Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Resilience in Midwestern Families: Selected Findings from the First Decade of a Prospective, Longitudical Study

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Resilience in Midwestern Families: Selected Findings from the First Decade of a Prospective, Longitudical Study

Article excerpt

The authors review findings related to mechanisms of resilience in an ongoing longitudinal study of a cohort of 558 focal youth and their families. The ongoing study began when the cohort of adolescents was in 7th grade. Findings demonstrate that resilience to economic adversity for the parents of the focal adolescents was promoted by marital support, effective problem solving skills, and a sense of mastery. For the cohort of youth, resilience to economic hardship was promoted by support from parents, siblings, and adults outside the family. Resilience to the difficult transitions from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to early adulthood was especially fostered by nurturant-involved parenting and by less angry or hostile parenting.

Key Words: adolescents, economics, resilience, rural, stress.

This report reviews selected findings on resilience in rural Iowa families during the past decade. These families continue to participate in a study of close relationships and individual development that began during the 1980s, a period that witnessed a severe downturn in the rural economy (Conger & Elder, 1994). During the past decade the long-term negative consequences of the earlier financial crisis, such as out-migration from and economic decline in rural areas, has continued to affect these families. The following review provides details regarding the research, considers the concept of resilience and how we might identify its occurrence in the lives of these families, and examines evidence for resilience that has been documented during the past decade.


In the 1980s, rural areas in the upper Midwest and the urban centers that served them, experienced an economic decline in agriculture that closed thousands of businesses, including the farms of many independent operators (Lasley, 1994). The situation was especially grave in Iowa, where the economy was almost entirely based on agriculture.

The original Iowa Youth and Families Project (IYFP) began with a total of 451 families located in rural areas of Iowa in 1989. We recruited families that included the two biological parents of a 7th grade child (focal or target child) and a sibling within 4 years of the focal child's age. The selection of a 7th grade cohort allowed the study of transitional stress involved in the passage from childhood to adolescence as well as research on the broader socioeconomic stress created by financial conditions. All families in the study were of European heritage. Recent replications of findings from the IYFP in an African American sample living in both urban and rural areas of the upper Midwest and the Southeast, however, increase confidence in the generalizability of findings from this program of research (Conger et al., 2002).

We initiated a 5-year panel study with yearly assessments that lasted from 1989 to 1993, the period from 7th to 1I th grade for the focal children. In 1991, to diversify the sample, we added a cohort of 107 matched 9th graders, a close-aged sibling, and parents from single-parent, mother-headed homes (the Single Parent Project, Simons and Associates, 1996), creating a total cohort of 558 focal adolescents and their families. We gathered information from multiple informants including each of the four family members participating in the study, trained observers who rated videotapes of family discussions in their homes, teachers of the focal children, and from school records of academic performance and achievement. This multi-informant measurement strategy allowed for reduced biases endemic to single-informant studies and also created the opportunity to evaluate differences in family members' perspectives (see Lorenz & Melby, 1994, for details regarding methods). Additional funding has allowed us to continue this study for another 10 years until the original 7th graders will average 27 years of age.

These young adults in the study cohort and their families are contacted each year. …

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