This study investigates the relationship between life contexts, SNS use, and psychological well-being, by focusing on Korean mothers’ interactions on a popular social network site (SNS), KakaoStory. Through analysis of survey and interview data, we find (1) a positive relationship between KakaoStory use and mothers’ perceptions of positive relations with others (a construct of psychological well-being), but no relationship with overall life satisfaction; (2) employment status is an important contextual factor that influences Korean mothers’ social connections, KakaoStory use, and psychological well-being; and, (3) working mothers lack opportunities for socialization and report lower levels of positive relations with others compared to stay-at-home mothers, when controlling for reported self-esteem. By analyzing these relationships, this study sheds light on the important role contextual factors play in determining women’s use of social media and unpacks the effect of social media use on different dimensions of psychological well-being.
Social network sites (SNSs) are important platforms for social interaction, where self-disclosure, interpersonal communication, and information sharing occur (Ellison and boyd, 2013). Users create profiles on SNSs that include a range of personal information, manage their impressions through interactions with friends, and maintain diverse social connections. Studies highlight that female SNS users are highly engaged on these sites (Duggan and Brenner, 2013), and researchers are paying increased attention to women’s needs and the role of technology in their lives (De Choudhury, et al., 2013; Gibson and Hanson, 2013; Morris, 2014). For example, researchers have argued that the life contexts of mothers influence unique and diverse uses of SNSs, and this online activity is related to different needs such as sharing childrearing information, acquiring social support, preserving identity, and connecting to a bigger society in the transition to motherhood (Drentea and Moren-Cross, 2005; Gibson and Hanson, 2013; Jang and Dworkin, 2014). Thus, women’s SNS use and its impact on their lives are important topics that need to be explored.
While prior research focused on how motherhood experiences — e.g., child-bearing and -rearing — influence mothers’ social connections and technology use, there is a need for more research examining how mothers’ sociocultural environments shape their social roles, interactions on SNSs, and impacts of SNS use on their psychological well-being. There is also a need to understand women’s use of SNSs in non-Western contexts, as non-Westerners make up a substantial proportion of SNS users and their use is likely influenced by a completely different set of norms and values. To examine the motherhood experience and social media use in non-Western countries, we examine a sample of Korean mothers using a popular SNS — KakaoStory.
Motherhood in Korean society entails somewhat different social roles and norms compared to Western contexts. For example, the central role that women play in Korean households are caregivers and managers of family dynamics, and a significant number of Korean mothers devote themselves to these roles and opt out from the job market (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2012; J. Sung, 2012). The sociocultural contexts of Korean mothers might influence their interactions on SNSs and the benefits they accrue from these interactions. So far, little is known about how sociocultural contexts in non-Western countries influence mothers’ perceptions, behaviors on SNSs, and psychological outcomes.
In this study, we build on the emerging work concerning mothers’ life contexts and technology use to make four contributions to the literature: (1) We examine SNS use of mothers in a non-Western context, specifically Korean mothers; (2) We illuminate how SNS use is deeply embedded in the social and cultural realities faced by these mothers; (3) We explore the relationship between mothers’ KakaoStory use and dimensions of psychological well-being and overall life satisfaction; and, (4) We highlight how specific life contexts — such as employment status — influence mothers’ SNS use and psychological outcomes.
The paper is structured as follows. First, we review relevant research on the sociocultural context of Korean mothers in maintaining social connections, the relationship between social connections and psychological health, and the role of SNSs in these processes. Second, we describe the research domain, KakaoStory, and our methodology, detailing the survey and interview data collected to explore Korean mothers’ use of KakaoStory and its relationship to life contexts and well-being. Third, we present findings highlighting the association between SNS use and psychological well-being in Korean mothers’ life contexts.
Sociocultural contexts of Korean mothers
Korean mothers are a unique population to explore because they are highly connected to technology (similar to or exceeding Western peers), but maintain different sociocultural roles from most Western countries. Korean mothers are familiar with “networked life,” with Web-based and mobile communication being important aspects of everyday social life (Hong, 2012; Y. Kim, 2014). Korean women younger than 40 actively use online platforms such as blogs and SNSs, and Korean-based SNSs such as KakaoStory and Cyworld are more popular than Facebook or Twitter among this population (Y. Kim and Shin, 2013; Y. Kim, 2014; S. Lee, et al., 2013). Korean mothers’ use of technology or social media is highly related to their responsibilities as the primary caregiver and homemaker (Hong, 2012; S. Lee, et al., 2013). The exchange of tips and information around mothering, education, and homemaking are the primary reasons that Korean mothers join and engage with online communities (S. Lee, et al., 2013).
There are several similarities in the motherhood experience between Korean and Western societies. For example, the ideology of “intensive mothering” is prevalent among middle-class women in many societies, including America (Western culture) and Korea (non-Western culture), which emphasizes women’s expert knowledge, extensive labor, and self-sacrificing for childrearing (Chae, 2014; Hays, 1996). Also, mothers with young children in both countries are less likely to participate in the labor force (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014; S. Sung, 2003). Yet, Korean society imposes particularly intensive responsibilities on mothers, and reinforces an ideology that takes for granted mothers will sacrifice their personal and social lives to ensure their children’s success in life (Chae, 2014; Park, 2007). As Park (2007) describes, “manager mothers,” who devote themselves to the management of children’s private education, well represent the prevalent maternal ideology in the contemporary Korean society. The lack of part-time employment opportunities in the Korean market leads many Korean wives to work longer hours (50 hours a week) than their American peers (36 hours a week) (Rudolf, 2013; Tsuya, et al., 2000). The “motherhood penalty” is higher in Korean society than any other country, and Korean women face significant wage disadvantages as they age and have children (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2012). The prevailing maternal ideology and significant unemployment rate of mothers sometimes creates a subtle tension between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers. For example, stay-at-home mothers sometimes develop an exclusive network for exchanging education information for children, and working mothers do not easily take part in this network (H. Lee and Chin, 2012; Park, 2007). As a result, working mothers sometimes feel deprived of within the society where mothers with up-to-date education information are popular and considered as an ideal model (Park, 2007). These realities might lead working mothers to believe they no longer have a strong support network. In addition, they may experience guilt for not fulfilling their important duties in the household (Glavin, et al., 2011; Ye, et al., 2010).
