Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

Association of Maternal Employment with Attitudes, Subjective Norms, and Perceived Behavioral Control Regarding Meal Preparation Among Mothers of 4-5 Year Old Children

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman

Second Advisor

Robert Carels (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Carolyn Tompsett (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Rebecca Mancuso (Committee Member)


The extant literature has consistently reported that employed mothers have heavier children than mothers who are not in the workforce. Studies have examined several potential causal pathways that underlie this association, including child nutrition, sedentary behaviors, and physical activity. However, psychosocial factors that potentially mediate this relation are poorly understood. This study examined maternal psychosocial factors that may partially explain the positive association of maternal employment and BMI in 4-5 year old children. Using the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1988, 1991) as an underlying framework, this study compared mothers employed full-time (full-time working mothers; FTWM) versus mothers not in the work force (stay at home mothers; SAHM), with respect to maternal attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control regarding cooking/preparing meals. Bivariate results showed that compared to SAHM, FTWM reported more negative affective attitudes about cooking, rated cooking from scratch as less desirable, more strongly agreed that a lack of time and energy were barriers to preparing meals, and reported preparing fewer weeknight dinners from scratch in the past week. In contrast to study hypotheses, SAHM and FTWM had similar ratings on subjective norms, self-efficacy about cooking, and perceived behavioral control of planning meals. Maternal employment status was significantly associated with the number of weeknight dinners mothers did not prepare from scratch during the past week; FTWM reported not preparing weeknight dinner from scratch more often than SAHM in unadjusted analyses as well as in analyses adjusted for maternal attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control. Affective and instrumental attitudes toward cooking, subjective norms of meal preparation behaviors used by similar mothers, and a lack of time and energy to prepare meals were also associated with the number of weeknight dinners mothers did not prepare from scratch. Lower cooking self-efficacy was associated with more weeknight dinners not prepared from scratch only among SAHM; there was no association among FTWM. These findings suggest potentially modifiable attitudes and beliefs that can be targeted by obesity prevention and intervention programs for both FTWM and SAHM.