In a tumultuous economy, some genetically predisposed mothers become stricter, harsher, and more violent parents. Even if families are not directly affected by the downturn, the fear of fiscal recession is enough to trigger negative changes to parenting styles for some moms.
Globally, economists are still debating whether or not China is sliding toward an economic downturn. (See Agenda piece on the issue here.) While some predict doom and gloom, others believe the recent slowdown is a calculated response to a period of unrestrained and overheated growth. Some even trust that China has already averted the crisis and will return to form, and continue making rapid progress toward becoming the world’s largest economy.
But whatever the true future of the Chinese economy, a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy demonstrates that economic uncertainty has a negative effect on parenting.
What’s Going On?
Researchers have discovered that turbulent consumer confidence and unemployment figures may affect people differently depending on their genetic makeup. The data comes from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, being conducted by scientists at Princeton University and Columbia University. The study follows 5,000 children born between 1998 and 2000 in the US.
Researchers predicted that families directly affected by recession, for example through loss of income, would exhibit strain in their parent-child relationships. But they were surprised to learn that bad news for the economy can be bad news for families regardless of families’ own financial situations. They found that some moms became more aggressive toward their children during a recession, even if their families don’t directly suffer any ill-effects as a result of the downturn.
The study shows that certain moms are deeply unsettled by economic turmoil; wavering unemployment rates, and wobbling consumer confidence – even to the point of greatly altering their parenting style.
Scientists have identified a gene named DRD2 Taq1A that influences dopamine uptake. Dopamine is one of the human body’s most powerful chemicals. It’s a neuro-transmitter most often associated with love and lust, and it also plays a role in mental health.
About half of the mothers who took part in the study had a particular variant in their DRD2 Taq1A gene. These mothers engaged in more aggressive parenting techniques, such as scolding, shouting at or even hitting their kids. Mothers with this variant were harsher toward their kids when the economy was shrinking and kinder when the economy was booming. The DRD2 Taq1A variant has previously been linked to addiction and impulsivity.
What Can Stressed Mums Do?
See this excellent post by Kathryn Tonges on healthy parenting techniques, which specifically deals with developing better alternatives to yelling and smacking.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com