Extended Family Ties among Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Whites: Superintegration or Disintegration?*

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Addressing recent theoretical debates, this study examined the differences in extended family integration among Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Whites, as well as the importance of culture and structure in explaining these differences. Our findings showed Whites and Latinos/as have distinctive patterns of extended family integration: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans exhibited higher rates of coresidence and proximate living than Whites; Whites had greater involvement in financial support than Mexicans or Puerto Ricans, but Mexicans were more involved in instrumental help. Structural factors such as income, education, and nuclear family composition explained much of these ethnic differences. The study's findings suggest that policy should emphasize the unmet needs in Latino/a communities and the role of extended families.

Key Words: contact, coresidence, family integration, kin, Latino/a, proximity, support.

Returning to an old debate once at the center of family studies, scholars are again discussing the prominence and character of extended families (Bengtson, 2001). This study examined die extended families of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Whites in the United States and addresses a contemporary theoretical debate, which we identify as the "superintegration versus disintegration" debate (Sarkisian & Gerstel, 2004, p. 812). Advocates of the superintegration side of this debate believe that Latino/a extended families are more integrated than White extended families. They suggest that Latinos/as live near, stay in touch, and provide many types of assistance to extended kin (Baca Zinn & Wells, 2000; Mirandé, 1997). Conversely, disintegration scholars argue diat Latino/a extended families are less likely to provide support dian White extended families (Menjivar, 2000; Roschelle, 1997).

To fully understand the dynamics of family integration among Latinos/as, however, we need to move beyond mere description of variation to explanationthat is, to an examination of the social conditions, both cultural and structural, that explain die differences (Baca Zinn & Wells, 2000). Litde research has systematically examined such explanatory factors. Further, most family research has investigated individuals with ethnic roots in Latin America as a group, diat is, combining them into one panethnicity (labeled as Hispanic or Latino/a; Baca Zinn & Wells). A smaller subset of studies had distinguished Latino/a ethnic groups but investigated one group at a time. Both strategies make it impossible to assess either the similarities and differences in family integration among individual Latino/a groups or how such groups compare to Whites.

This study examined Mexicans and Puerto Ricans separately. We focused on these two groups because they are the largest groups of Latinos/as in the United States. Moreover, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans originate from countries with different relationships to the United States and have different histories of migration (Baca Zinn & Wells, 2000). Importantly, these groups are purported to exhibit both differences and similarities on various structural and cultural conditions that we expected to shape extended family integration (Roschelle, 1997).

Using data from the second wave of the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH; Sweet & Bumpass, 1996), this study had the following two aims: (a) to explore differences in extended family integration of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, as well as differences between each of these groups and Whites and (b) to investigate the social conditions that explain the ethnic differences using a conceptual framework that takes into account cultural and structural factors.

Literature Review

Prior Research on Latino/a Extended Family Integration

Much of the extant literature on Latino/a extended families addressed one aspect of family integration at a time, frequently focusing solely on coresidence or kin support but using those findings to make overall conclusions about Latino/a extended families (e. …

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