighurst (1972) identified specific developmental tasks to be

accomplished during a specified stage of the life cycle. The six stages,

similar to Erikson's in that they are both age specific, are based on the

supposition that particular life events occur at a certain chronological

age because of both physical maturation and socio-cultural pressures.

Again congruent with Erikson's philosophy, Havighurst postulated that

sequential completion of these tasks would ensure a sound, steadfast

developmental process (Huyck & Hoyer, 1982).

Four of the eight developmental tasks in Havighurst's Early

Adulthood stage (ages 18-30) were specific to marriage or parenthood.

These tasks included selecting a spouse and learning to live with that

individual as well as starting a family and raising children (Havighurst,

1972). In his Middle Age stage covering the ages from 30 to 60, the tasks

included learning to relate to one's marriage partner as an individual and

helping one's children become responsible adults. In his final stage of

Later Maturity, he wrote of adjusting to the death of one's marriage

partner as one of six developmental tasks to be accomplished

(Havighurst, 1972).

Havighurst's work, again similar to that of Erikson, appears to

equate "typical" developmental patterns and tasks with "normal"

patterns and tasks of development. In other words, "it assumes that all

people marry and have children" (Wrightsman, 1988, p. 103). This

supposition mandates a sequential pattern with age-related criterion for

normalcy. To be out of step with the timing of developmental tasks or

not to complete some tasks would indicate harmful consequences for

successful development and less than satisfactory life satisfaction

(Huyck & Hoyer, 1982).


Gould's (1972, 1975. 1978, 1980) work on adult development

describes six very specific age-related developmental periods (ages 16-60

inclusive) in adulthood. Similar in process to Erikson's developmental

stages, Gould presents a well-ordered sequence of developments that

challenge internally held assumptions acquired in childhood (Smelser,

1980). The basic developmental task recurring across the lifespan is to

dispense with these false assumptions associated with each period that

may once have served some purpose but are current roadblocks to

continued maturation (Smelser, 1980). These sequential changes or

transformations are processes whereby individuals overcome internal

obstacles to achieve greater self-confidence and autonomy (Gould, 1980).

Gould's work for each of the six periods includes a title to describe

the developmental task to be accomplished, false assumptions to be

overcome in the satisfaction of that task, and issues that may further

complicate the successful attainment of the task. He writes extensively

on each period, never stating succinctly that marriage and parenthood

are prerequisites for successful development but issues relative to family,

spouse, career, parents, and children are prevalent throughout the

narrative (Gould, 1978). His research is based on interviews with both

men and women, but the results were not analyzed by gender or

presented by gender.


Levinson's conceptualization of adult development focuses on

study of the individual life structure over extended periods of time and

from both sociological and psychological perspectives (Levinson, 1980;

Levinson, Darrow, Klein, Levinson, & McKee, 1978). The life structure

represents the pattern of an individual's relationships with self and with

the world at large at any given point in life. Everyone and everything

that has some measure of significance for the individual is a part of that

pattern. Each relationship has both external and internal components

to be developed. Internal components refer to those aspects of the self

which must be developed and utilized for the relationship. External

components pertain to factors other than the self which are a party to

the relationship and which also must be developed.

Levinson's theoretical basis reflects a combination of stage theory

similar to Erikson's and dialectical concepts that focus on four polarities

to be confronted in mid-life. The life structure is subdivided into

"structure-building" and "structure-changing (transitional)" periods, both

of equal importance and value in the relatively well-ordered sequence of

development presented by Levinson (1980) and Levinson et al. (1978).

The building periods range from 6 to 10 years in duration. Transitional

periods extend approximately 5 years and serve as the link between as

well as being a part of two successive building periods. In describing the

life cycle, Levinson (1980) and Levinson et al. (1978) combined several

successive building and transition periods to form an era; four eras

comprised the entire life cycle. Three eras are specific to adulthood and

generally encompass the ages 17 to 65 plus.

The second era, Early Adulthood, is comprised of the following:

Early Adult Transition (ages 17 to 22); Entering the Adult World (ages 22

to 28); Age Thirty Transition (ages 28 to 33); Settling Down and

Becoming One's Own Man (ages 33 to 40); and Mid-life Transition (ages

40 to 45) as the link with both the next period and the next era. Middle

Adulthood is the third era and encompasses the following periods:

Entering Middle Adulthood (ages 45 to 50); Age Fifty Transition (ages 50

to 55); Culmination of Middle Adulthood (ages 55 to 60); and finally the

Late Adult Transition (ages 60 to 65) as the link to the era of Late

Adulthood (ages 65 plus) (Levinson, 1980; Levinson et al., 1978).

Levinson's published research (Levinson, 1980; Levinson et al.,

1978) on adult development is primarily focused on the life structure of

men. He does suggest, however, that the periods of Early Adulthood

would be similar for both genders but that the primary issues of the

period would differ for each. Marriage and family are mentioned as key

components of the individual life structure for men.

Levinson (personal communication, 1993) discussed the adult

development of women, specifically in relation to motherhood. He

indicated that the cultural insistence on motherhood which is first

presented during childhood creates many problems for women. If women

cannot get beyond the cultural definitions for womanhood, then forms of

family life that are equitable for both men and women will be virtually

inaccessible. He also believes that the Age Thirty Transition previously

mentioned operates just as strongly for women as for men.

The theories that have been presented are relatively well recognized

and accepted as the springboard for any discussion on the topic of adult

development. Generally, these theories categorize parenting as a "pivotal

point and base subsequent stage tasks upon that role" (Somers, 1993, p.

649). At issue, however, is the fact that these theories have been written

primarily about men and by men. The study of adult development is an

evolutionary process affected by the perceptions of different age cohorts,

cultural and social influences, and the historical landscape of the time.

There has been a great deal of discussion as to whether there are gender

differences in development; the remainder of this section is a review of

research specific to developmental issues for women.

Developmental Issues for Women

As expressed throughout the Historical Perspectives, women's

primary tasks have always been caring for and nurturing others. Those

tasks have been categorized as having lesser status and value than the

work-oriented tasks assigned to men; hence, women's second class

status is a derivative of their life tasks. Some researchers have begun to

challenge the male-oriented theories of development which imply that

women are deviant or inferior in their developmental process because

they do not follow the prescribed stages or timelines. These researchers

suggest that women's development is not inferior or deviant but rather

that it is just different from that experienced by men.

Since most women do not follow a traditional role pattern similar

to that of men, Barnett and Baruch (1978) have suggested that the

chronological age, stage theory approach to development is not

appropriate for women. In their review of research and theory on

women's development, they noted that women have a variety of role

patterns and that reproduction is not necessarily the focal point of those

patterns. The two researchers also reflected on Erikson's premise that a

woman's identity is not solidified until she marries; subsequently, one

would assume that an unmarried woman has not and cannot resolve her

identity and, therefore, is not capable of successful development. They

assert that there are other variables, that is, work involvement, work

status, social support networks, and locus of control, that have a more

significant impact on development than chronological age and

traditional role patterns.

Miller (1976) was one of the first researchers to advance the idea

that the characteristics of women that had heretofore been viewed as

weaknesses, for example, caring and nurturing, were really to be seen as

strengths. Women's relationships, vulnerability to losses, and

connections to others were really the foundation of their developmental

process, not the autonomy and independence that was expected and

accepted for men. This premise aligns itself closely with the designated

relational tasks (marriage and motherhood) that have long been

associated with women and their place in society, but it does not specify

that those life tasks are a prerequisite for successful development. Giele

(1978) presented a similar concept that women's emphasis on

relationships and the interdependence fostered by relationships runs

parallel in importance to the achievement and individuation goals that

are emphasized for men. She wrote of a revolution in sex roles that

would precipitate a blending of male and female roles, a crossover that

would promote equality and acceptance of female differences (Giele,


Rossi (1977, 1980) proposed that the identified differences in

women's and men's developmental patterns could first be attributed to

biological differences and the fact that only women had the capacity to

bear children. She indicated that this capacity does indeed play a

significant role in women's development. Chodorow (1978) submitted

that sex of the primary caretaker plays a major role in socialization and

development of the child. Her premise was that if the mother is the

primary caretaker, then a female child is more likely to have similar

developmental patterns to the mother and focus on attachments and

relationships; a male child will be encouraged to move toward work

related ties and independence.

