Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Does Neighborhood and Family Poverty Affect Mothers' Parenting, Mental Health, and Social Support?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Does Neighborhood and Family Poverty Affect Mothers' Parenting, Mental Health, and Social Support?

Article excerpt

How neighborhoods affect families living in them has emerged as a key question in understanding the causes and effects of urban poverty. Over the last 20 years people with low incomes have become increasingly likely to live in metropolitan areas and in neighborhoods with a high concentration of low-income people (Jargowsky & Bane, 1990; Jencks & Peterson, 1991; Wacquant & Wilson, 1989; Wilson, 1987). This is particularly true for economically disadvantaged blacks and Hispanics, and for metropolitan areas in the Northeast and Midwest (Jargowsky & Bane, 1990). Some of the ways in which neighborhoods affect individuals have been elucidated in recent literature, although the focus of almost all existing work has been on adolescents and young adults, not on children or parents. Few studies have looked at the processes by which neighborhoods influence families, especially parents, and, in turn, how parents are likely to influence their children. This article addresses the question of how both neighborhood and family conditions might influence the ways in which parents behave.

In The Truly Disadvantaged, Wilson (1987) undertook an analysis of the structural changes in postindustrial society that contributed to an increase in the number of poor and jobless people in inner-city neighborhoods. Wilson also has attempted to model linkages between structural changes and the behavior of residents of inner-city, poor neighborhoods. Much of the related work to date has focused on documenting the association between the increased poverty and joblessness in neighborhoods with a decline in jobs (especially jobs not demanding high literacy skills) in central cities (Freeman, 1991; Kasarda, 1990) and with the movement of more highly skilled and advantaged residents out of the inner cities (Wilson, 1987; however, see Massey & Eggers, 1990).

Recently, Wilson (1991a, 1991b) has gone beyond structural changes to examine some of the familial and cultural processes that might result from living in neighborhoods with high concentrations of jobless men and family poverty. He suggested that living in neighborhoods in which relatively few individuals hold jobs, few jobs are located within the neighborhood, and single-parent households are prevalent may produce what he terms "social isolation"; these conditions in turn may produce socialization practices and family life styles that do not reinforce practices associated with steady employment. Postulated characteristics include a focus on the present rather than the future, poor planning and organization, little sense of personal control over events, and a lack of emphasis on school or job-related skills. This constellation of familial conditions might be expressed, and measured, through psychological dimensions such as coping behavior, self-efficacy, problem solving, and present-future orientation, as well as dimensions of family process, such as parenting behavior, organization of the household, and the provision of learning experiences for their children. While this hypothesis has received some attention, it has not been tested directly. Thus, little is known about whether or how neighborhoods may affect maternal characteristics and behaviors. Rather, the primary focus of research has been on how family-level poverty affects parents and children.

Research bearing on the effect of family poverty has documented the association between poverty and greater psychological distress and depression (Belle, 1990; Belle, Longfellow, & Makosky, 1982; Danziger & Stern, 1990; McLoyd & Wilson, 1991; Parker, Greer, & Zuckerman, 1988). Poor families have to deal with a greater number of daily stresses which over time weaken their ability to handle subsequent stress (McLoyd, 1990). Both the inability to control the source of the stress, and the inability to cope or handle the stress itself contributes to the deleterious effect on psychological functioning (Makosky, 1982). …

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