Positive Marital Quality, Acculturative Stress, and Child Outcomes among Mexican Americans

By Leidy, Melinda S.; Parke, Ross D. et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Positive Marital Quality, Acculturative Stress, and Child Outcomes among Mexican Americans


Leidy, Melinda S., Parke, Ross D., Cladis, Mina, Coltrane, Scott, Duffy, Sharon, Journal of Marriage and Family


Previous research suggests that the quality of parents' relationships can influence their children's adjustment, but most studies have focused on the negative effects of marital conflict for children in White middle-class families. The current study focuses on the potential benefits of positive marital quality for children in working-class first generation Mexican American families using observational and self-report data. This study examined the links between positive marital quality and child internalizing and externalizing behaviors 1 year later when the child was in sixth grade (N = 134 families). Positive marital quality was negatively correlated with child internalizing behaviors. Parent acculturative stress was found to mediate the relationship between positive marital quality and child internalizing behaviors in sixth grade.

Key Words: acculturation, child outcomes, Hispanic Americans, marital satisfaction, middle childhood.

How and why marital conflict affects children has been the focus of much research over the past several decades (Grych & Fincham, 2001; Papp, Goeke-Morey, & Cummings, 2004). This line of research has contributed significantly to our understanding that relationships between parents, as well as between parents and their child, influence the social, emotional, and academic adjustment of the developing child. In spite of this, less is known about the links between the positive side of marriage and marital satisfaction on children's adjustment. A first aim of the current study is to examine the links between positive marital quality and children's behavioral outcomes.

Our understanding of the relationship between positive marital quality and child adjustment is based primarily on research with White middle-class samples, and relatively little is known about the links between positive marital quality and child adjustment in ethnic minority families. The strategy used in previous investigations of this issue involved comparisons between ethnic minority and majority families to identify deviations from an Anglo-American standard, which, in turn, were often interpreted as deficiencies that accounted for various problems faced by ethnic minorities (Parke & Buriel, 2006). Additionally, it was not uncommon for researchers to make broad-based generalizations from examination of a particular ethnic group (i.e., Cuban Americans) to all groups that share a common racial background (i.e., Hispanics or Latinos). Researchers now tend to recognize the heterogeneity within race/ethnic minority groups and therefore emphasize the need for understanding specific groups of people who share social circumstances as well as a common heritage. Underlying our research question is the assumption that different cultural practices and expectations may result in different family processes, which, in turn, might influence the relation between positive marital quality and child outcomes. A second aim is to examine the impact of positive marital quality on children's adjustment in one particular group, namely, first-generation Mexican American families, as a function of acculturative stress, using both observationally based measures of marital interactions as well as selfreport measures of marital quality. In the United States, Mexican American families are one of the largest and poorest ethnic groups (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2000). Research has found that low-income Mexican American children are at an increased risk for depression, antisocial behavior, and school failure (Cauce & Domenech-Rodriguez, 2002; Hernandez, 2004). Therefore, it is possible that higher marital satisfaction among parents may increase healthy adjustment in Mexican American children. A third aim is to examine possible processes that may help account for the links between marital satisfaction and child outcomes by exploring the role of parental acculturative stress as a mediator between positive marital quality and child outcomes.

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