Scarf (1980), researching the different "pressure points" in women's

lives, wrote primarily of the depression experienced by women in different

phases of the life cycle and the losses that were often associated with

that depression. Her premise, founded on extensive research as well as

on the basis of intensive interviews with her subjects, once again

proscribed the central role that relationships play in a women's

development. Bardwick (1980), paralleling Levinson's research on men,

highlighted degree of independence for different age groups of women.

She found that, regardless of age or independence factors, women's

development was viewed from within the context of building and

sustaining relationships. Marriage and parenthood have significant roles

in women's lives.

Gilligan's (1980, 1982a, 1982b) research with adults was directed

at highlighting the differences in developmental patterns for individuals.

She presented data based on male and female perceptions of situations

that profiled themes of attachment for women and separation for men.

In summarizing the findings, Gilligan reported that the differences can

first be attributed to environmental rather than biological

factors--women are almost always the providers of early child care, and

early identity formation for both male and female children is impacted by

that contact. Gender is not so much the issue as is socialization

(1982a, 1982b). The varying responses that surface during the adolescent

identity crisis and carry over into the young adult crisis of intimacy

versus isolation demonstrate "typical" male direction based on issues of

separation and autonomy and female direction based on issues of

attachment and care (1982a, 1982b).

It has been said that involvement in intimate relationships is what

provides women with enjoyment in life while their work roles,

homemaker or professional identity, enable them to feel worthwhile. In

researching women's development and subsequent sense of well-being,

Baruch, Barnett, and Rivers (1983) determined that there is not one set

pattern of development to guarantee women's sense of well-being.

Approximately 300 women aged 35 to 55 participated in the study.

Subdivided into six groups characterized by marital, employment, and

motherhood status, the groups provided the authors with the

opportunity to analyze women's different patterns of development. They

found that it was a composite of women's sense of pleasure (enjoyment)

and sense of mastery (work involvement) that determine successful

development and sense of well-being.

Balance issues appear to predominate women's development rather

than the age-specific stage approaches theorized by Erikson and

Levinson. Dimidjian (1982), in her study of six female psychotherapists,

noted that relational ties constitute the foundation of women's

development. As development progresses, women strive for a balance of

love for self or others and some form of work involvement, be it home

oriented or a professional identity. Marriage and parenthood are not

heralded as critical entities for successful development, but relationship

ties with significant others are crucial.

Peck's (1986) work on a model for women's self-definition balanced

two facets that are interdependent--social/historical factors and a

theoretical approach emphasizing relationships and connectedness. She

determined that women's self-definition was quite different from the

Eriksonian concepts of autonomy and identity; "self-definition is

described as an internal knowledge of oneself-in-the-world, a knowledge

gained through connectedness, not through separateness" (p. 282).

Peck's work, though identifying the centrality of relationships to women's

development, does not focus on marriage and motherhood as the primary

means of forming those ties.

This section has provided an overview of the major theories of

adult development, particularly in regard to the sanctity of marriage and

parenthood as essential developmental tasks, as well as a brief

presentation on developmental issues specific to women. As noted, the

existing theories of adult development have significant limitations

because they do not address lifespan developmental processes for

individuals who are single and childfree. The underlying assumption,

that all adults will marry and bear children, adds further credence to the

stereotype of single, childfree adults as deviant personalities, ones

incapable of successful development and any positive degree of life

satisfaction. The studies reviewed for the following section further

illustrate the major presence of marriage and parenthood in the

literature on adult development.

Studies Relevant to Adult Development. Marriage.
and Parenthood

There are relatively few research studies which specifically address

both men's and women's development. The most prominent are reviewed

in this section with specific attention directed to references on marriage

and parenthood.

General Studies on Development

Neugarten (1968), noted researcher on adult development and

aging, has long been a primary influence both in the study of and

ascertaining the differences between the lifespan developmental patterns

of men and women. Her work recognizes the theoretical constructs set

forth by men such as Erikson and Levinson, but she also emphasizes

that the timing of normative life events is based on social as well as

biological influences, that rapid social changes in both the family and

work cycles are having a strong impact on that timing and the flow of the

life cycle itself, and that men and women respond to different influences

when assessing their own development (1979). While Neugarten does not

designate specific tasks as essential to satisfactory development and life

satisfaction, she does state that "individuals do develop a concept of the

'normal, expectable life cycle,' a set of anticipations that certain life

events will occur at certain times ... (Neugarten, 1979, p. 888). Some of

those anticipated events include the best age for a man or women to

marry, the best age to have children, and the age when most people

should become grandparents (Neugarten, 1968; 1979). Her research

addresses the complications encountered when one believes they are off

time in their development, but the issue of completely bypassing a task

(e.g., remaining single and/or childfree) has not yet been addressed.

Lowenthal, Thurnber, Chiriboga, and Associates (1975) interviewed

216 men and women who were divided into four groups and facing one of

four major and yet normative life transitions. The groups and their

associated transitions included (a) high school seniors facing graduation,

(b) adults about to become newlyweds, (c) men and women in the empty

nest stage, and (d) adults preparing for retirement. Sampling selection

was based on participation in one of the transition periods and not on

chronological age. Fiske and Chiriboga (1990) interviewed this same

group of individuals four more times over a 10-year period to complete a

longitudinal study of sufficient length to document change and illustrate

age cohort differences. As already noted, marriage and empty nest were

two of the four transitions presented as the study narratives supported

marriage and parenthood as normative events for adult development.

The study results also documented the significant contribution that

other social supports (i.e., friends, coworkers, career, etc.) may provide

for the well-being of adults (Lowenthal et al., 1975; Fiske & Chiriboga,


Sheehy's popular book, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life

(1974), relates the personal stories of approximately 115 men and women

of middle class America between the ages of 18 and 50. She relates the

crises and transitions of adulthood for these individuals because they, as

middle class citizens, are viewed as "carriers of our social values" (p. 24)

and a group that "has the greatest number of options and the least

amount of obstacles to choosing their lives" (p. 24). Her work is

influenced by that of Erikson, Levinson, and Gould as she writes of the

different patterns of development for men and women and the crises

those differences create for couples. Marriage, parenthood, and

relationships, in general, are explored as to the roles they play in an

individual's developmental pattern. There is some mention of the single

and/or childfree lifestyle for men and women but no discussion of the

impact of that choice on the individuals involved.

Studies on Marriage

Marriage, a normative role which the majority of men and women

will experience in their lifetimes, is purported to have an influence on life

satisfaction and overall psychological well-being. The general consensus

is that marriage is both a socially accepted and expected role for adult

men and women and that it provides the best opportunity to develop a

stable, intimate relationship (Baruch, Barnett, & Rivers, 1983;

Haring-Hidore, Stock, Okun, & Witter, 1985; Kammeyer, 1986).

Campbell, Converse, and Rodgers (1976), when comparing married

and unmarried individuals, concluded that single individuals (e.g., never

married, separated, divorced, widowed) did not have as high a degree of

life satisfaction as those who were married. Furthermore, the life

satisfaction of the never married individuals was not likely to increase

with age and the dissatisfaction was greater for men than for women.

Overall, their research concluded that out of the 15 factors measured as

predictors of global well-being, marriage and parenthood were determined

to be the two most significant measures.

Campbell (1981) reported that changes in well-being were not

necessarily associated with a specific age or time period but with a social

role change. He identified six stages where major social role changes

were evident and had the potential to impact life satisfaction. The stages

are (a) early unmarried adulthood, (b) early childless marriage, (c)

married with preschool child, (d) married with schoolage children, (e)

married with youngest child over 17, and (f) widowhood (p. 182).

Interestingly enough, all six stages had some link with marriage and/or

parenthood. He also isolated five "discrepant" groups to account for

those individuals who did not conform to the typical stage pattern

previously outlined. The five groups are (a) over 30 years old, never

married, (b) over 30 years old, married with no children, (c) separated and

divorced, (d) unmarried parents, and (d) single parents (p. 183). Upon

examination, each of these "discrepant" groups is missing either the

marital connection, parenthood stage, or both marriage and parenthood

links. Again, one would assume that since six major life stages and five

"discrepant" groups revolve around the presence or absence of marriage

and parenthood in individual lives, that the impact of those tasks on life

satisfaction would be significant.

