Effects of Economic Hardship on Adolescent Self-Esteem: A Family Mediation Model

Article excerpt

A Family Mediation Model

In the past decade, many farm and nonfarm families in the midwestern United States experienced economic hardship due to the agricultural crisis in the farm belt (Jolly, 1986). The crisis started in the early 1980s and peaked during 1986 and 1987, with many families facing farm foreclosures, income loss, underemployment, job loss, and loss of human resources (Rosenblatt, 1989). Many families continue to feel the long-term effects of this crisis.

A large body of research has shown that economic stress is associated with depression, anxiety, psychophysiological distress, and mental problems for both men and women (Dooley, Catalano, & Rook, 1988; Liem & Liem, 1988; Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1989). Relatively little is known about the effects of economic hardship on children, particularly adolescents (McLoyd & Flanagan, 1990).

During adolescence, school transitions, changes in social roles, and pubertal growth factors interact to influence the mental health and developmental outcomes of adolescents (Petersen, 1988; Simmons & Blyth, 1987). Each of these factors is potentially detrimental if change occurs at too young an age or at too fast a pace (Simmons & Blyth, 1987). A major crisis such as economic hardship may constitute an additional source of life change and stress for adolescents, placing them at risk for the detrimental effects (Coleman, 1974; Masten et al., 1988).

Of special interest in this study is the development of self-esteem during adolescence under conditions of family economic crisis. Self-esteem refers to "the evaluation which the individual makes and customarily maintains concerning himself/herself; it expresses an attitude of approval or disapproval, and indicates the extent to which the individual believes himself/herself to be capable, successful, significant and worthy" (Coopersmith, 1967, p. 4). There is some evidence that parental unemployment is related to low self-esteem in children (Coopersmith, 1967; Isralowitz & Singer, 1986). While these studies have demonstrated the adverse effect of economic hardship on self-esteem of children and adolescents, research is needed to delineate the specific mechanisms that link economic hardship to their self-esteem. The family is widely seen as an important influence on self-esteem because it is where the initial sense of oneself is formed (Gecas & Schwalbe, 1986). Parents, in particular, are considered to be significant sources because they control the atmosphere in which children have their first experiences as social beings (Hales, 1990). The present study investigated the linkage between economic hardship, family relationships, and adolescent self-esteem by testing two models [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED].

Model I proposes that economic hardship has direct adverse effects on both the parents' perception of marital happiness and adolescents' perception of the parent-adolescent relationship. Furthermore, the model implies that economic hardship has an indirect effect on adolescent self-esteem which is mediated through the parent-adolescent relationship. Much research supports the generalizations of this model.

Studies on the consequences of economic hardship have documented the detrimental effects of economic hardship on psychological well-being of the adults in families (Rosenblatt & Keller, 1983) and on the marital relationship (Johnson & Booth, 1990). Several sources of stress on the marital relationship have been noted (McLoyds, 1989).

There may be disagreement and conflict over the use of the limited money available (Larson, 1984; Wilhelm & Ridley, 1988). Also, when parents are under stress, they are less likely to express love, warmth, support, and respect toward each other (Conger et al., 1990; Ge et al., 1992). This lack of affection, alliance, and mutual respect lessens the ability to solve problems together, and increases hostility and emotional stress for both the father and the mother (Conger et al. …