Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Young adult mothers and intimate partner violence

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Monica Longmore (Advisor)

Second Advisor

John Dowd (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Peggy Giordano (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Karen Guzzo (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Wendy Manning (Committee Member)


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious social and public health problem in the United States. Studies examining IPV during young adulthood, the life stage associated with high rates of both childbearing and experiences with intimate partner violence, do not emphasize the presence of children as a risk factor. Furthermore, much prior IPV scholarship that has examined motherhood focuses on pregnancy or child outcomes. In this dissertation I examined self-reports of intimate partner violence among women who were mothers and non-mothers. I drew on the stress process literature to explain the relationship between the presence of children and IPV. Using survey data from the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (n = 1,321), I focused on young adult women’s reports of physical and psychological violence in their current or most recent relationship. Unlike many other studies of mothers, I examined mutual violence, the most common form among young adults. First, I analyzed the association between motherhood status and intimate partner violence, and focused on the presence of children as a possible stressor. Second, I assessed a sense of mattering as a stress and coping mechanism in the relationship between motherhood status and relationship aggression. Third, I assessed among young adult mothers, contested domains (i.e., fidelity concerns, economic issues, peer-partner balance and family life) associated with relationship aggression. I also examined whether social psychological stresses (i.e., parenting stress and resentments) mediated the relationship between contested domains and relationship aggression. I found mothers with two or more children compared with non-mothers reported more frequent relationship aggression, suggesting having two or more children in a relationship may be a stressor. Second, high levels of mattering are associated with less frequent relationship aggression indicating mattering is a psychosocial resource for young women. Lastly, contested domains are stressors in young women’s relationships and are associated positively with relationship aggression. Parenting stress and resentments did not reduce the effect of contested domains on relationship aggression, suggesting that issues surrounding intimate partners remain stressful even though children are an important aspect of the association. This dissertation speaks to the stress process model and relationship aggression among young adult women.