Campbell's (1981) research on well-being in America found the


Being single is not associated with high feelings of well-being
in either sex, either before or after age 30, and it seems a
particularly unrewarding condition for men. Anyone who
remains single beyond the usual age of marriage in a society
which expects everyone to marry has an adjustment to make.
Repeated studies have shown that men make this
adjustment less well than women, although the differences
are not dramatic. .. Men appear to suffer more from the
absence of a wife than women do from the absence of a
husband. .. We have seen that the absence of children
does not appear to impair the quality of a marriage; we now
see that the absence of marriage is strongly associated with
feelings of ill-being .... The fact of being unmarried in a
society which almost universally regards marriage as the
natural human condition, and develops Its institutions
around it, puts a single man or woman in a situation he or
she cannot ignore. It raises questions of inadequacy and
failure to achieve a status which society considers essential
to a full life The major failing in the single life, one
must assume, is the lack of the intimate psychological
support which marriage seems uniquely capable of giving.
(pp. 196-198)

Campbell reported that single individuals could substitute other

social supports to provide the intimacy that one is missing from the

marital relationship; the likelihood of a successful substitution

occurring or even being attempted were minimal, however. Overall,

Campbell noted that there was not even one variation of the single

status that provided the satisfaction of marriage and the married

lifestyle, that children are not critical to an individual's overall sense of

well-being, and that single parents have a generally low life satisfaction

and sense of well-being.

Gove, Hughes, and Style (1983) found that it is the quality of a

marriage more so than the institution of marriage itself that has an

impact on the mental health and well being of individuals. Marital

status appears to be more important to men than to women while

quality of the marriage is more important to women. Haring-Hidore,

Stock, Okun, and Witter (1985) reported that, contrary to their proposed

hypotheses, being married was more closely associated with well-being

for men than it was for women and the presence of a spouse was more

important to younger individuals than to the older ones. In the

literature reviewed for their research, earlier studies demonstrated more

significant correlations between marriage and well-being than

correlations substantiated in subsequent studies. Overall, there was not

a substantive correlation between marriage and well-being. Although

Inglis and Greenglass (1989) noted that women have a much higher

motivation to marry than men, the perceived benefits of marriage were

similar for both genders. Love, companionship, and someone to share

things with were the top three benefits identified.

Flanagan's (1982) research on quality of life for older persons

found that spouse, children, and material well-being were the top three

determinants of a positive quality of life for both men and women aged

68 to 73 years old. Fifty-three percent of the men reported that their

spouse was the single dominant influence in their own perceived positive

quality of life while another 8% said their children were the most

dominant factor. For the women, 27% reported that their children were

the most significant factor while 17% rated their spouse as having the

most positive impact on their quality of life. As explanation for the

different spousal rankings, Flanagan did note that while 78% of the men

were married, only 34% of the women were married and living with their

husbands. He also reported that 19% of the women selected friends,

socializing, or relatives as the single most important determinant of their

positive quality of life.

Studies on Parenthood

Parenthood is assumed to be a normative role of adulthood and a

socially expected outcome of marriage. There has been a deviant status

attached to those adults who do not conform to this typical pattern of

behavior (Bell & Eisenberg, 1985; Campbell, 1981; Veevers, 1973).

Gutmann (1975) noted that parenthood plays a crucial, controlling role

in the male and female life cycle and is "the point at which individual

satisfaction intersects with species need. For most adult humans,

parenthood is still the ultimate source of the sense of meaning" (p. 170).

Newman and Newman (1988) also suggested that "it is highly unlikely

that the enactment of the parent role should prove detrimental for most

adults. On the contrary, we suspect that parenting brings new levels of

insight and social commitment that contribute in positive ways to the

overall evolution of the culture" (p. 314). Parenthood is viewed as a

prolonged growth producing stage of the life cycle that is of extreme

importance to both adult development and survival of society (Gutmann,

1975; Newman & Newman, 1988). Gerson, Berman, and Morris (1991)

stated, "Of all the aspects of adult development, becoming a parent is the

most integral to sex role development, particularly for women" (p. 329).

Veevers (1973), in working to delineate the social meanings of

parenthood and nonparenthood, identified themes around which each of

the meanings revolved. The research article, divided into sections

regarding the various themes, had subtitles such as Parenthood as a

Religious Moral Obligation," "Parenthood as Civic Responsibility," and

"Parenthood and Normal 'Mental Health.'" The definitions of parenthood

delineated a positive role for parenthood with each theme. For example,

the theme of "marriage" is aligned with the this definition: "Desire for

parenthood is the meaning of marriage; being a parent improves marital

adjustment and prevents divorce" (Veevers, 1973, p. 293). The definition

of nonparenthood as related to "marriage" was much more negative in

tone and read as follows: "Lack of desire for parenthood destroys the

meaning of marriage; not being a parent hinders marital adjustment and

increases divorce proneness" (Veevers, 1973, p. 293). As presented in this

research article, parenthood is not only a responsibility and a pleasure

but also a necessity for successful adult development.

Connidis and McMullin (1993) compared four categories of adults

in reference to their parental status--childless by choice, childless by

circumstance, parents close to their children, and parents distant from

their children--and their subsequent subjective well-being. Results of

the study found no significant differences between parents close to their

children and those adults choosing to remain childfree. The most

significant differences were between the parents who identified

themselves as having a close relationship with their children and the

adults who were childless by circumstance. The differences could be

attributed to an individual's perceptions of the quality of relationships.

Neither the presence of children nor the frequency of contact were

accurate indicators of subjective well-being and this finding further

emphasized the importance in measuring quality of relationships.

With the information thus far presented on development, marriage,

and parenthood, there Is sufficient evidence documented to verify the

enormity of social pressures on adults to marry and bear children. For

those adults who, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, remain single

and childfree, there are stigmas and stereotypes which must either be

confronted or ignored. The following section is a presentation of

available research relative to the life satisfaction and developmental task

accomplishments of single childfree adults and single parents.

Studies Specific to Single. Childfree Adults and Single Parents

With all the historical, theoretical, and socio/cultural factors

influencing adult men's and women's decisions for marriage and

parenthood, there are still approximately 30% of the American

population who are single and childfree and another 8% who are single

parents. Twenty-two percent of all children under the age of 18 are living

with the custodial mother and another 3% are living with a custodial

father. In 1970, only 12% of children under the age of 18 lived with a

single parent compared with a total of 25% in 1991 (U.S.Bureau of the

Census, 1992). There is a limited amount of research specific to single

adults, and the majority of the work has been focused on issues of single

women. Childlessness has received somewhat more attention than has

singlehood but even that research is focused primarily on married

couples or married women, whether they are voluntary or involuntary

nonparticipants in parenthood. Though there is only a limited amount

of information available on the single, childfree and single parent

segments of the population, it does not diminish the importance of their

presence in society. Though single, childfree status is not as maligned

today as it was 10 or even 5 years ago, social values still place a special

seal of approval on those who select marriage and parenthood for

enactment of their primary gender role responsibilities.

Single. Childfree Adults

When taken at face value, many single, childfree adults appear to

be leading rather successful, satisfying lives without having fulfilled

either of the gender-related developmental tasks considered necessary for

normative adult development--marriage and parenthood and the

associative roles of husband/father and wife/mother. Though most of

the literature available on single, childfree adults does not specifically

address their developmental issues relative to adult development

theories, it does provide insights to their life patterns and life


Much of literature's early attention to single, childfree adults,

sparse though it was, appeared in publications about older persons.

Primarily focused on individuals whose spouses were deceased, never

married individuals received limited attention, most of which centered on

their lifelong isolation (Clark & Anderson, 1967; Gubrium, 1974;

Townsend, 1957, 1968; Tumstall, 1966). Gubrium (1975) was among the

first to devote more attention to singles, albeit single older persons, in

America. Twenty-two single older persons, ranging in age from 60 to 94,

participated in the study which focused on their own perceived quality of

life. The results indicated that although the study participants were

relative social isolates, they did not describe themselves as lonely nor did

they compartmentalize the stages of their life. They viewed themselves as

independent personalities and were somewhat taken aback, If not

personally affronted, by questions that inferred some stereotypical

behavior and attitudes for older persons. They believed social isolation

to be a normal pattern and viewed their lives as one continuous pattern

of life events. The questions for the study had been formulated with the

"normal" developmental patterns of older adults in mind and responses

of the single older adults identified them as a distinct social type.