These sociocultural contexts are complex, and questions remain concerning how these contexts interact with technology use and psychological outcomes. For example, working mothers might struggle with work-life balance and emotional stresses, but they may also benefit from the positive experience of interacting with diverse people they meet through their multiple social roles (Crosby and Sabattini, 2006). On the other hand, unemployment, when combined with low family income, might introduce other stresses for stay-at-home mothers and may lead to sadness, depression, or anger (Lim, 2013; Mendes, et al., 2012). In this study, we focus on employment status among mothers and the specific social and cultural norms of Korea to better understand how various factors of mothers’ life contexts relate to both SNS use and outcomes of well-being and life satisfaction.
Social connections, psychological well-being & SNSs
Well-being is often defined as a state of happiness, but there is no universally agreed upon definition of the construct. Some researchers regard the absence of mental distress as well-being, and employ mental health-related instruments such as loneliness and depression scales, to measure social wellness (e.g., Umberson, et al., 1996). Other instruments of well-being focus on individuals’ self-assessment of their own lives, with the Subjective Well-Being Scale (Diener, 1984) being widely used to measure one’s affective and cognitive evaluation of his or her life.
Research employing these frameworks suggests a positive relationship between social connections and psychological well-being (Diener, 1984; Diener and Fujita, 1995). Lower levels of social engagement are linked to higher levels of depression, especially for women (Diener and Fujita, 1995; Umberson, et al., 1996). Diener and Fujita (1995) have argued that women feel more life satisfaction when achieving social goals because of their tendency to rate social goals as more important than other goals. Likewise, in a study by Umberson and colleagues (1996), analysis of a national panel survey revealed the gender differences in the quality and quantity of relationships and its different impact on men’s and women’s psychological health. Both men and women are equally affected by social ties, but women draw more social supports from social ties and men receive instrumental supports. They argued that women are more likely to suffer from the absence of sufficient positive relationships and social support. These studies suggest that interpersonal relationships and interactions with one’s network is very important for women to both acquire support and also maintain high levels of psychological well-being.
Social factors such as age, gender, and socioeconomic status influence how people develop and maintain relationships, as well as accrue benefits from their networks (Kawachi and Berkman, 2001). Women’s life circumstances also affect their social relationships. For example, stay-at-home mothers face a potential reduction of their social network and greater social isolation when compared with women who return to the workforce (Stone, 2007). Furthermore, mothers’ role as the primary caregiver may increase their support-based needs, such as getting information about childrearing or exchanging shared experiences with other mothers. These needs lead many mothers to utilize online platforms to obtain information from a more diverse group of people (Drentea and Moren-Cross, 2005; Gibson and Hanson, 2013).
SNSs are primarily tools for socializing and maintenance of networks (Joinson, 2008). As such, diverse social behaviors and processes occur through these platforms. Previous research on SNSs investigated whether use of these sites helps people establish social connections and accrue resources that potentially enhance their psychological well-being (Burke, et al., 2010; Ellison, et al., 2007; Steinfield, et al., 2008; Valkenburg, et al., 2006). These studies provide a significant understanding of the role of SNSs for young people in accruing social capital (i.e., resources embedded in human networks) or feeling life satisfaction. For example, studies suggested that intense Facebook use among college students with low self-esteem and low life satisfaction was related to greater bridging social capital benefits later in their college life (Ellison, et al., 2007; Steinfield, et al., 2008). Likewise, Burke and colleagues (2010, 2011) examined self-esteem and Facebook use through analysis of server data and survey of users, with results suggesting that direct communication (e.g., wall posts, comments) was related to increased social capital perceptions and decreased loneliness.
Taken together, these studies support the idea that social connections on SNSs positively influence users’ psychological well-being. Yet, findings from these studies may vary across population groups. For example, Kahneman and Deaton (2010) found that adult evaluations of their own lives are related to socioeconomic factors such as income and education, while emotional well-being is related to positive relationships with others and mental health. This study suggests that adults’ well-being is multidimensional, and social connections are a part of diverse life circumstances that relate to several dimensions of psychological well-being. Ryff’s (1989) Psychological Well-Being (PWB) Scale describes psychological well-being as realization of potential in pursuing a meaningful life — not merely the absence of mental illness or distress. In the context of the present study, we are interested in how mothers translate their SNS use to evaluate diverse dimensions of their lives.
PWB consists of six psychological dimensions of well-being: self-acceptance, environmental mastery, positive relations with others, personal growth, purpose in life, and autonomy (Ryff and Singer, 1998). PWB is useful for capturing multiple dimensions related to meaningfulness and happiness in one’s life (King and Napa, 1998). In this study, we focus on three of these dimensions: (1) self-acceptance, which measures a capacity to accept personal limitations and past life; (2) environmental mastery, which assesses individuals’ ability to choose or create living contexts suitable to one’s needs; and, (3) positive relations with others, which deals with one’s feeling or capability of having caring and trusting connections with others (Ryff and Singer, 1998).
