Another Effect of the Recession: More Aggressive Parenting?

The recession may have had an impact on more than just our budgets. New research finds that during tough economic times, some moms are more aggressive in their parenting—and a gene may partly be to blame.

According to the paper, part of a long-time study of about 5,000 families and published in PNAS, a science journal, some moms reacted to the recession by threatening or shouting more and, in some cases, even taking more aggressive actions like spanking or yanking at their little ones.

(Fathers were not included in this analysis. By design, 75% of the subjects in the larger study are single parents, in order to focus on what the researchers called “fragile families,” or those likely more at risk for economic problems.)

But it wasn’t just mothers who had lost a job that became tougher on their kids.

Rather, the general, fearful environment of the recession created a cloud over moms that likely influenced their behavior—no matter their actual employment status.

Is Aggressive Parenting Genetic?

It’s probably no surprise that daily stress and worries about the future can lead to grumpiness and aggression among even the most serene of parents. And money worries can particularly stress us out.

But what the study specifically pinpointed is that our tendency to be affected by such triggers might actually have a genetic component.

The study took a look at the DRD2 Taq1A gene, which regulates the release of dopamine—a hormone that controls behavior in the brain—and is “sensitive,” (read: greatly influenced) by the environment.

For the 50% of the population who possess this gene, their actions will be more tuned into the surrounding conditions—including economic ones.

“In bad environments, people with this gene are more likely to do impulsive, aggressive things,” Irwin Garfinkel, a Columbia University researcher and co-author of the paper, told U.S. News & World Report.

But the gene, researchers say, may have a good side, too: ”I think parents will wonder if they have the sensitive gene. If you have it, and you have a spouse, I think people need to take care to relax and watch one another’s behavior,” Garkfinkel told U.S. News and World Report. “But if this was only a bad gene, it would have died out. We have some evidence that there must be some advantage to having this gene.”

Specifically, those who possess the gene react more strongly to positive stimuli, too: During happy times, parents with the gene thrive. In this environment, they are actually less likely to engage in these harsher tactics than parents without it.

Notice this type of sensitive behavior in your own parenting? Be extra conscious of your tendencies.