Ward (1979) analyzed data collected during the General Social

Surveys from 1972 through 1977. The object of his research was the

never married older persons who were said to comprise anywhere from 4%

to 6% of the general population aged 50 and over. His analysis included

an investigation of the impact of singlehood on well-being and sources of

well-being for the never married older person. Utilizing two measures of

subjective well-being, his findings indicated that never married older

persons do not fare as well as married older persons on indices regarding

global happiness and perceptions of life as exciting. When compared

with individuals who were divorced or widowed, never married individuals

rated slightly but not significantly higher on both indicators. Some

variables which are deemed as significant predictors of happiness for

never married older persons include income level, overall health status,

availability of extended support networks, educational level, and

participation in outside activities. Educational level, availability of

extended support networks, and participation in outside activities were

also significant variables when determining if a never married older

person would perceive their life as exciting. Ward concluded that some

of the unhappiness attributed to never married older persons may in part

be due to the fact that these individuals are living in a society that

places a major emphasis on marriage and family. Some of the findings

may also be unique to this particular age cohort and period.

Utilizing data from a national survey conducted in 1974 by Louis

Harris and Associates, Bachrach (1980) examined the relationship

between childlessness and the social isolation of older persons. Both

indicators used to determine degree of social isolation, whether or not

the individual lives alone and number of social contacts within the

previous 2 days, found that childless older persons were more likely to

live alone than those with children and those living alone were less likely

to have had any social contacts within the 2 previous days. Overall

health status and employment background were two variables shown to

have an impact on degree of social isolation. Analysis of the data

indicated that childless older persons who were in good health and had

been engaged in professional employment were likely to have more social

contacts and a lesser degree of social isolation than those in poor health

or from working class backgrounds. Bachrach noted that these data on

level of employment impacting social isolation were not supported by

other studies nor did they distinguish between voluntarily childfree and

involuntarily childless older persons.

Never married individuals respond in different ways to societal

reactions and/or actions toward their status. Keith (1980) examined

role transitions experienced by single adults as well as two diverse

models of singlehood that represent opposing extremes of social and

choice continuums for that status. Since marriage is viewed as a key

role in the developmental pattern of adults, the assumption could be

made that adults remaining single are roleless for that aspect of their

development. However, Keith proposed that singles do experience role

transitions as they move among Stein's (1978) categories of singlehood

and identified four variables that impact the acceptability of each

transition. The degree of control which a single individual has been able

to exercise over their marital status, the amount of anticipatory

socialization that has been exercised to prepare for singlehood as well as

the timing of any changes are all key variables in acceptance of the single

role and overall well-being. The final variable, the individuals's

perception of the importance of marital status to their overall adaptation

to life, has a direct connection with the two models of singlehood. The

traditional model proposes that singleness is an involuntary, negative,

deviant state occupied only by those individuals for whom marriage is

not possible. There are two categories within the traditional model, one

which suggests that the individual is single because of negative

characteristics while the other infers that negative characteristics are

assumed by the individual because of the enormous societal expectations

for marriage. The Vanguard model proposes that singlehood is a positive

status, not without conflict and role strain, but with a conscious

decision made to remain single. Keith suggested that an individual's

adaptation to singlehood and subsequent degree of well-being depends to

a great extent on the variables presented.

Stein (1975, 1978, 1981, 1983) suggested that the stereotypes of

singles are not true, that the diversity among individuals who are single

is as great as the diversity among married persons. He presented a

typology of singlehood that categorizes individuals into one of four

classifications based on the stability of their status and whether it is

voluntary or involuntary. The classifications include voluntary

temporary, voluntary stable, involuntary temporary, and involuntary

stable. Just as status of a marriage may change, so may the status of

single individuals but without any public rites of passage such as those

accorded adults in the "normal" pattern of development.

Though the literature on single, childfree adults is minimal, the

majority of what is available is focused on single, childfree women. The

results of Baker's (1968) comparison of 38 never-married women and 38

married women with children did not support the conventional

stereotypes of single, childfree women as unfulfilled persons with poor

personal and social adjustment. The results are not generalizable to the

overall population; however, they did demonstrate that single women's

social roles make a strong contribution to their sense of personal worth.

Employment significant to each individual was also identified as a factor

in single women's personal and social adjustment. Baker concluded that

women do not need to have a husband and children in order to feel

fulfilled and have a positive degree of life satisfaction.

Gigy (1980) also compared single, childfree women with married

women and married women with children in order to examine differences

in self-concept. Concentrating on a group of women whose average age

was 39, she investigated the premise that, based on societal attitudes

and the sparse amount of literature available, single women would have

negative self-concepts. However, the findings were contrary to the

predictions. Single women were found to be assertive and independent

with a strong focus on personal growth and achievement, whereas

married women tended to place more emphasis on interpersonal

relationships. The data did suggest that the fathers of single women

were likely to be college educated and have professional occupations,

while the mothers, though college educated, did not work. It would

appear that independence and self-determination are two characteristics

closely aligned with women selecting singlehood and that those two

traits also are evident in women with more education and professional


Sixty single, childfree women aged 35 to 65 participated in a study

to explore variables impacting their life satisfaction. The interview

schedules focused on satisfactions and stresses, emotional relationships,

investment in work, and help seeking behaviors. The life satisfaction of

these women was found to be comparable to that of the general

population, with similar characteristics expressed for both, relative to

educational attainment and occupational level. Significant correlations

were found between life satisfaction and good health, strong network of

friends, investment in work, living situation that offered peer

companionship (i.e., having a female roommate), and not feeling lonely

(Loewenstein, Bloch, Campion, Epstein, Gale. & Salvatore, 1981).

Beckman and Houser (1982) reported that the social-psychological

well-being of childfree, widowed older women was lower than that of

married older women with grown children. Further analyses showed that

the differences could not really be attributed to the absence of children

but rather to the change in marital status due to death of a spouse,

religious preference, insufficient social interactions, and weak social

support networks. The authors noted that to be in poor health, old,

unmarried, and childfree was synonymous with having low social-

psychological well-being. Myers and Navin (1984), studying the impact of

childlessness on older women, reported that any of the changes and

losses associated with the normative aging process are also experienced

by this percentage of the female population. However, the authors

indicated that the overall impact of those changes may be more

significant for childless older women because of the absence of children

and subsequent absence of resources and support networks which

children usually provide for aging parents. Most likely, the childless

older women, married and single, had been subjected to a great many

stigmatizing and derisive comments over time, and if coping resources

were not already in place, losses associated with the aging process could

be overwhelmingly difficult.

Thirty women aged 70 to 77 participated in a study designed to

compare the life course perspectives of two subgroups. Retrospective

interviews were conducted to assist each individual with the recollection

and interpretation of major life events as well as an overall review of

their life patterns and relationships (Allen & Pickett, 1987). This group,

homogeneous in all aspects with the exception of marital and parental

status, were from the 1910 birth cohort and reflected the working class

value system of early 20th-century America. The one subgroup consisted

of 15 never married, childfree women while the second subgroup were 15

grandmothers who had been widowed after at least 20 years of marriage.

Data analyses demonstrate the extreme importance of and primary focus

on family for both subgroups, regardless of marital or parental status.

Their histories reflected the centrality of family and family ideology so

prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In most cases, marital

decisions were based on family circumstances, not personal choice. The

strength of this concept was such that marital decisions by almost all of

the study participants were primarily based on needs of the family.

Family responsibilities played such a significant role in women's life

course that a strong pattern of interdependence was established between

family life course and the life course of women. The authors noted that

results of their study did not entirely support longstanding assumptions

about the family life cycle's linear progression from family of orientation

to family of procreation with kinship networks evolving from the two.

For the women who married late in life, the link with family of

orientation remained strong and was not supplanted by family of

procreation ties.