In this study, we link research on social connections, well-being, and SNS use to the emerging literature on mothers and social media. Virtual interaction plays an important role for mothers experiencing social and demographical isolation, and allows mothers to acquire both informational and emotional support and to feel empowered (Madge and O’Connor, 2006). The desire for social interactions has motivated some mothers to join SNSs such as Facebook, which provide useful tools for mothers to ask questions to their friends while managing new connections with other mothers (Gibson and Hanson, 2013). McDaniel and colleagues (2012) examined the relationship between new mothers’ social media use (blogging) with their marital satisfaction and parenting stress. They found that new mothers’ interactions with extended family members and friends on blogs positively related to their perceptions of increased social connectedness and social support. However, new mothers’ SNS use was not related to increased social connections because these participants refrained from disclosing personal information and gaining feedback from others due to privacy concerns (McDaniel, et al., 2012).
These findings begin to provide a picture of how mothers use SNSs during this transitional period, including the challenges they experience due to childrearing and how they utilize a variety of communication channels for support. To build on existing research to delve deeper into how mothers in a different cultural context use SNSs and how these behaviors relate to multiple components of well-being, this study explores the following exploratory research questions:
RQ1: How does Korean mothers’ SNS use relate to their psychological well-being?
RQ2: How does Korean mothers’ employment status influence their social connections and interactions on SNSs?
KakaoStory launched in March 2012 as an entirely mobile, photo-based SNS, whose interface is dedicated to sharing photos via mobile devices. The service experienced rapid growth because many users of its sister company, KakaoTalk, began using KakaoStory concurrently. KakaoTalk is a mobile instant messenger service designed for message exchange between two or more people. KakaoTalk users create profiles with a phone number, profile photo, nickname, status message, and user identification (ID). Users can connect with anyone for whom they have a phone number, and they can search the user ID of the person and add the person to their friends. The two services are intertwined — users can use images from their KakaoStory accounts to show a background image on KakaoTalk. In addition, KakaoStory users primarily find and connect with people with whom they are connected on KakaoTalk. Connections are made after a request-and-accept process, and connected users can view and comment on each other’s KakaoStory posts. Alternatively, users can leave their account public to interact with unknown KakaoStory users.
Figure 1: Screenshots of profile page of KakaoTalk (left) and MyStory page of KakaoStory (right).
Users can post pictures and text, and members of the network can leave comments with text or five emotion stickers. From the ‘Feed’ page, users can check a summary of friends’ updates — the picture, (excerpts of) text contents, and number of comments — in reverse chronological order and click through to the original posting and comments. In the ‘MyStory’ page, updated posts of the user are displayed in a four-column table, which allows users to click through to the original posts and comments. In the four-column table (recently changed to a three-column table), the picture of each post is shown unless the posting is text-only.
A survey and interviews were employed to understand Korean women’s needs during motherhood, their motivations and context of social interaction on KakaoStory, and the relationship between their KakaoStory use and psychological well-being. The survey instrument included questions about participants’ demographic information, relationships with KakaoStory friends (e.g., friend, neighbor, colleague, relative), perceived bonding and bridging social capital on KakaoStory, self-esteem, and psychological well-being. At the end of the survey, participants were asked if they were willing to be contacted for a follow-up interview session. The survey was hosted on Qualtrics, a Web-based survey service, and was advertised through several online communities popular among Korean mothers. The first author also posted advertisements for the study on the researcher’s KakaoStory and Facebook walls with a short description of the research and the survey link.
In Fall 2013, 86 participants completed the survey. Participants who finished surveys and provided an email address were entered into a raffle to win one of 13 gift cards ranging from 5,000 Korean won (US$4.5) to 50,000 Korean won (US$45). The average participant was 34 years old (range: 28–42, SD=2.939). Forty-two participants (49 percent) were stay-at-home mothers and 44 participants (51 percent) were hired or self-employed. Most participants (91.9 percent) had a college-level degree or higher (see Table 1).
Table 1: Descriptive statistics. Note: n=86.
Fifty-eight survey participants volunteered to participate in a follow-up interview. The first author distributed an invitation letter and Doodle poll link to schedule interviews. Following this procedure, 15 mothers who responded to the first author’s e-mail request participated in an interview. Interviews were conducted via Internet-based phone services (e.g., KakaoTalk voice call, Google Hangout, Skype). In the semi-structured interviews, participants were asked to describe 1) typical everyday activities and socialization opportunities; 2) the impact of life transitions (i.e., marriage and childbirth) on their personal and social lives; 3) types of social capital (i.e., informational, economic, and emotional benefits) they could obtain through their networks on KakaoStory; and, 4) examples of interactions they had on KakaoStory. Interviews lasted 40–60 minutes and participants were given 25,000 Korean won (US$23) for their participation.
