Social Networks among Inner-City Minority Women

Article excerpt

Few researchers have empirically addressed problems faced by low socioeconomic status, minority single mothers (Tolan, Keys, Chertok, & Jason, 1990). Furthermore, the paucity of research in this area appears to parallel the poverty-stricken environments in which these women reside. However, researchers actively assessing the needs and strengths of this population consistently identify one of numerous threats to their socioeconomic, physical and mental well being - that is, the rate of pregnancy to out-of-wedlock mothers. In doing so, these researchers confront statistics depicting the epidemic rate of pregnancy among black women indicating that eighty-five percent of single black mothers, less than 25 years of age, live below the poverty line (Children's Defense Fund, 1985). Additionally, it is estimated that 75 percent of the above group will remain in poverty and subsequently impact the lives of up to three generations of offspring.

Further, minority single mothers living in low income areas are subject to stressful living conditions, which significantly heighten their vulnerability to stress-related illnesses. The disadvantaged status of minority single mothers is further evidenced by research studies revealing higher reports of life stress by minority persons (Brown & Harris, 1978). Furthermore, the high divorce rate among inner-city minorities (Murray & Harrison, 1981) suggests many may be "singularly" responsible for the emotional, physical, and socioeconomic support of their families. Consequently, pressures associated with assuming multiple roles and limited advancement opportunities increase the risk of stress-related illness among members of this population.

There are increased rates of psychological disorders among single and widowed persons (Kaplan, Cassel, & Gore, 1977), and low SES populations are more vulnerable to life stressors (Kessler, 1979; La Gory & Fitzpatrick, 1992). And while lower SES minorities are more dependent on family members for social support, higher SES non-minorities more often seek social support through friend networks, and the use of professional counseling (Stewart & Vaux, 1986; Ostrow et al., 1986). Linked with literature viewing support groups as instrumental in aiding persons through periods of disorganization (Vega et al, 1991) and related literature questioning the adequacy of support systems among low SES groups (Liem & Liem, 1978; Griffith, 1985), there is a clear need to develop more support for lower SES, inner-city, single residents (Bogat, Sullivan & Grober, 1993).

The present study attempted to evaluate the relationships between support, stress, symptoms, and health status among a group of low income minority women. This exploratory, correlational study was intended to help provide a better glimpse of the social networks among inner-city women living in low income areas.

Method

Participants

Single mothers were recruited for the present study. Twelve were black and 12 were Hispanic. Many of them resided in the Cabrini Green Housing Project, while others maintained residence in a nearby low-income community. Participants filled out the questionnaires at a community service center. Staff at the center dispensed the forms to the women and collected the completed forms. Participants were unemployed, economically dependent on government assistance programs, and single parents heading households. They ranged in age from sixteen to thirty-two years and their level of education varied, ranging from 9 to 15 years of formal or vocational schooling. Finally, the number of children comprising participants' families ranged from one to five, infants through adolescents.

System Checklist 90 - Revised (SCL-90-R)

The SCL-90-R (Derogatis, Limpman, Rickels, Unlenhuth & Covi, 1974) is a self-report inventory of psychological symptoms. Respondents are asked to rate 90 symptoms on a five-point Likert-type scale. …