Rice (1989) compared the social supports and life satisfaction of

never married childless women with the social supports and life

satisfaction of widowed childless women. Utilizing a structured interview

format as well as assessment instruments to measure social supports

and life satisfaction, the author noted that never married women had

higher life satisfaction scores than those who were widowed. It was also

found that the number of social contacts appeared to have more of an

impact on the life satisfaction of widowed women than of never married

women; this supports the view that social isolation does not necessarily

denote loneliness and desolation. Rice suggested, as have other

researchers, that the variation in degree of life satisfaction between the

two groups of women in this study might be attributed to lack of role

consistency for widowed women. Over their lifetimes, never married

women have developed alternative support systems, socialization

patterns, and role structures other than that of the traditional family

structure with wife and mother roles. They have usually become adept at

adaptation. Married childless women have usually focused attention on

their marital relationship in terms of primary support and loss of spouse

is a major role transition. They have not had the same lifelong

experiences of creating alternative roles for themselves as have never

married women, and, hence, a decreased sense of life satisfaction may


Gerson, Berman, and Morris (1991) questioned childfree men and

women in two age brackets (20s and 30s) in order to compare their

perceptions regarding the value of having children. The younger group

was found to be more positively oriented to the idea of parenthood and

the perceived personal benefits while the older group was more inclined

to weigh the costs as opposed to the benefits of parenthood.

Very little effort has been put forth to analyze the long-term

impact and/or effects of an individual's decision, whether by choice or

circumstance, to remain childfree. Alexander, Rubenstein, Goodman,

and Luborsky (1992) used a qualitative interview format to assess the

feelings of 90 older women, mean age 74.7, regarding their childfree

status. Except for a small minority of the women, the general consensus

was that any regret experienced as a result of remaining childfree had

intensified over the course of years. A careful analysis of the initial

interview process and the subsequent sessions revealed that the regret

was in most cases intensified because of the social stigma associated

with childlessness and the particular cultural environment of their

specific age cohort. In retrospective reviews of their individual life

accomplishments, it was exceedingly difficult to separate evaluations of

self from the socially prescribed notions of what should have been.

These women's assessment of their life course was most definitely

influenced by the pronatalist culture in which they lived.

Single Parents

Single parents may or may not have fulfilled the gender-related

developmental task of husband or wife that is associated with marriage.

However, their current marital status is single; there is not a spouse

present in the home nor is there a viable marital relationship. What

they have done is to become parents and fulfill one of the two normative

roles expected of all adults. Whether assumed by choice or by chance,

single parenthood has not acquired a valued status in American society.

Literature on single parenthood as it directly relates to the man or

woman rather than the family situation is scant at best, particularly

when one considers that 8% of the population are single parents. This

section will review the literature available on single parents which

addresses developmental issues and/or elements of life satisfaction

specific to the individual.

Mahler (1989) took a positive approach to single parents and

examined their labor force participation, the impact of that role on their

coping skills, and its subsequent effect on quality of life issues. She

reported that in 1986, the U.S. Department of Labor published labor

force participation rates of 60.9% for single mothers and 82% for single

fathers. For women whose children ranged in age from 6 to 17, the rate

was 84%. Though single parent families have decidedly lower incomes

than do two parent families, paid work, particularly for single mothers,

was found to improve their perceptions of themselves, increase their

opportunities for social contacts, and increase their sense of

independence from social systems. Overall, both male and female single

parents utilize more genetic behaviors than their married counterparts.

Agenetic behaviors have been shown to have a strong link with effective

coping skills and measures of well-being.

Norton and Glick (1986) wrote extensively on the demographic

characteristics of single parent families which appear to contrast them

negatively with intact two parent families. Separation, divorce, and

extramarital births were seen as the most influential factors in the

increase of single parent families in this country. From 1960 to 1970,

the number of single parent families with children under the age of 18

increased by 400/ while from 1970 to 1984, the number of single parent

families actually doubled. Their work also documents that women have

a much higher probability of experiencing single parenthood sometime

during their adult years (37% life course probability in 1984)) than with a

broad age group of women experiencing single parenthood over a specific

period of time (10% period estimate for single mothers aged 20 to 54

during 1984).

Stein (1981) wrote of the growing number of single parents and the

unrelenting pressures with which these individuals contend in their daily

lives. The degree of impact of single parenthood will depend to a great

extent on the resources each has available to contend with problems in

the realms of finances, loneliness, and children. Since the majority of

single parent families are headed by women of the low and middle

working class, Gordon (1981) described a grim picture of single

parenthood demographics. She wrote of low child support awards; of

single parents with young children who cannot find adequate or

cost-effective child care; of educated, reasonably well to do women who

gave up professional careers for their families and spouses and now find

themselves divorced with little or no income and difficult reentry to the

workforce; and the increasing unemployment rate. In a society which

places a high value on marriage and family, the single parent encounters

the difficulties of parenthood but most likely is without the supports

that are more readily accessible in a marriage. This lack of available

support lends itself to situations where responsibility, task, and

emotional overloads may be prevalent and quality of life issues abound.

Greif (1985a) authored a rather prominent work focusing on single

fatherhood but also featuring some definitive information about both

single fathers and mothers. The necessity to adjust to life as a single

adult in a society that values marriage and the spousal relationship is

one common denominator among men and women who are separated,

divorced, or widowed. Another commonality is the need to balance child-

rearing responsibilities with work-related tasks that may overlap in the

time commitments required. Single mothers and fathers must combat

the traditional stereotypes of the wife/mother and husband/father in

America and the associative role structures that support those

stereotypes. The lack of role clarity that evolves as men and women take

on single parent responsibilities is probably the most significant

roadblock to be circumvented in their adjustment to the single parent

status. A satisfactory adjustment is a necessary prerequisite for a

positive sense of life satisfaction.

Kohen (1981) completed a study of the lives of 30 single mothers

who had been separated or divorced from 1 to 5 years. Explaining that

the majority of attitudes about single parenting are based on opinion

and perceptions rather than actual facts, the researchers limited study

participants to those who had had at least 1 year to adjust to single

parent status, investigated advantages and disadvantages of that status,

and confined their research to in-depth interviews with the identified

women. The transition to divorced motherhood was difficult because

society recognizes and promotes the wife/mother role, and there are few

role models upon which to pattern single motherhood. Loss of the wife

role creates a deviant status for the women, and there may also be a loss

of prior social supports because of the change in marital status.

Financial constraints, achieving authority in a male-dominated society,

one women fulfilling the roles of both mother and father, and the stigma

associated with divorce and being a female head of household are the

four primary problems identified by the single mothers. However, those

same problems also had a beneficial side because they involved a freedom

and an independence to make their own choices. For many, the

financial impact was stiff but gaining control over the family finances

outweighed the loss of income. In some cases, the women were actually

more financially stable because money was now allocated to the needs of

the family and not just spent according to the whims of the

husband/father. Women who had been married to wealthy husbands felt

the pinch of reduced incomes more than any other group. Any increased

control that they felt did not seem to alleviate or even balance out the

pressures from financial restrictions. For the most part, women's

self-concept seemed to improve after the initial transition to divorced

motherhood, again because of increased independence and day to day

control of lifestyle choices.

Studies on women as single parents rarely focus on quality of life

issues per se but rather on the economic and social influences that have

such a pervasive effect on their well-being. Kamerman and Kahn's (1988)

book on social policy issues impacting single mothers examines

economic status and labor force participation, social isolation, and

circumstances surrounding their single motherhood status. Focusing on

issues in the workplace, affordable housing questions, gender bias in the

legal and social service systems, and the single parent family as a

divergent family form, Mulroy (1988) edited a book detailing some of the

problems that women encounter in their transition to single motherhood

and as single parents.

Caplan (1985) examined the restructuring of family life that was

necessary as the family unit moved from two parent status to that of

single mother/female head of household status. Economic issues are a

primary source of day-to-day stress in these family units, but the subtle

discrimination that results when members of society learn that the

woman is a single parent may have a more lasting impact. Peoples'

perceptions of single motherhood may affect a woman's right to

affordable housing for her and her family, her participation in the

workforce, and society's impression of her children's behavior. The single

mother's ability to restructure the family unit and its associative

responsibilities, to obtain assistance from outside resources (both

personal and social system supports), and the role she played in the

decision to become a single mother are key factors in satisfactory

adjustment to single parenthood.

For never married women, motherhood has become a viable option

within the last decade. Smolowe (1990) reported that recorded births for

unmarried white women between the ages of 30 to 34 increased 68% from

1980 to 1988 and 69% for women between the ages of 35 to 39. The

obstacles to be faced by single women selecting maternity for themselves

are just as numerous as those facing divorced, widowed, or separated

single mothers. However, one psychological benefit frequently mentioned

by single women desiring maternity is that any baby born to them is a

desired child.

