Date of Award

Winter 1994

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Cynthia M Duncan


This study investigates children's experiences of changes that occur in families when fathers lose their jobs, the children's interpretations and responses to those changes, and their resulting symptoms of stress. In the first part, school-aged children and their parents in fourteen two-parent families in northern New England were interviewed and completed instruments measuring the children's behavior and symptoms of stress. In the second part, adults from seventy-six additional families completed a self-administered questionnaire. In both parts, children in families were divided into two groups and compared: middle-class with older parents in which fathers had little or no history of losing permanent full-time jobs, and working-class with younger parents in which fathers had histories of repeated loss of seasonal or temporary employment.

Children in families who went through a layoff and subsequent unemployment for the first time experienced more changes, perceived the changes as more threatening, and responded more actively to manage the greater stress they experienced than did children in families with histories of repeated joblessness. Their parents played a significant role in mediating how the children experienced their fathers' unemployment. The parents with no history of joblessness reacted to the loss of their status and declines in standard of living by increasing maternal employment, reorganizing the household division of labor and roles, and protecting their children's lifestyles. Children perceived these strategies as increasing marital conflict and reducing positive parent-child and family interaction. In contrast, the parents who had experienced repeated unemployment responded with strategies that minimized negative changes in their families and increased positive father-child interactions. These findings contribute to our understanding of how families cope with the stresses produced by a restructuring economy.