Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marriage, Money, and African American Mothers' Self-Esteem

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marriage, Money, and African American Mothers' Self-Esteem

Article excerpt

This study examined the effects of marital status and family income on the self-esteem of 292 African American mothers. Counter to previous studies with European American mothers, family income moderated the effects of marital status. Those mothers with higher family income had higher self-esteem, regardless of their marital status. For those with less family income, married mothers had much higher self-esteem than unmarried mothers. Low-income married mothers had the same levels of self-esteem as high income mothers. It was concluded that financial resources can buffer the effects of being single, and being married can buffer the effects of being low income. Policy initiatives that focus on reducing the financial hardship on single mothers and increasing the marriage rate among lower income parents were also discussed.

Key Words: African Americans, marital status, self-esteem, socioeconomic status.

There has been a dramatic increase in the rates of single mother households over the past several decades (Fields, 2004). This has been especially true for African American women, who are now twice as likely as they were in 1940 to maintain families alone (Tucker & Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). Although the effects of marriage on the psychological health of European American mothers are fairly well established (Hope, Power, & Rodgers, 1999), it is unclear how these trends impact African American mothers. Given the substantial discrepancy between the family income of single-mother households and two-parent households (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, & Lee, 2005), if marital status does influence African American mothers' psychological health, then it is likely that family income influences the relationship (Hope et al.). The purpose of the current study was to test whether marital status has any relationship with African American mothers' self-esteem and if the relationship is mediated or moderated by family income.

A consistent body of research has found that married adults have fewer symptoms of psychological problems than unmarried adults (Diener, Gohm, Suh, & Oishi, 2000; Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener, 2003; Mastekaasa, 2003). These findings seem to be particularly strong for mothers (Horwitz, White, & Howell-White, 1996). Several studies show that married mothers fare better across a range of domains compared to single mothers, and the differences are only partially accounted for by different levels of psychological health prior to marriage. For instance, a longitudinal study using data from the 1958 British birth cohort examined symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic illness at ages 23 and 33 (Hope et al., 1999). For the group of women with children, the distress was much greater for single mothers than for married mothers. Researchers found that 25% of single mothers scored high on total malaise compared to 11% of married mothers, even after controlling for family income. Like many other studies (Horwitz et al.), they also found that selection into marriage could not account for all of the differences between married and single mothers. Thus, something about being married or single had an effect on mothers' psychological health. A similar study found that mothers in their first marriage were significantly happier and less depressed than divorced mothers, remarried mothers, or continuously single mothers (Demo & Acock, 1996).

Unfortunately, these studies included few or no African American mothers. The only study to date with a sizable number of African American mothers found that being unmarried at the time of the first childbirth was predictive of higher depression, regardless of age and independent of numerous socioeconomic status variables for the entire sample, but separate analyses for African Americans yielded unclear results (Kalil & Kunz, 2002). The effect size for African American mothers was similar to that in the full sample, but the standard errors were too large to reach statistical significance. …

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