From 1982 to 1993, the number of never married college-educated

women choosing single motherhood rose from 3% to 6.4%, and the

number of never married professional women selecting single motherhood

increased from 3% to 8.3% (Ingrassia, August 2, 1993). Too few

marriageable men, maternal drive, biological clock, and the financial

means to support a child as a single parent are the primary reasons cited

for the increase in birth rate among never married, educated,

professional women. Day-to-day problems are the same as for all single

mothers with social isolation and the subsequent loneliness the most

difficult challenge to be faced. "For many, the only thing worse than the

responsibility of raising a child alone would be the prospect of not having

a child at all (Ingrassia, 1993, p. 59).

Potter and Knaub's (1988) review of research on women choosing

single motherhood highlighted the difficulties in identifying those women

who were actually single mothers by choice and not by accidental

impregnation or as a result of divorce, separation, or death of spouse.

The results of their review portrayed a rather grim picture of single

women's emotional factors and coping strategies. Unmarried mothers

were described as women who had had prior difficulties maintaining

committed relationships, issues with their capacity for intimacy,

concerns about their femininity, family of origin issues, and inadequate

role development in the work force prior to the birth of their child. The

only psychosocial factor found to be relevant to women's adjustment to

single parenthood was their capacity to envision themselves in the

maternal role. The review reported that the negative aspects of single

motherhood far outweighed the positive and that social mores further

complicated the lifestyle adjustments of single women choosing


Research by Mechaneck, Klein, and Kuppersmith (1987) suggested

a more optimistic picture of women selecting single motherhood as a

lifestyle alternative. Though popular stereotypes cast single mothers in

deviant roles and as women incapable of forming committed

relationships with men, their results found relatively well-adjusted,

financially stable women who had made their decisions with a great deal

of thought and deliberation. When the final decision-making time

arrived, each had concluded that motherhood and desire to have a child

were more important than waiting for the right marital partner and

potentially remaining childless as a result. A woman's choice regarding

means of conception was found to have some impact on others' comfort

level with the decision to bear a child as a single woman. However, it

was not a significant enough roadblock to alter women's paths to single

parenthood. It is anticipated that the method of conception selected

may create some difficulties for the women when their children begin to

question absence of a father. As mentioned in other research (Caplan,

1985; Ingrassia, 1993; Kamerman & Kahn, 1988; Kohen, 1981) financial

concerns and social isolation were perceived as the two greatest


Propst, Pardington, Ostron, and Watkins (1986) utilized a

multivariate design and investigated numerous variables that had

potential for impact on the lifestyle adjustment and coping skills of

divorced single mothers. Unlike previous research where a limited

number of variables (usually only one or two) were investigated, this

study examined four different groups of variables to determine their

impact. Demographic variables, internal and external coping resources,

and specific variables relative to marriage and divorce all were examined

within the same design. Factors specifically related to phases of the

separation and divorce process (i.e., time since separation, finalization of

the divorce, subjective perception of coping with divorce) as well as level

of educational achievement were found to be significant predictors of

adjustment. Surprisingly, a woman's positive perception of her support

system was not necessarily an adequate predictor of adjustment to her

role as a single parent. Another finding was that for single mothers, age

of the children had more of an impact on adjustment than the actual

number of children for whom the mother had responsibility. Finally,

single mothers' capabilities to use emotion-focused and problem-solving

coping skills had a significant bearing on their adjustment. It should be

noted that participants in this study were all middle class women

involved in some variation of single parent support groups.

Duffy (1989) studied 47 single mothers in an effort to examine the

relationships between their adjustment (mental well-being) to long-term

single parenthood and their practice of primary prevention behaviors

such as exercise, sound nutrition practice, and use of the health care

delivery system. She found that there were significant correlations

between employment status, source of income, and mental well-being.

Women whose income was generated from their own employment efforts

outside of the home were much more well adjusted than homemakers

receiving income from outside resources such as welfare, grants,

alimony, and child support. A positive but not strong relationship was

found between the single mothers' mental well-being and their practice of

primary prevention behaviors. However, when examining variables

impacting the mental well-being of these women, Duffy found education,

viewed both as a means to improving employment potential and

self-concept, to be a key factor.

There are generally two stereotypical assumptions made relative to

the competence of single fathers. First, the individual is viewed as an

extraordinary man, one to be admired for his role and accomplishments

as a single father. Second, however, is a presumption of incompetence

for the newly assumed role as primary caretaker and nurturer, therefore,

casting the single father in a helpless and almost hapless role. When a

man becomes a single father, his capacity for role functions must be

stretched to fulfill not only his instrumental function as a guide to the

outside world but also the expressive function most usually fulfilled by

the mother as primary caretaker and nurturer. This dual role requires

that a man readjust his thinking about himself as a male in a work-

oriented society that equates male status with work achievement (Greif,

1985a, 1985b).

Fathers who have adjusted well to their lives as single parents are

most generally those who have sufficient incomes to meet personal and

family financial needs, have been able to arrange for satisfactory

childcare, and actively sought custody of their children. During the

course of their marriage, these men were most likely involved to some

degree with household chores and childcare responsibilities so that their

functions as single fathers were not totally new experiences. It is also

likely that the most well-adjusted single fathers are those who are willing

to accept their share of the responsibility for the failed marriage and

whose ex-wives continue to be actively involved with the children (Greif,


Much of the prominent research on adult development emphasizes

the importance of men's workplace involvement, and the only focus on

family is on the male responsibility as provider and supporter. A man's

status in the work arena is a key component of his self-concept, and

parenthood issues are insignificant. Stereotypical images of men as

single parents reflect individuals who are incompetent and incapable of

providing the expressive components of childrearing traditionally

delegated to the mother. Risman (1986) challenged these assumptions

about adult male development. In her study of 141 single fathers, 80%

reported that they were solely responsible for the housekeeping and

homemaking chores while almost all reported intimate relationships with

their children with open communication and affection being integral

components for relationship development. Income was not a significant

factor for men's satisfaction with single parenthood and was a relevant

issue only in relation to the hiring of outside help for assistance with

housekeeping chores and rate of participation in expensive outings. In

spite of tradition and socialization experiences that indicate otherwise,

the final results of the study indicate that men can indeed "mother" and

that they derive tremendous satisfaction in doing so.

Greif and DeMaris' (1990) study investigated variables which may

have an impact on single fathers' adjustment to and comfort level with

their status as single parents. They found that higher income levels

usually generate a more immediate increase in comfort level because the

newly single father is better able to afford housekeeping and childcare

assistance to aid in the transition to single parenthood. Higher income

also may be an indication of a professional or white collar position that

may allow for more flexibility in work schedule. Another variable found

to be significant was the length of time as a single father. Comfort level

increased substantially as the father became accustomed to his role and

more confident of his parenting abilities.

Single fathers have a relatively positive view of themselves and see

nothing deviant in their status or with their family structure. Nieto's

(1990) research on single custodial fathers supports this viewpoint and

the realization that men can indeed fulfill the expressive functions of

parenthood normally assumed to be in the mother's domain without

experiencing undue role conflict. When 30 of the study participants were

administered the California Psychological Inventory, the group's

composite score for the self-acceptance scale was on the 62nd percentile

and the sense of well-being composite score was on the 51st percentile

when aligned with published norms for men.

Counseling Needs of Single. Childfree Adults

Though the acceptance level for the single, childfree lifestyle is

increasing, there are still significant degrees of both personal and

societal pressures exercised on men and women to marry and bear

children. Just as there is not a significant focus in the literature on

single, childfree adults, there is not a substantial amount of research

nor direction in identifying the counseling needs of this group.

