The present study focused on the quality of life among Chinese parents of young children during the COVID-19 pandemic and examined the relationship between job changes, family conflict, and quality of life. Our findings suggested that individuals with more frequent marital conflict and parent-child conflict had worse quality of life. And we found that job changes significantly enhanced the negative correlation between marital conflict and quality of life, but not significantly buffered the negative relationship between parent-child conflict and quality of life among whole sample. Besides, both of the moderation effects differed across gender and family structure, and they were only significant for fathers and one child family.
Our results indicated that parents who experienced marital conflict and parent-child conflict reported a lower level of quality of life. Marital conflict may decrease the marital quality of life through increasing negative affect and physiological arousal, according to social psychophysiological model of marriage . Besides, stress process perspectives proposed that chronic strains in the marital role could cause stress, which typically manifested in the physical or psychological distress form, as indicated by the poor quality of life . Similarly, parent-child conflict might be regarded as a chronic stressor or stressful life event, that influences parents’ mental health . And empirical research demonstrated that parents in families with a high level of parent-child conflict might more possibly suffer depressive symptoms , which may reduce parental quality of life.
Furthermore, job changes did act as a moderator between family conflict and quality of life. On the one hand, job changes accelerated the negative effect of marital conflict on quality of life. It could be explained by the family stress theory , the financial stress coming with job change as an uppermost topic of marital disagreements could cause more emotional distress and then heighten marital conflict . Moreover, role theory argues that the role pressures from family and work domains are mutually incompatible in some respects, and job stress would negatively spill over into home life , which may cause increased conflicts with spouses. Thus, when facing job changes, individuals who suffered from marital conflict may perceive lower quality of life.
On the other hand, job changes could moderate the negative correlation between parent-child conflict and quality of life. Since some special features of the job changes during the COVID-19, such as the flexible work time, telework and working from home, could make these parents have more time to accompany with their children at home, and thus improving the relationship between parents and children . It is also helpful to meet the expectations of parental roles like caring for children, especially for young Chinese parents who always experienced overtime work with less time to interact with family members . Therefore, the job changes could mitigate the negative effect of parent-child conflict on parents’ quality of life. Given that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, work and home life are manifold and will potentially last for a long time , understanding such interactions will be important to provide service for improvement of quality of life among parents.
Of note, the moderating role of job changes was confirmed only for Chinese fathers. Since traditional gender values that “fathers are regarded as the primary breadwinners and mothers as primary caregivers” are still the most far-reaching and prevalent in China , work factors would spill over into family more for Chinese men than women, based on gender role theory . Specifically, the financial loss coming with job changes during the pandemic may more likely make Chinese husbands as family economic pillars feel stressed than their wives , and thus enhancing the negative relationship of marital conflict and quality of life among fathers. And the job changes more likely increase positive interactions with children for fathers like playing games which could improve the father-child relationship[39, 40], and thus weakening the association between parent-child conflict and father’s quality of life.
In addition, job changes only moderated the association between family conflict and parents’ quality of life in the one-child family. It could be explained using resource dilution theory , children in the one-child family could get more attention and resource from parents , which means parents with only child can more easily meet their children’s demands using job resources from job changes than parents with multi-children. . So, job changes could only buffer the adverse effect of parent-child conflict in one-child families.
Moreover, the association between marital conflict and quality of life could only be enhanced by job changes in the one-child family. This is because parents with fewer children in collectivistic cultures may have lower marital happiness . Besides, previous research examined the quality-quantity trade-off theory based on the relaxation of China’s one-child policy . It suggested that Chinese parents with one child might have a strong preference for quality and devote more time, energy, and money to their children’s development than other parents . Therefore, extended working hours, pay cuts or unemployment would increase more child-rearing pressure on parents with an only child, while the pressure could be mitigated in the multi-children family owing to more support and assistance from children .