Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Racial and Ethnic Differences in Experiencing Parents' Marital Disruption during Late Adolescence

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Racial and Ethnic Differences in Experiencing Parents' Marital Disruption during Late Adolescence

Article excerpt

Using panel data from 9,252 adolescents in the National Education Longitudinal Study, this study finds that among children who experience parents' marital disruption during late adolescence, European, Asian, and African American adolescents exhibit wider and greater maladjustment both before and after the disruption than their Hispanic American counterparts. This finding lends general support to the hypothesis of prevalence of disadvantages, although it is less consistent with the hypothesis of prevalence of divorce. Moreover, whereas Asian American adolescents in predisrupted families are more vulnerable to a shortage of family social resources, their African American peers are affected more by a shortage of financial/ human resources. Finally, postdisruption effects on non-Hispanic American adolescents are either completely or partially attributable to predisruption factors.

Key Words: child well-being, family structure, longitudinal studies, marital disruption, racial differences.

The fast growth of Asian and Hispanic American subpopulations has changed the American demographic profile dramatically, and the momentum of these changes is expected to continue into the 21st century. By 2050, European Americans will constitute only about one half of the U.S. population with the other half composed of other racial and ethnic groups. To respond to these demographic changes, some researchers (e.g., McLoyd, Cauce, Takeuchi, & Wilson, 2000) call for greater research focus on the unique family experiences of all major racial and ethnic groups.

Among studies on die consequences of parental divorce or separation, however, responses to such a call are still rare. Most existing studies either focus exclusively on European American children or combine children of different racial/ ethnic backgrounds in their analyses. Although some studies have examined racial diversities in the experiences of parental divorce or separation (hereafter referred to as marital disruption), these studies are sparse and mostly restricted to BlackWhite comparisons (McLoyd et al., 2000). This neglect of adjustment experiences of minority children is problematic for both practical and conceptual reasons. Practically, the exclusion of Asian and Hispanic American children in previous cross-racial comparisons ignores the recent demographic trends. Conceptually, major racial/ ethnic groups differ significantly in divorce rate, socioeconomic backgrounds, and parental resources, all of which may in tum, lead to variations in children's adjustments to family dissolution.

Using two waves of a national panel of American high school students among whom some experienced family disruption during their late adolescent years, the current study examines whether maladjustment to parents' marital disruption varies in breadth and magnitude among European, Asian, African, and Hispanic American adolescents both before and after formal divorce or separation. Guided by four conceptual perspectives derived from prior research, we investigate whether racial/ethnic differences in adolescents' maladjustment to family disruption are related to racial/ethnic variations in the divorce rate, the prevalence of various disadvantages in adolescents' lives, and family resources. The study also examines whether predisruption factors may predict adolescents' well-being problems after the disruption and if so, whether the extent of such prediction varies by race and ethnicity.

BACKGROUND

Racial/Ethnic Disparity in Children's Adjustment to Marital Disruption

Although many prior studies on parents' marital disruption used mixed-race samples, only a small portion of this literature has rigorously examined whether the disruption effect varies in magnitude across racial and ethnic groups. Because most of the existing cross-racial comparisons focused on their empirical implications, our review first presents the empirical findings of the major studies in this body of research before discussing their conceptual significances. …

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