Baker (1968), in a comparison study of the personal and social

adjustment of 38 never married women with 38 married mothers,

determined that a modification of the emphasis that family life

education places on marriage and family could play a key role in the

successful adaptation of single adults to their lifestyle. Whether single

by choice or by chance, single individuals must cope with the

overwhelming emphasis placed on marriage and the subsequent

expectation that parenthood will follow. Baker's premise was that a

modification of family life education views would, over time, decrease the

rush into early marriage, place more emphasis on strong personal

development thereby enhancing the potential for healthy relationships,

decrease the stigma attached to singlehood, and allow development of

the premise that single individuals could experience healthy


Johnston and Eklund (1984), in reviewing the research on single
adults, determined that the primary needs of that group may be divided

into two areas of concern--the achievement of intimate adult

relationships and the establishment of one's position as a single

individual in a couples-oriented society. In order to work with single

individuals, counselors must first examine their own attitudes,

assumptions, awareness, and knowledge about singlehood and its

various associative lifestyles. Counselors must determine if they can

display acceptance of singlehood as a legitimate choice for adults.

Counselors should be able to complete this same introspective process

with single individuals who come to them for assistance. The counseling

process may involve educating the client about life as a single individual

and teaching them how to cope with any stigma associated with their

marital status. Work on development of a healthy self-concept,

achieving autonomy, general acceptance of self, development of a support

network, validation of the single lifestyle, and satisfying individual

developmental needs as well as developmental expectations are all

potential counseling needs identified by Johnston and Eklund.

In writing about childless older women, Myers and Navin (1984)

indicated that counselors should be careful not to categorize these

women solely on the basis of their childlessness. Such

overgeneralization would create additional pressures and stigmatization

in addition to the normative changes and losses already associated with

the aging process. Childless older women may need assistance in

developing and maintaining adequate social supports and resources,

coping skills to deal with losses and changes, and assistance in

recognizing that help is available to resolve or at least lessen the impact

of concerns that they are experiencing. Rice (1989) arrived at similar

conclusions relative to the counseling needs of childless older women.

Development of an adequate support network appears to be a crucial

factor for both life satisfaction and meeting everyday needs.

Duffy (1989) focused on the mental health of single mothers.

Attention was first directed to counseling needs which may surface as a

recently divorced or widowed woman adjusts to her new status as a

single parent. Whether that status is by choice or by chance, there is an

adjustment period as one moves from the normative roles of wife and

mother to the less socially acceptable position of single parent. Coping

skills and new behaviors must be learned to facilitate the adjustment, to

combat social isolation, to adjust to what is usually a lower socio-

economic status, as well as role overload. The single mother as client

also may have education and career needs which must be addressed if

she is moving from the role of caretaker to both caretaker and provider.

Several researchers directed particular attention to single fathers.

Risman's (1986) focus was based on the premise that the female gender

does not have an exclusive patent on the capacity to "mother." Single

fathers have proven their capabilities in that arena, and counselors need

to support and encourage their efforts. Greif (1987) identified several

potential concerns that could be explored with single fathers by means of

the counseling process. These include adjustment to long-term status as

a single parent and the associative social and work related issues,

parenting skills and concerns, learning how to communicate with an ex-

spouse who is also a co-parent, and adjustment to the multiple roles

required of a single parent. Quite naturally, the findings of Greif and

DeMaris (1990) were relatively congruent with the conclusions reached by

Greif (1987). In addition to individual work with the father, they

suggested that some family work might be appropriate, particularly to aid

with the transition period if the father had not always been the primary

caregiver. They also suggested that some time should be spent on the

father's self-concept as he adjusted to his new roles and relationships

with his children.

Mahler (1989) chose to focus her research on the successful rather

than the dysfunctional working single parent. Coping skills were

determined to be a key factor in the successful adaptation to the dual

roles of caretaker and provider. Single parents were found to utilize more

instrumental than expressive behaviors, and these genetic behaviors

were found to influence positively an individual's coping skills.

Counselors could facilitate the adaptation of working single parents by

teaching management of both time and multiple roles.

As evidenced, there is not a great deal of research specific to the

counseling needs of single, childless adults and/or single parents. There

is, however, an audience for this type of information, both as tertiary

and primary intervention strategies.

Summary of Literature Review

As evidenced by this review of related literature, marriage and

parenthood and the associated roles of husband/father and wife/mother

are based on historical precedents, reinforced by developmental theorists,

and "enforced" by social/cultural attitudes and mores emphasizing

marriage and parenthood. However, to remain single and childfree has

also been a lifestyle alternative throughout history. Population trends

indicate that both choices continue not only as viable alternatives but

also ones that have become increasingly popular in this latter half of the

20th century.

The existing theories of adult development have not addressed the

lifespan development of men and women who are single and childfree,

and yet there are approximately 30% of the American population who fit

that description. Generally, the related literature supports the premise

that those individuals who have achieved both marriage and parenthood

are most likely to have a higher degree of both life satisfaction and

lifespan development stage resolution than those remaining single and


The sparse amount of literature available on single, childfree

adults has been primarily focused on single, childfree women or older

persons, and there is a need for further investigation of this growing

segment of the American population. The legacy of marriage and

parenthood and the primacy of the husband/father, wife/mother roles in


the American social climate substantiate the need for a broader base of

knowledge relative to the single, childfree adult in order to minimize any

stereotypes and stigma associated with that lifestyle.


A review of the related literature supports the widely held belief

that marriage and parenthood are developmental tasks necessary for

effective lifespan development and life satisfaction. Although theories

generally support these premises for adult development, a significant

percentage of the population have not accomplished these tasks--they

are single, childfree men and women. Therefore, the present study

determined differences in lifespan development and life satisfaction on

the basis of gender, marital status, and parenthood status. In addition,

it determined relationships among lifespan developmental stage

resolution, life satisfaction, perceived social supports, gender, marital

status, and parenthood status. Finally, the study determined differences

in lifespan developmental stage resolution and life satisfaction based on

age, type of single status, labor force participation and subsequent job

satisfaction, level of educational achievement, current living situation,

relationship with significant other, and whether marital status and

parenthood status are by choice or circumstance.

This chapter presents the methodology for the study. Discussion

includes description of the population and sampling procedures, an

overview of assessment instruments, research procedures, and an

overview of the data analyses.


Since the primary independent variables for this study were gender

(i.e., male and female), marital status (i.e., married and single), and

parenthood status (i.e., parent and childfree), participants for this study

were single, childfree men and women; single mothers and fathers;

married, childfree men and women; and married mothers and fathers

aged 35 and over. Participants were recruited from the Baltimore/

Washington metropolitan area of Maryland, suburban and rural areas of

southern Maryland, the eastern shore area, and the Delmarva peninsula.

The different locales were selected in order to provide for a diverse


Utilizing adults who are single and childfree, single parents,

married parents, and adults who are married and childfree allowed for

control for marital status and exploration of the effects of the presence

of children on lifespan development and life satisfaction. Although there

were no other selection criteria for the study because of the scarcity of

potential participants in the childfree categories, solicitation of special

interest groups not representative of the larger population (i.e.,

Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.) was avoided for study



For purposes of this study, single, childfree adults were individuals

who either had never been married, were divorced, or were widowed and

had no children. Single parents were individuals who either had never

been married, were divorced, or were widowed and had or shared custody

of at least one child under the age of 18 or who raised a child as a single

parent and that child had reached the age of majority. Married, childfree

adults were individuals in a legally recognized marital relationship (both

spouses did not need to participate in the study) and who had no

children. Married parents were individuals in a legally recognized marital

relationship and who had or shared custody of at least one child under

the age of 18 or who raised a child within a marital relationship and that

child had reached the age of majority.

Sampling Procedures

In order to recruit a broad spectrum of participants, the assistance

of 10 resource persons was solicited to identify sources for potential

participants in Maryland. These individuals represented a wide variety of

backgrounds, both personal and professional. Composition of the

resource group included diverse professional, religious, ethnic, gender,

and socio-economic backgrounds.

Once 10 persons were identified and had agreed to serve as

resources, the principal investigator held a training session to

standardize the process for identification of potential participants. At

this session, the importance of unbiased sampling was discussed as well

as the fact that groups were the preferred mode for sampling, but

individual contacts would be accepted as well. Resource persons received

a packet of materials (Appendix A) to facilitate their understanding of the

study's purpose and to provide guidelines for identification of potential

participants. Each packet included (a) a brief overview of the study, (b)

phone numbers where the principal investigator could be contacted, (c)

selection criteria for participation in the study, and (d) a list of potential

sources for participant identification.

