Date: May 2016
Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan, Faculty Associate, Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy
Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J., Bartholomew, M. K., Yavorsky, J. E., Sullivan, J. M., Lee, M. A., Kamp Dush, C. M., & Glassman, M. (2016). Doing gender online: New mothers’ psychological characteristics, Facebook use, and depressive symptoms. Sex Roles. doi: 10.1007/s11199-016-0640-z
Society has expectations for how men and women should act. When people behave in ways consistent with these expectations they receive approval, but when people behave in ways inconsistent with these expectations they receive criticism (West & Zimmerman, 1987). New mothers, in particular, are expected to “do motherhood” – to be focused on their child and emotionally absorbed by their role as a mother. Facebook, the most popular social networking site in the world (Facebook Newsroom, 2016), provides an easy way for new mothers to show that they are “doing motherhood” appropriately. The purpose of this study was to identify which new mothers may be especially prone to use Facebook more often and more intensely, and to further examine the potential consequences of Facebook activity for new mothers’ emotional well-being.
Survey data collected in 2008-2010 from a community sample of 127 first-time mothers with Facebook accounts were used. These mothers were between 18 and 37 years of age (M = 27.80, SD = 3.77), 86% identified their race as White, and 77% had finished at least a bachelor’s degree. In the third trimester of pregnancy, these mothers completed surveys about their personalities and the extent to which they believed that others expect them to be perfect parents. At 9 months postpartum these mothers reported how much they were concerned about others’ approval of their roles as mothers. They also reported about their Facebook use and experiences across the first 9 months of parenthood. In addition, at 3 and 9 months postpartum mothers reported their depressive symptoms.
Statistical analyses showed that mothers who believed others expected them to be perfect parents and those who were more concerned about others’ approval of their roles as mothers used Facebook more often and also reported stronger feelings in response to others’ likes and comments on photos they posted of their children. These findings held even when taking into account mothers’ overall personalities. New mothers who were prone to use Facebook more often in turn experienced increases in depressive symptoms across the first 9 months of parenthood.
Mothers who believe others expect them to be perfect parents and those who are more concerned with others’ approval of their roles as mothers use Facebook more often and more intensely. Unfortunately, the greater Facebook activity of these mothers may actually compromise their emotional well-being because of their concern with others’ approval. New mothers who find themselves spending a lot of time on Facebook and who sense that their time on Facebook leaves them feeling blue may consider taking a break from Facebook for a while and pursuing other ways of interacting with family and friends (e.g., talking on the phone, going for coffee) to share the joys and stresses of motherhood.
Facebook Newsroom. (2016). Company info. Retrieved from http://newsroom.fb.com/company-info/.
West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender and Society, 1(2), 125–151. doi:10.1177/0891243287001002002.