Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Testing Family Stress and Family Investment Explanations for Conduct Problems among African American Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Testing Family Stress and Family Investment Explanations for Conduct Problems among African American Adolescents

Article excerpt

The recent economic recession in the United States has highlighted the need for research that addresses the impact of financial stressors on families, especially those who have been hit hardest. Between 2000 and 2010, the unemployment rate in the United States increased from 4% to 10% and, among African Americans, 16% were jobless (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). Although the economy has improved in recent months, there is still a strong racial disparity in the recovery. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) reported a national unemployment rate of 4.9%, whereas for African Americans it was 10.4%. Continuing a historical trend of income disparity, the median household income in the United States in 2010 was $60,088, while for African American households it was $38,409 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). The wealth gap was even wider. The median value of assets among White (non-Hispanic) households was more than $110,000, while for African American households it was $6,300 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011a). Furthermore, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2011b), the child poverty rate for African American children below age 18 (38.2%) was nearly twice the national average (22%) and more than three times higher than the rate for White children (12.4%).

Although the past two decades have seen an increase on the literature that addresses consequences of poverty for African Americans (see Danziger & Lin, 2000; Hardaway & McLoyd, 2009; Jones & Luo, 1999; Quillian, 2012), this is still an understudied topic of research. There continues to be a need for research that examines the mediating factors that account for the deleterious consequences of economic hardship for African American families. This is an issue of concern because, as Wilson (1991) noted, poverty may be particularly destructive for this population. For example, poor African Americans are more likely than poor Whites to live in socially isolated areas, such as urban housing projects, they have less in terms of resources when they enter poverty compared to Whites, and they are often without family members who have financial resources to help them during hard times (McLoyd, 1990).

In the current study we extended past research by providing a more extensive investigation of the avenues whereby family financial hardship influences African American families with adolescents. We used three waves of data obtained from a sample of more than 400 African American families to examine the effect of economic distress on youth conduct problems. This outcome is especially salient for this population given the disproportionately high rates of delinquency and crime in African American communities (Krivo & Peterson, 2009; Sampson, 2012). Identifying risk factors for delinquency is important because externalizing problems in childhood and adolescence are associated with long-term negative consequences across the life course. For example, early behavioral problems are associated with lower lifetime educational achievement and with greater unemployment, participation in adult criminal behavior, and health risk behaviors (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Kwon & Wickrama, 2013; Odgers et al., 2008; R. L. Simons, Stewart, Gordon, Conger, & Elder, 2002). Furthermore, the Office for Civil Rights (2012) reported that, compared to Whites, African American students are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled from school and referred to law enforcement when they engage in misbehavior. The potentially high future costs associated with adolescent delinquency highlight the need to understand the ways in which economic hardship leads to increased risk for behavioral problems. In the following section we describe and summarize research on two models widely used to explain the link between family economic hardship and developmental outcomes for children: (a) the family stress model (FSM) and (b) the family investment model (FIM).

Background

Past research shows that economic hardship has negative consequences for adults and children. …

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