Preliminary arrangements were made by the principal investigator

with appropriate personnel at churches, singles organizations, volunteer

groups, employers, and other sources identified by the resource persons

to post flyers about the study, to request permission for use of facilities

as assessment sites, and to request assistance with recruitment of

participants. As sources were identified, the principal investigator made

an initial phone contact to provide a general overview of the study and to

seek further assistance. If a positive or at least "willing to listen"

response was received, arrangements were made to proceed in one of the

following formats: (a) schedule a meeting with the group contact to

provide more in-depth information about the study and to again request

assistance in recruiting participants; (b) schedule a group meeting to

present overview of study, selection criteria for participants, description

of what was to be requested of participants, and arrange time for

assessment administration; or (c) arrange time to proceed with study

protocol, including administration of assessment instruments. Great

care was taken to document contacts and results of contacts, whether

agreeing or refusing to participate. Notes were kept on the refusals and

the reasons) for the decisions. This process required active participation

by the principal investigator to facilitate participant selection.

The resultant sample consisted of 323 persons aged 35 and over

who were either single and childfree, single parents, married parents, or

married and childfree. Recruitment continued until at least 20 persons

for each category were identified and had completed their participation in

the investigation.

Overview of Assessment Instruments

Since this study was designed to determine if marriage and

parenthood are necessary developmental tasks for successful lifespan

development, to examine the relationship of specific variables to the life

satisfaction of single, childfree adults, and to examine the relationship

between lifespan development and life satisfaction, it was necessary to

measure life satisfaction as well as the degree of resolution for each of

the Eriksonian stage crises.

One instrument, the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) (Diener,

Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985) (Appendix B), was used to measure

participants' global life satisfaction. The Satisfaction With Life Scale

consists of five statements concerning an individual's overall well-being

and perceived quality of life. Based on a 7-point scale of agreement,

weighted with 1 representing the response "strongly disagree" to 7 as

"strongly agree," participants were asked to designate their level of

agreement with each statement. A global life satisfaction score ranging

from 5 (low life satisfaction) to 35 (high life satisfaction) was obtained.

Tests for reliability yielded a coefficient alpha of .87 and test-retest

reliability of .82 (Diener et al., 1985). Validity was established using

principal axis factor analysis with a single factor accounting for 66% of

the variance. When correlated with other measures of well-being, the

correlations ranged from r=.50 to r=.75 (Diener et al., 1985).

Measures of Psychosocial Development (MPD) (Hawley, 1988)

(Appendix B) was the instrument selected to assess development based

on application of Erikson's theory. The inventory has 112 items which

are rated on a 5-point scale ranging from "not at all like you" to "very

much like you." Consisting of 27 scales, there is a positive, negative,

and resolution scale representing each of the stage conflicts; the final

three scales assess psychosocial development in its entirety. Test

developers reported that a minimum of a sixth grade reading level is

necessary for successful completion of the MPD. Test-retest reliability on

the MPD found the positive scale coefficients ranging from .75 to .85

while the coefficients for the negative scales ranged from .67 to .89. The

resolution scale coefficients ranged from .83 to .91. The MPD scales also

were found to have acceptable levels for internal consistency. The alpha

coefficients for the positive scales spanned from a low of .65 for the Trust

scale to a range of .73 to .84 for the seven remaining positive scales. The

negative scales had a range of .69 to .83 (Hawley, 1988).


Since relationships have been identified as significant for women's

development, two additional instruments were used in this study to

assess an individual's social support networks. Procidano and Heller

(1983) designed the Perceived Social Support Family (PSS-Fa) and the

Perceived Social Support Friends (PSS-Fr) scales (Appendix B) to assess

an individual's perceptions of the support received from family and

friends. Each instrument consists of 20 statements about feelings and

experiences that an individual may encounter with family and friends.

Responding "yes," "no," or "I don't know" to each statement, the

respondent receives a score for each instrument ranging from 0 for no

social support to 20 for the maximum amount of social support. The

PSS-Fa showed a test-retest reliability of .83 and a coefficient alpha of

.90. Similarly, the PSS-Fr had test-retest reliability of .83 and a

coefficient alpha of .88 (Procidano & Heller, 1983).

A demographic data questionnaire (Appendix B) was used to obtain

characteristics of the sample population. Questionnaire responses were

either fill-in-the-blank, circle the most appropriate answer, or a Likert

scale format.

Research Procedures

Generally, the intention was to arrange for group administration of

the assessment instruments and demographic questionnaire. This

procedure varied if there were not a sufficient number of persons

available in any one locality for group administration.

Since participation in the study was voluntary, the principal

investigator maintained confidential records of the number of individuals

who declined to participate, reason for refusal, and any demographic

information he or she was willing to provide. This same information was

collected if an individual elected to discontinue participation during the

assessment administration phase of the study process.

Four research assistants, all master's level mental health

professionals, were trained (Appendix C) to assist the principal

investigator with administration of the assessment instruments, oversee

completion of the demographic data questionnaires, scoring of the

assessment instruments, and tabulation of demographic data. At the

actual times for administration, either for groups or individuals, the

following procedures were used: (a) presentation of a brief overview of

the study purpose, confidentiality, right to access of results of

assessment, and right to terminate participation; (b) completion of

consent form (Appendix D); (c) completion of research instruments; and

(d) addressing of envelope by the participant if he or she wished to receive


The assessment tools and demographic data questionnaire were

number coded so that only the principal investigator had the information

available to match numbers and names of participants. Results were

presented to those participants interested in receiving them.

Participants were asked to give their best answers to items on the

assessment instruments and to complete each section in its entirety. It

was explained that all information was critical to the outcome of the

study and that incomplete answers and information may invalidate their

participation. Total time for test administration was approximately 45


Null Hypotheses

The following null hypotheses were evaluated in this study:

1. There are no differences in degree of lifespan developmental

stage resolution as functions of gender, marital status, and

parenthood status.

2. There are no significant gender, marital status, and

parenthood status interactions for degree of lifespan

developmental stage resolution.

3. There are no differences in degree of life satisfaction as

functions of gender, marital status, and parenthood status.

4. There are no significant gender, marital status, and

parenthood status interactions for life satisfaction.

5. There are no relationships among lifespan developmental

stage resolution and perceived social supports, gender,

marital status, and parenthood status.

6. There are no relationships among degree of life satisfaction

and perceived social supports, gender, marital status, and

parenthood status.

Data Analyses

The central focus of this investigation was to gain an

understanding of the lifespan development and life satisfaction of single,

childfree adults in terms of several specifically selected variables. Four

assessment instruments and a demographic questionnaire were used to

gather relevant data for analyses.


On the Satisfaction With Life Scale, participants were assigned

continuous scores based on their responses to the scale items. The scale

range is from 5 (low life satisfaction) to 35 (high life satisfaction).

Participants also were assigned continuous scores based on their

responses to items on the Perceived Social Support-Family and Perceived

Social Support-Friends Scales. The two scales each have a range from 0

(low support) to 20 (high support).

On the Measures of Psychosocial Development, raw scores were

obtained for each of the scales. The first 24 scales (representing positive,

negative, and resolution scores for each of Erikson's eight stages) range

from 0 to 28. The last three scales represent total composite scores for

the eight positive scales, eight negative scales, and the eight resolution

scales. These three scores have a range of 0 to 224. For purposes of this

study, data analyses focused on the three total composite scores as well

as the individual scores for Erikson's three adult stages.

On the demographic data questionnaire, categorical values were

assigned to each of the items for tabulation purposes. Items relevant to

age, type of single status, level of education, labor force participation and

job satisfaction, current living situation, relationship with significant

other, and the issue of choice versus circumstance were considered.

Descriptive Statistics

Data were entered in a SPSS statistical program and descriptive

statistics were calculated. Means, standard deviations, and minimum

and maximum scores were calculated for the life satisfaction scale

(criterion variable), each of the applicable scales for lifespan development

(criterion variable), and the scales for perceived social supports (predictor

variable). Frequencies and percentages were calculated for each of the

remaining predictor variables.

Factorial Analyses of Variance

A 2 x 2 x 2 factorial analyses of variance was used to analyze

hypotheses one through four. To test the first and second hypotheses,

scores calculated for each of the three adult developmental stage scales

and the total composite scales on the measure of lifespan development

were analyzed to determine (a) if there are differences in degree of

lifespan developmental stage resolution on the basis of gender, marital

status, and parenthood status and (b) if there are significant

interactions among the independent variables (i.e., gender, marital

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