In the Mix, Yet on the Margins: The Place of Families in Urban Neighborhood and Child Development Research

By Burton, Linda M.; Jarrett, Robin L. | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 2000 | Go to article overview

In the Mix, Yet on the Margins: The Place of Families in Urban Neighborhood and Child Development Research


Burton, Linda M., Jarrett, Robin L., Journal of Marriage and Family


In the 1990s, the most popular theoretical and empirical research issue concerning the local ecologies of families focused on the impact of family structures (e.g., household composition) and processes (e.g., child management strategies) on the relationship between urban neighborhoods and child and adolescent development. In this article, we synthesize and critically examine the decade's prevailing literature on the topic, organizing this review into three areas: (a) the research designs of quantitative and ethnographic studies of urban neighborhoods, families, and child outcomes; (b) the conceptual approaches used in these studies; and (c) the role of structural and behavioral features of family and parenting as factors that influence the relationship between urban neighborhoods and child development in ethnically and racially diverse populations. Results suggest that although family has been center stage in the neighborhood effects research question of

the decade, it has remained on the margins in terms of theoretical and methodological specificity. Recommendations for future research are also offered.

Key Words: child development, families, urban neighborhoods.

In this decade review, we synthesize and critique the current scientific literature linking urban neighborhoods, families, and child and adolescent outcomes. Our focus emerged from the dominant conceptual and empirical question posed by researchers about this topic in the 1990s: What impact do structural (e.g., household composition) and process (e.g., child management strategies) features of families have on the relationship between urban neighborhoods and child and adolescent development?

Widespread scholarly and public interest in this question was driven by several coalescent forces, including the following: (a) a precipitous rise in concentrated poverty in urban, primarily ethnic and racial minority neighborhoods (Fine & Weis, 1998; Jargowsky, 1997; Kasarda, 1993; Moore & Pinderhughes, 1993; Wilson, Quane, & Rankin, 1998); (b) the dramatic influx of immigrants to the United States, accompanied by notable growth in the number and density of ethnic enclaves in urban and suburban settings (Alba, Logan, Stults, Maran, & Zhang, 1999; Freidenberg, 1995; Margolis, 1998; Portes & Rumbaut, 1996; Zhou, 1992); (c) vivid journalistic and media accounts of social pathologies in inner cities that heightened public concern about the safety of children growing up in economically disadvantaged, highrisk environments and catalyzed an intervention movement for youth and community development initiatives (Aber, Jones, Brown, Chaudry, & Samples, 1998; Armstead & Wexler, 1997; Colley-- Quille, Turner, & Beidel, 1995; Gambone, 1999; Jessor, 1993; Kotlowitz, 1991; Melton, 1992; Schwab-Stone, Ayers, & Kasprow, 1995; Simon & Burns, 1997); and (d) a groundswell of efforts by individual social and applied scientists and interdisciplinary teams of researchers to develop new, and reframe existing, theories of urban neighborhoods and human development (BrooksGunn, Duncan, & Aber, 1997; Moen, Elder, & Luscher, 1995; Sampson, 1999) and test innovative methodological and statistical procedures for examining the lives of families and children in multiple ecological contexts (Earls, McGuire, & Shay 1993; Robertson & Weir, 1998; Raudenbush & Sampson, 1999).

The decade's academic and applied research activities with regard to urban neighborhoods, families, and children led to a number of comprehensive literature reviews. Several focused on quantitative studies of urban neighborhoods and child outcomes and, to a limited degree, the impact of family structure and parental monitoring on this relationship (Gephart, 1997; Jencks & Mayer, 1990; Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). Others concentrated specifically on qualitative and ethnographic studies of family processes, low-income neighborhoods, and child development (Burton, Obeidallah, & Allison, 1996; Jarrett, 1998b).

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