Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

De-Romanticizing Black Intergenerational Support: The Questionable Expectations of Welfare Reform

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

De-Romanticizing Black Intergenerational Support: The Questionable Expectations of Welfare Reform

Article excerpt

Past research suggests that despite the substantial strengths of Black kin networks, they are not always up to the task of supporting young mothers. This study is an analysis of potential barriers to women-centered kin support for present-day urban Black teen mothers and possible implications for kin support mandates specified in the 1996 federal welfare reforms. In-depth interviews with African American midlife women, who themselves were teen mothers, shed light on their attitudes and perceptions about Black kinship systems and teen childbearing. Study results suggest that these women perceive governmental intervention, age-- condensation among urban Black families, and urban "underclass" culture to have undermined traditional Black intergenerational support.

Key Words: African Americans, intergenerational support, teen childbearing, welfare reform.

Prior research suggests that young African American mothers are very likely to be embedded within a network of elder women kin. These kin, often thought of as midlife Black "activist mothers" (Naples, 1992) or community "othermothers" (James, 1993) are particularly concerned with supporting socially and economically disadvantaged, unmarried young mothers and their offspring (Ball, Warheit, Vandiver, & Holzer, 1980; Collins, 1991; Hill, 1972; McDonald, 1997). The benefits offered young mothers through these networks are quite varied, and they have proven to be most readily available to young mothers who reside with or live in close proximity to an extended family household (Hao & Brinton, 1997; Hofferth, 1984; Hogan, Eggebeen, & Clogg, 1993; Stevens, 1988).

Research also suggests that despite their substantial strengths, Black women-centered kin networks are not always up to the task. Kaplan's ethnographic study (1997), for example, revealed that Black teenage mothers often feel emotionally abandoned, even by their own mothers, and that emotional support to the young mothers is sometimes even withheld. A recent collection of statistically rigorous studies finds that extended kin support to young Black mothers is often ineffective or even nonexistent. Among them, two related studies find that some young, low-income African American mothers are likely to experience a lower quality relationship with their adult mothers when they coreside (Chase-Lansdale, Brooks-Gunn, & Zamsky, 1994; Wakschlag, Chase-Lansdale, & Brooks-Gunn, 1996). Other research finds no evidence that kin support has a positive impact on the maternal health or health practices of young Black mothers (Casper & Hogan, 1990) and that, contrary to conventional wisdom, Black families are presently less likely than White families to be involved in giving intergenerational assistance (Roschelle, 1997). Fully one third of Black single mothers in one study are without an extended kin network from which to draw support of any kind (Hogan, Hao, & Parish, 1990). Furthermore, close examination of two classic ethnographic studies of highly coordinated and effective Black maternal networks (Ladner, 1971; Stack, 1974) reveals several instances of the ways that these networks can thwart personal advancement.

Although intergenerational kin networks among Blacks have long been of interest to social scientists, they are now also directly relevant to current social welfare policy. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), specifically TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly AFDC), established far-reaching changes in the cash assistance available to disadvantaged teen mothers and set forth clear expectations for how young welfare-dependent mothers should be managed. In seeking to strengthen families, this law encourages job preparation by requiring mothers under the age of 18 to have completed high school or to be currently enrolled; it likewise encourages adult monitoring by requiring these mothers to live with a parent or adult family member (Mink, 1998). …

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