Three key dimensions (i.e., self-acceptance, environmental mastery, and positive relations with others) from Ryff’s Psychological Well-Being (PWB) scale were selected in this study because these dimensions are either related to the motherhood experiences or universally endorsed aspects of well-being (Ryff and Singer, 1998). A 14-item version of each subscale was used for reliability (total 42 items), and participants responded to items along a six-point scale that ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Diener’s Subjective Well-Being (SWB) scale (Diener, 1984) measured the overall life satisfaction of mothers. The SWB scale consists of five items along a seven-point scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree) that measures overall life satisfaction. Overall life satisfaction reflects the possession of sufficient resources for achieving one’s goals (Diener and Fujita, 1995), and might only reflect the achievement of the most salient goal for a person’s current life. Thus, both scales were employed to measure diverse dimensions of well-being.
The survey also collected data on life circumstances (i.e., employment status, education, and perceived socioeconomic status), individual characteristics (i.e., self-esteem), and KakaoStory use. A breakdown of these responses is provided in Table 1. Self-esteem has previously been employed to analyze the relationship between Facebook use, social capital, and psychological outcomes (Burke, et al., 2010, 2011; Ellison, et al., 2007), so we included the self-esteem scale (Rosenberg, 1989) as a control variable in our analysis. The scale consists of 10 questions answered on a four-point scale ranging from strongly disagree (0) to strongly agree (3). For KakaoStory use, participants were asked to provide the number of friends they had on KakaoStory, the category that best described their relationship with KakaoStory friends (eight relational categories reflecting closeness and motherhood contexts, and an “other” option), a modified Facebook Intensity scale (see Ellison, et al., 2007) that was altered to refer to KakaoStory, and perceptions of social capital in relation KakaoStory use. The modified Facebook Intensity scale measured how much KakaoStory was integrated into mothers’ everyday lives. This measure includes six questions along a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). Finally, the Internet Social Capital Scales (Williams, 2006) measured perceived bonding and bridging social capital through KakaoStory use. Each scale consists of 10 items along a five-point Likert-type scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree).
This paper presents both quantitative (survey) and qualitative (interview) data. The primary purpose of quantitative analysis is to (1) provide a general understanding of Korean mothers’ life contexts and KakaoStory use; (2) examine the relationship between KakaoStory use and psychological well-being (RQ1); and, (3) examine the relationship between employment status and mothers’ interactions via KakaoStory (RQ2). Survey data were analyzed via SPSSv21. Fourteen out of 86 data entries had missing values, but these entries had at least 67 percent completion of each measurement, and minimum of 96 percent completion of entire survey items. Since missing values were found in the measurements that are assessed through multiple items, an averaged mean of available items was used (Schafer and Graham, 2002).
The qualitative analysis is used to unpack the underlying reasons for the differences revealed through the quantitative analysis. Interview data were recorded and transcribed by the first author. A codebook was created based on the constructs related to the research questions. Each transcript was coded by the first author and an independent researcher (who is a native Korean speaker) in Dedoose, an online qualitative analysis platform. Each researcher coded half of the interview data by themselves, reviewed the transcripts together to confirm the operationalization of each construct, then each researcher re-coded the other half. Following the second round of coding, the first author exported the excerpts into Excel spreadsheets, and created a meta-matrix to help identify trends that run through the interview data and representative quotes (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). Selected quotes of this study were translated into English by the first author.
The majority of mothers (71 percent) spent 30 minutes or less per day using KakaoStory exclusively. On the other hand, 14 percent said they spend more than one hour per day in KakaoStory (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Time spent on KakaoStory per day (n=86).
Descriptive statistics of participant demographics and measures related to KakaoStory use, self-esteem, and psychological well-being are summarized in Table 1. On average, mothers in this study had 53 friends (SD=37.38) on KakaoStory, which is a relatively small number of SNS friends compared with the total number of SNS friends reported by American young adults or Korean young adults (412 friends and 81 friends, respectively; see Y. Kim, et al., 2011). Participants reported 5.34 categories of friends on average, with “friends” and “alumni” making up 44 percent of the total friends. The “colleagues” category differed significantly across employment categories, t(57.87)=3.57, p<.001, with 16 percent of working mothers’ KakaoStory friends being colleagues (M=12.6, SD=17.55), compared to three percent for stay-at-home mothers (M=2.36, SD=7.27).
Correlational analysis was conducted to examine RQ1 regarding the relationship between KakaoStory use and psychological well-being (see Table 2). The total number of friends on KakaoStory was positively correlated with relationship diversity (r=.516, p<.01), bridging social capital on KakaoStory (r=.276, p<.05), self-esteem (r=.268, p<.05), and positive relations with others among psychological well-being (r=.398, p<.01). Time spent on KakaoStory was positively associated with emotional connectedness to KakaoStory (r=.473, p<.01), bridging social capital on KakaoStory (r=.245, p<.05), and positive relations with others (r=.227, p<.05). Emotional connectedness to KakaoStory was correlated with bonding social capital (r=.302, p<.01) and bridging social capital through KakaoStory use (r=.402, p<.01), and bonding social capital was related to positive relations with others (r=.334, p<.01). None of the KakaoStory use-related factors were associated with overall subjective well-being, but several KakaoStory-related factors (e.g., the total number of KakaoStory friends, time spent on KakaoStory, and bonding social capital through KakaoStory) correlated with one dimension of psychological well-being — positive relations with others.
Table 2: Results of correlation analysis among variables. Note: n=86.
