Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology

School

School of Psychology and Social Science

Faculty

Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Eyal Gringart

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Julie Ann Pooley

Abstract

Using a sequential transformative mixed methods approach prioritising qualitative data, the construction of subjective wellbeing of Australian solo mothers was explored in relation to work, welfare and social justice. A purposive sample of 73 solo mothers was recruited for the quantitative part of the study and 15 solo mothers were selected from the sample to interview for the qualitative component. The study was undertaken on a background of welfare reform announced in the Federal Budget for 2005-2006 with changes taking effect from July 1, 2006 affecting many solo mothers with young children. Initial analyses of data obtained through the Personal Wellbeing Index confirmed the hypothesis that the solo mothers in the current study have significantly lower levels of subjective wellbeing compared to the general population of Australia t(72) = -10.28, p < 0.01. Multiple Analysis of Variance identified the variable of “income” to have a significant effect on the four domains of “standard of living” (F(2,35) = 3.61, p < 0.05), “achievements in life” (F(2,35) = 3.67), “sense of safety” (F(2,35) = 3.44, p < 0.05), and “future security” (F(2,35) = 3.97, p < 0.05). Multiple regression analysis also identified income as a significant predictor of subjective wellbeing t = 2.42, p < 0.05. There was no statistically significant difference in subjective wellbeing between solo mothers who worked and those who did not work despite inferences made by other researchers that work has a positive effect on levels of subjective wellbeing.

The qualitative part of the current study utilised social constructionism from a feminist theoretical perspective and form of enquiry to explore in depth, the ways in which meanings are attached to experiences and events thus impacting subjective wellbeing. The findings are discussed in light of knowledge presented in the literature review. Similar to results in the quantitative part of the study, qualitative findings revealed income to be a very important factor in the level of happiness, wellbeing and ability to cope as a solo mother. The solo mothers also reported role conflict that was exacerbated by lack of supportive relationships and perceived stereotyping. Perceived lack of consultation by the Federal Government; perceived lack of empathy by politicians; and a sense of powerlessness to influence government decisions, all detracted from the solo mothers’ sense of wellbeing.

Limitations of the current study are outlined as are the implications and recommendations for future action by government and community sectors. Future research opportunities are also presented, including alternative research methods to monitor the subjective wellbeing of solo mothers over time.

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