Father's Unemployment and Adolescent's Self-Concept

Article excerpt

Many studies have focused on the impact of unemployment on workers as individuals (e.g., Brenner 1973; Dooley & Catalano 1978), but few have assessed the impact of unemployment on family members or on their relationships. Recent studies of the "hidden injuries of class" have suggested that father's unemployment may affect the behavior and self-concept of adolescent children (Elder, Van Nguyen, & Caspi, 1985; Lempers, Clark-Lempers, & Simons, 1989; Mc Loyd, 1989; Wiltfang & Scarbecz, 1990; Conger, Elder, Lorenz, Simmons, & Whitbeck, 1991; Patterson, 1991). From another perspective, family systems theorists propose that families are composed of autonomous yet interdependent members who maintain a state of equilibrium in family relations while responding to both internal and external stressors. A stressful event such as unemployment of the primary breadwinner is likely to cause changes in family roles which ultimately may have negative effects on children, even though parents themselves may not manifest negative symptoms (Minuchin, 1974; Olson & McCubbin, 1982; Carter & McGoldrick, 1989). The research reported here examined the impact of father's unemployment on parent-child relations and on the adolescent child. Two primary questions guided this research: (1) How does the degree of economic deprivation (i.e., significant income loss) subsequent to unemployment affect family relations? (2) What are the effects of significant economic loss and changes in family structure on adolescent's self-concept?


Literature on family adaptation to unemployment ranges from case studies of impoverished families during the Great Depression (Angell, 1936; Cavan & Ranck, 1938; Bakke, 1940; Komarovsky, 1940; Jahoda, Lazarsfeld, & Zeisel, 1971) to contemporary research which attempts to test various hypotheses derived from theory (Elder, 1974; Ferman, 1979; Moen, 1979; Moen, Kain, & Elder 1982; Buss, Redburn, & Waldron 1983; Voydanoff, 1983; Binns & Mars, 1984; Larson, 1984; Elder et al., 1985; Lempers et al., 1989; McLoyd, 1989; Conger et al., 1991; Patterson, 1991). These studies vary in focus. Some emphasize the impact of father's unemployment on family affective bonds, division of labor, and decision making (e.g., Jahoda et al., 1971). Others emphasize the impact of prior family relations on the family's coping response to the experience of unemployment (e.g., Angell, 1936; Olson & McCubbin, 1983). Still others examine the relative impact of unemployment and prior family properties on an outcome variable such as child's behavior (Elder et al., 1985; Elder & Caspi 1986; Lempers et al., 1989; Mc Loyd, 1989; Conger et al., 1991; Patterson, 1991).

The case study research (Angell, 1936; Cavan & Ranck, 1938; Bakke, 1940; Komarovsky, 1940; Jahoda, Lazarsfeld, & Zeisel, 1971) are largely accounts of family adjustments to unemployment during the Great Depression. The major weakness of these studies was that they generally lacked scientific rigor; hypotheses were not derived from theory, sampling was not representative, and variables were estimated on the basis of open-ended interviews. Despite the weaknesses, these studies have provided important insights into family life during difficult economic times.

Contemporary works have focused more on hypothesis testing (Maio, 1974; Moen, 1979; Buss et al., 1983; Larson, 1984) and theory building using previous research to formulate models (Ferman, 1979; Moen et al., 1979; Voydanoff, 1983; Binns & Mars, 1984). In general the contemporary research has generated conflicting results when the focus has been on individual workers. For example, while Brenner (1973) found that unemployment has negative effects on physical and mental health, his findings are not supported by Buss and Redburn (1983) or Dooley and Catalano (1977). One reason for the inconsistencies may be that the research did not examine the unemployed worker as a member of a family system. …


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