We assumed that the employment status affects the social connections, social capital, and other psychological consequences (RQ2). To analyze differences in KakaoStory use and well-being across employment status, a series of independent t-tests were conducted (see Table 3). Stay-at-home and working mothers showed no significant differences in the number of friends, emotional connectedness to KakaoStory, perceived social capital, and psychological well-being. The average time spent on KakaoStory showed only a marginal difference according to a t-test (p=.098). Self-esteem differed across employment status (p=.059), with working mothers reporting higher self-esteem (M=2.05, SD=.397) than stay-at-home mothers (M=1.90, SD=.374). Previous research suggested a positive relationship between self-esteem, perceived social capital and psychological outcomes, so we evaluated differences in psychological well-being after controlling for the effect of self-esteem. Only one dimension — positive relations — exhibited a significant difference across employment status, F(1, 83)=5.58, p=.02, ω2=.03. About three percent of the total variance in positive relations was accounted for by the employment status controlling for the effect of the self-esteem. Specifically, stay-at-home mothers perceived that their network included more caring and trustworthy connections (adj M=4.412) than working mothers (adj M=4.149).
Table 3: Results of independent samples t-tests between stay-at-home and working mothers.
See Table 4 for descriptive information about each interview participant. All names have been changed to protect participants’ identities.
Table 4: Interview participants demographics.
RQ1: How does Korean mothers’ SNS use relate to their psychological well-being?
Interview participants described several ways KakaoStory use influenced their psychological well-being. However, this relationship varied based on a child’s age. Mothers reported feeling isolated at times due to constraints of physical activities, especially when their child was a newborn. New mothers who were in the early stages of motherhood said they felt their babies kept them “physically and emotionally occupied,” so they actively utilized online channels such as KakaoStory to maintain social connections. Heejin, mother of a five-month-old, noted:
“I am on maternity leave now, so I have some free time [to use KakaoStory] at home. Hanging out with my friends became almost impossible after my baby arrived, and this situation made me feel cut off from the world and isolated alone at home. But I can communicate with other people on KakaoStory by posting and commenting to each other. That’s comforting and makes me feel connected with people.”
Several other new mothers noted they felt disconnected from the world while taking maternity leave for several months and spending their time alone with their babies at home. New responsibilities associated with caring for her newborn made Heejin feel overwhelmed and isolated from the outside world that she used to be a part of. She actively interacted with her colleagues on KakaoStory by posting and commenting to her KakaoStory friends as she did off-line before childbirth. She sought comfort and support from these interactions. Dohee, who was also on maternity leave, said she came to appreciate workplace events because they provided different information from the majority of children-related posts and reminded her of her corporate role as a senior engineer.
Just as new mothers have benefited from KakaoStory use in reducing negative feelings associated with their motherhood experiences, other mothers — whose children were older than one year — also could gain benefits from exchanges on their child-centric postings. Jihyun said she mainly interacted with other mothers on KakaoStory:
“I think mothers use KakaoStory for fun to post their children’s pictures and get comments like ‘Oh, she’s so cute!’ from other mothers. So I try to make whole-hearted comments to the postings about their children.”
Jihyun noted that child-related postings are highly salient for her KakaoStory network, or at least drew more attention than posts about other topics. Jungah echoed the same sentiment, saying she commented on postings or pictures of children, while non-child related postings seldom attracted her attention. They were also connected with non-mother friends on KakaoStory, but perceived saliency of child-related posts and frequent interactions with other mothers made them regard KakaoStory as a place for exchanging caring and empathetic comments about motherhood.
These positive interactions with other mothers also created a supportive environment where mothers could go for emotional help and advice. By being connected with other mothers, the women in this study reported feeling they were not alone and there were people who understood them. Hyojin, a mother of two children, shared an anecdote of using KakaoStory to find solace after a negative experience off-line.
“My son fell down at a department store the other day. There was a young mother of a newborn next to us, and my son started yelling at her. I think he wanted to say she made him fall down. This young mother whose baby looked like a six month old or so, seemed upset. Maybe she was afraid that my son’s shout makes her son upset or whatever. She looked very unkindly at us, my son and me. That was so ridiculous! I needed some consolation, so I posted it on KakaoStory. My KakaoStory friends left comments that those situations happen. Some of them even called me out to comfort me, and we talked about the story that night.”
Technology facilitated a range of options for feedback and help, and Hyojin’s post led to both online and off-line support from her network. Other mothers flocked to Hyojin’s posts, commented on her story, and contacted her via alternative channels, all of which gave her a sense of camaraderie. She said that these interactions made her feel emotional supports from her KakaoStory friends. In this way, KakaoStory enables mothers to connect with each other for sharing individual motherhood experiences, which may positively impact their psychological well-being.
The above examples indicate that the potential benefits of KakaoStory use have a bearing on the types of interaction mothers have on KakaoStory. Some mothers described how their interactions on KakaoStory were affected by their “friend” networks on the site. A part of their KakaoStory network consisted of strong relationships such as close friends and family members. These strong ties encouraged mothers to share child-related postings by commenting on these posts on the site or off-line. For example, Yunji and Soyoung primarily interacted with their family members and close friends, who actively gave feedback on child-related postings on KakaoStory. While marriage and childbirth had created a geographic boundary between them and their strong ties, KakaoStory’s features provided a useful outlet for mothers and their strong ties to catch up with each other’s daily lives.
The other part of mothers’ KakaoStory network was composed of weaker relationships such as other (non-family/pre-existing friends) women. As these relationships are often based on motherhood experiences, their interactions also centered around childrearing. For example, Jihyun mentioned a part of her KakaoStory network was mothers she got to know through online communities for mothers’ information sharing or off-line educational facilities for her child. Minji started using KakaoStory in order to keep in touch with other new mothers from a postnatal care center. While she did not have opportunities to communicate with these weaker ties via more personal interactions (e.g., face-to-face, calls, or texting) due to lack of closeness or incompatible schedules, KakaoStory’s features enabled relationship maintenance that would likely not occur without the site. Naturally, these motherhood-based friendships allowed participants to freely share their child-related postings on KakaoStory.
