Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Effects of Single-Mother Families and Nonresident Fathers on Delinquency and Substance Abuse in Black and White Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Effects of Single-Mother Families and Nonresident Fathers on Delinquency and Substance Abuse in Black and White Adolescents

Article excerpt

In this study, we examine the impact of singlemother families and nonresident father's involvement in single-mother families on delinquency, heavy drinking, and illicit drug use in Black and White adolescents by gender. The study is based on a representative household sample of over 600 adolescents and their parents. Using adolescent reports of support as an indicator of nonresident father involvement, we find that for White adolescent males, nonresident father involvement buffers the negative effects of single-mother families on delinquency, heavy drinking, and illicit drug use. Indeed, the highest rates of problem behavior are found among White male adolescents in singlemother families without the support of a nonresident father. However, for Black male adolescents, we find fewer problem behaviors when nonresident fathers are not involved in single-mother families.

Key Words: adolescent substance abuse, African Americans, delinquency, gender, fathers, race, single mothers.

As we approach the point where close to half the children growing up are likely to spend some time in a single-mother home, many researchers are now raising questions about the conditions under which single-mother families function well (Furstenberg & Harris, 1993; Furstenberg, Morgan, & Allison, 1987; King 1994a, 1994b). Rather than focusing on the negative outcomes in single-mother families, more researchers are asking questions about the conditions under which children in single-mother families show resilience-function well when the risk factors in their lives suggest they could be functioning poorly. This new approach to single-mother families not only may provide useful information to parents and counselors, it also may contribute toward understanding some of the inconsistencies in the findings from previous research on the effects of single-mother families on delinquency and substance abuse in adolescents.

Although numerous studies show that children who grow up in single-parent families have more negative outcomes than those with both parents (e.g., Dornbusch et al., 1985; Flewelling & Bauman, 1990; Garasky, 1995; Hetherington, Camara, & Featherman, 1983; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; Newcomer & Udry, 1987; Zill, 1988), several studies show either that family structure has only negligible impact on child outcomes or that children from single-mother families are no more likely to be delinquent or use alcohol and other drugs than children from two-parent families (Turner, Irwin, & Millstone, 1991; Watts & Watts, 1991).

Recent reviews of research suggest that the inconsistencies in the findings may be due to several factors (see King, 1994a; Wells & Rankin, 1991). First, much of the research is based on small convenience samples. Besides the possibility of sample bias, a small sample size does not allow for exploring whether single-mother families have different effects for different subgroups of the population. Second, many studies make generalizations about the impact of family structure on adolescent outcomes based on data collected two or three decades ago. Since that time, the proportion of single-mother families has sharply increased; this societal change may have resulted in single-mother families becoming more normative and more effective at childrearing. Third, the effects of single-mother families may be different for White and Black adolescents because of the subcultural differences in the meaning and the degree of the institutionalization of single-mother families. Fourth, most previous research has not taken into account the involvement of nonresident fathers in the socialization of children in single-mother families (see Furstenberg & Harris, 1993; King, 1994a). Although children in some single-mother families are cut off from their fathers, those in other families have fathers who are actively involved in their care and socialization. Father involvement may be a particularly important factor to take into account when explaining the variation in the effects of singlemother families on male and female adolescents. …

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