This unique network composition on KakaoStory emerged as a common theme among multi-SNS users. Twelve mothers using multiple SNSs (see Table 4) described significant differences in their network composition on KakaoStory compared to the other SNSs they used. For example, Gayun had a relatively small (18) and homogenous group of friends on KakaoStory, compared with a wider (208) and more heterogeneous network on Facebook. Sojin, who had 67 KakaoStory friends, also mentioned that her KakaoStory friends were much more homogenous than on other SNSs, and were largely composed of other mothers and friends from high school or college. On the other hand, her Facebook friends ranged in age and relational type, from her childhood friends to the priest in her church.
Sometimes, mothers employed connection strategies to regulate their network because of the types of content they wanted to share on the site. Dohee applied a strict rule in accepting friend requests in order to use KakaoStory as a channel for exchanging her innermost thoughts about motherhood and her lives with her closest friends. Likewise, Najin joined KakaoStory in order to connect with a group of friends she initially met in an online community for local mothers, but she chose not to friend her husband on the site, explaining: “I just didn’t want to. I sometimes do not want to talk about my thoughts and feelings to my husband, but it would be shared [if we were connected on KakaoStory]. Well, I may want to vent about family in-law ... .”
On Facebook, she was connected with her husband, his friends, and other family members, which made her restricted in talking about what she thought. She kept her KakaoStory sterile by being connected with mother friends only. The fact that she was not connected with her husband or other family members allowed Najin to engage in conversations that she would have been uncomfortable discussing around family members, such as “venting” about relatives. The regulation of friendship on KakaoStory allowed these participants to share their candid feelings or have empathetic interactions with people who have similar experiences as mothers, daughters, or daughters-in-law. These interactions helped participants relieve emotional stress, obtain needed support, and feel better about themselves.
RQ2: How does Korean mothers’ employment status influence their social connections and interactions on SNSs?
We asked mothers to describe a typical day to better understand how social context influences their site use. While all mothers’ reported leisure time was similar on weekends, time use during weekdays revealed a significant difference between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers.
Mothers said that most children went to a daycare center 24 months after they were born, so those who did not work could spend a large part of the day socializing with their friends, pursuing hobbies, or training for future careers. Stay-at-home mothers became friends with other mothers who lived nearby or whose children went to the same daycare centers or preschools. Regular interactions off-line allowed them to learn about each other’s daily activities and plans, so KakaoStory merely supplemented the information they received through other channels. Even still, they extended their interactions to KakaoStory to provide a richer context of experience or express supports to their friends.
Sometimes, stay-at-home mothers used messaging services (e.g., KakaoTalk or Naver Band) with a closed group of people to have minute-by-minute interactions with their friends. For example, Jihyun noted:
“We share almost every minute of every day (laughter). I ate X for lunch, and I am thinking about having Y for dinner, and then one of my friends might say ‘Oh, that’s a good idea, I will make Y for dinner, too!’ Like this. Or, ‘my son wore this outfit today,’ ‘he did not want to go to the daycare center this morning,’ ‘I bought this,’ and so on. Almost everything!”
This type of group interaction off of the site allowed Jihyun to feel closer to her friends and affected her KakaoStory interactions. She selectively made postings on KakaoStory, mainly to share special events such as announcement of her second pregnancy. Some stay-at-home mothers did not particularly seek social interactions on KakaoStory, but rather utilized KakaoStory as a digital album to archive pictures of memorable moments or special occasions. However, friends who already knew about the backstory for a post made comments to show their support, and social interactions occurred.
Conversely, working mothers emphasized their lack of time for socializing. Working mothers spent daytime hours at work, quickly returning home to spend time with their children while their husbands were still at work. During weekends, they spent most of their time with their children and family to make up for their absence during weekdays. As a result, working mothers did not have time for socializing with colleagues — which mostly occurs after work — or with their friends, and it often prevented them from forming new friendships with other mothers. For working mothers, KakaoStory was a channel where they could catch up with their friends’ lives. One working mother (Sojin) said:
“We [my friends and I] all live in Seoul, but it’s not like we can meet anytime we want. You know what working moms’ lives are like, right? You have to take care of family-in-law, your children, your husband and so on. We’re lacking time, but you can feel like you just met your friends yesterday if you’re using KakaoStory. I can keep up with my friends about what they’re up to. For me, that’s the most important reason why I am on KakaoStory.”
Sojin’s remark reflects working mothers’ psychological pressure of managing home and child-related work in addition to their occupation. For working mothers, socialization outside of work was a rare opportunity and thus, virtual channels were useful for them in catching up with daily events about their friends and interact with them. Ah-joong (a pharmacist) described her home responsibilities as a second job. Although her work hours were flexible, she could not maintain relationships with other mothers off-line. She utilized KakaoStory to manage weaker ties by posting and leaving comments, but she still sometimes felt socially cut off. These interactions on KakaoStory made working mothers feel more connected to their friends and helped them maintain social relationships without requiring a large time investment. However, KakaoStory interactions could not solely satisfy working mothers’ socialization needs.
Remarks related to making new friends revealed differences between working and stay-at-home mothers in their relationship maintenance opportunities and perceived interpersonal relations. Stay-at-home mothers mentioned a number of online communities — including those devoted to cooking, coffee, baby supplies, and shopping tips — where they could meet new local friends. On the other hand, working mothers seldom described expanding their network through these sites. For example, Dohee, a senior engineer, did not think she could maintain new relationships with other mothers after she returned to work. New relationships needed to be cultivated through continuing interactions such as off-line meetings and text exchanges or comments on SNSs, which required extra effort for working mothers to keep up with. As a result of limited chances for relationship maintenance and development, several working mothers (e.g., Ah-joong, Minji) reported feeling their current level of interpersonal interactions were not sufficient.
While employment status seemed to be an important factor that influenced Korean mothers’ KakaoStory use and interpersonal relationships, other sociocultural contexts such as their social roles as a wife, mother, and daughter in a patriarchal system subtlety affected their socialization opportunities online and off-line. Minji, a senior employee, noted that young Korean fathers still consider mothers (their wives) to be responsible for housework and childcare, while the men take a secondary role. Another working mother, Sojin, talked about her husband’s role in the household:
“Of course I am not 100 percent satisfied with my husband [about the division of household chores]. But he earns more money instead [of helping me out with household chores] so he can buy us a dishwasher-equipped apartment, hire a housekeeper for me, send our daughter an expensive private preschool. (Laughter) It’s really expensive, you know.”
Sojin’s comments reflect the normative perceptions of gender roles within the Korean families. While working mothers also contributed to the household budget, they are expected to, or it is taken for granted that they spend their non-working time on home management or family care. Socialization and career advancement were expected to be sacrificed in order to support family members. Jungah, who was planning to return to work, recalled a lesson learned from her father that her role was to assist her husband to build a social network for a successful career. Although she was a promising researcher at a university hospital, she decided to quit her job temporarily to take care of childrearing and housework. These domestic duties of mothers sometimes affected mothers’ employment status and overall interpersonal relations, which made them seek diverse ways for relationship maintenance or otherwise feel disconnected from their social network.
Through quantitative and qualitative analyses, this study expands our understanding of how sociocultural contexts influence adoption and use of SNSs, as well as the relationship between SNS use and psychological well-being. An analysis of the findings suggests several important contributions. First, the quantitative analysis reveals that dimensions of psychological well-being are complex and a uni-dimensional measure may not fully capture an individual’s perception of self. For example, KakaoStory use did not correlate with overall subjective well-being, but was significantly correlated to a finer-grained dimension of well-being, i.e., positive relations with others. In addition, overall subjective well-being was not correlated to any metrics of KakaoStory use but, as expected, were significantly correlated to finer-grained dimensions such as self esteem, positive relations, environmental mastery, and self acceptance. Thus, this study highlights how the use of an SNS such as KakaoStory is related to a specific aspect of well-being, rather than an overall sense of well-being.
KakaoStory use was significantly correlated to one specific dimension of well-being: positive relations with others. Specifically, total friends on KakaoStory and time spent using the SNS positively correlated to Korean mothers’ belief that they could maintain broader social networks well and exchange supports with their social ties. In addition, the correlation analysis revealed that stay-at-home mothers reported higher positive relations compared to working mothers. This result suggests that components of psychological well-being are multifaceted, and SNS use may be most salient for certain dimensions (positive relationships) and not others (e.g., overall life satisfaction, environmental mastery etc.).
That KakaoStory use was correlated only with one dimension of psychological well-being confirms the validity of multidimensional well-being for adult women. Some participants mentioned that having KakaoStory friends did not solve imminent financial problems or improve their child’s mental health. Rather, the site enabled them to garner emotional support to relieve stress associated with these life circumstances. Thus, SNS use plays an important role in enhancing mothers’ emotional well-being. That said, the existence or strength of the relationship between SNS use and one’s psychological well-being depends on how much importance users attach to SNS use in evaluating their lives and how they capitalize on it. Adults’ overall psychological well-being is associated with diverse life circumstances such as socioeconomic status or physical health as well as social relations, and the use of multidimensional well-being measures is advantageous in research examining well-being (Kahneman and Deaton, 2010).
The qualitative findings unpack and richly describe how sociocultural contexts influence women’s SNS use and well-being. For example, stay-at-home mothers had more time to develop face-to-face relationships with peers to document or share their lives on KakaoStory, which has also been reported as a primary motivation among a more diverse Western sample of Facebook users (Vitak and Kim, 2014). KakaoStory represented a way for them to mirror and enhance their off-line lives and relationships. On the other hand, working mothers dealt with a complex mixture of employment responsibilities, home duties, and varying emotions and stresses related to these conflicting roles. The cultural context of Korea added additional stressors, particularly with strong conceptions for what roles females should play in supporting their husbands and families. These factors influenced how working mothers conceptualized their KakaoStory use and its potential benefits. Working mothers lacked time for socializing with peers and used KakaoStory to maintain existing relationships. However, their life contexts limited opportunities for making new connections off-line and restricted their KakaoStory use for developing relationships with new friends.
Variance in site use between working and stay-at-home mothers suggests that the perceived benefits of site use are mediated by employment status. Maintaining new relationships requires a continual investment in time and effort (Duck, 1988), and KakaoStory was often described as a channel to convert new connections into closer relationships when coupled with off-line meetings for stay-at-home mothers. Our interview results showed that relationship maintenance was a part of stay-at-home mothers’ daily activities, and they typically had more opportunities to confirm their positive relations with others on a regular basis than working mothers. Working mothers utilized KakaoStory for maintaining relationships, but the benefits of using KakaoStory were contextual. Almost half of Korean mothers opt out of the work force, which restricts their utilization of the workplace for exchange of similar life experiences with female cohorts (J. Sung, 2012; Ye, et al., 2010). Higher levels of self-esteem among working mothers in this study hinted that working mothers might benefit from their employment status while stay-at-home mothers might not (Lim, 2013; Mendes, et al., 2012). But, a male-oriented workplace culture and frequent overtime in Korea may force both working and stay-at-home mothers to take on childcare at home, while their spouses stay late at the workplace or socialize with colleagues. These sociocultural contexts of working mothers may also explain their lower psychological well-being in terms of positive relations with others.
Remarks by several participants indicated that normative social roles of mothers in Korean society are to fulfill homemaking and childrearing responsibilities, which influenced some mothers to identify their well-being and success with that of their family members (e.g., child, husband). These sociocultural contexts, combined with a supportive network composition, help explain their persistent child-centric postings and interactions on KakaoStory, which is distinctive from American mothers’ Facebook postings patterns. Previous studies have shown that mothers in Western countries utilize social media for exchanging child-related information, but they also try to regain their self-identity as an individual person (Gibson and Hanson, 2013; Morris, 2014). Conversely, Korean mothers’ KakaoStory use seems related to reinforce their identity as mothers, which is in accordance with social desirability in Korean society. SNSs are a venue where “facework” (Davies, 2012; Goffman, 1982) takes places to show a wide range of audience members, their conformation of cultural norms (good mothering) and gain acceptance from others. For example, Heisler and Ellis (2008) reported that mothers tried to manage “good mother face” even though they sometimes admitted a discrepancy between their actual identity and their ideal image of self. Mothers’ facework on SNSs might help them deal with identity struggles during life transitions, but this might also induce stress and anxiety for those mothers who cannot prove their good mothering practices.
The mothers in this study repeatedly mentioned the record-keeping purpose of their KakaoStory use, which has been suggested as an emerging goal of self-disclosure on SNSs (Vitak and Kim, 2014). SNSs like KakaoStory contain affordances that encourage regular content contributions and archive that content for later review. Increased time spent on KakaoStory by stay-at-home mothers was associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in record-keeping, which also elicited responses from friends and exchanges of comments. This context may encourage mothers to voluntarily disclose information, experience positive social interactions on KakaoStory and, as a result, perceive greater social support through KakaoStory use (Burke, et al., 2010, 2011; McDaniel, et al., 2012).
Implications for future research
There are several implications that can be drawn from these findings for future research. First, we should utilize multiple methods and scales to capture adults’ SNS use and related outcomes. By combining two well-being scales, this study provides a deeper understanding of how SNS use relates to different aspects of adults’ psychological health. Second, future researchers should examine sociocultural contexts that shape human interactions off-line and online. This study showed that sociocultural contexts affected mothers’ social roles and social relations, which influenced how and why they use SNSs. Thus, researchers must identify and investigate unique sociocultural contexts around a target group and how these contexts interact with individuals’ behaviors on social media. Third, future research should consider the diverse channels mothers use for maintaining social connections. In this study, participants often mentioned messaging services (e.g., KakaoTalk, Naver Band) as important online channels to communicate with friends, and KakaoStory was a new component of a diverse ecology of online social interactions. As channels for social interactions expand, use of other communication channels may affect people’s perceptions of their overall social connections and psychological well-being.
The generalizability of findings from this study is limited due to the small and generally homogenous sample. In addition, this study reflects the specific sociocultural context of Korean mothers of young children (<eight years), and caution should be taken to apply implications of this study to different sociocultural contexts. Remarks related to their daily activities suggested that mothers’ life patterns are constantly in flux due to their adaptation to motherhood and their children’s development. The current study collected data from samples from a diverse stage of motherhood (from mothers of a newborn to mothers of three children), and did not allow a complex analysis of comparing mothers in different stages. Future research should consider the dimensions influencing well-being on SNSs by examining additional sociocultural factors not covered in this study, such as Internet skills, socioeconomic status, and family composition.
By examining Korean mothers, this study provides a better understanding of how mothers’ psychological well-being relates to SNS use in a specific sociocultural context. While mothers’ psychological well-being is multidimensional, interactions on KakaoStory were associated with increased social well-being, measured as perceptions of positive social relations. The level of social well-being was associated with mothers’ sociocultural contexts, especially by employment status in Korean society. While employment positively contributed to self-esteem, it restricted mothers’ socialization opportunities and induced stress due to increased overall responsibility.
This study contributes to emerging work on how social media use affects mothers’ lives, and how sociocultural contexts of a broader society shape perceptions and behaviors of women and the potential benefits they obtain through the use of technology. Such work contributes a deeper picture of how social and cultural conditions shape SNS use and, subsequently, how different uses of SNSs are related to diverse dimensions of well-being and other social outcomes.
About the authors
Jinyoung Kim is a doctoral candidate, and Drs. June Ahn and Jessica Vitak are assistant professors in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.
E-mail: Kim — jkim0204 [at] umd [dot] edu; Ahn — juneahn [at] umd [dot] edu; Vitak — jvitak [at] umd [dot] edu
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Received 30 October 2014; accepted 12 February 2015.
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Korean mothers’ KakaoStory use and its relationship to psychological well-being
by Jinyoung Kim, June Ahn, and Jessica Vitak.
First Monday, Volume 20, Number 3 - 2 March 2015