Parenting in Context: Impact of Neighborhood Poverty, Residential Stability, Public Services, Social Networks, and Danger on Parental Behaviors

By Pinderhughes, Ellen E.; Nix, Robert et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Parenting in Context: Impact of Neighborhood Poverty, Residential Stability, Public Services, Social Networks, and Danger on Parental Behaviors


Pinderhughes, Ellen E., Nix, Robert, Foster, E. Michael, Jones, Damon, Journal of Marriage and Family


This prospective longitudinal study examined the unique and combined effects of neighborhood characteristics on parental behaviors in the context of more distal and more proximal influences. With a sample of 368 mothers from high-risk communities in 4 parts of the United States, this study examined relations between race (African American or European American), locality (urban or rural), neigh

borhood characteristics, family context, and child problem behaviors, and parental warmth, appropriate and consistent discipline, and harsh interactions. Analyses testing increasingly proximal influences on parenting revealed that initial race differences in warmth and consistent discipline disappeared when neighborhood influences were considered. Although generally culture and context did not moderate other relations found between neighborhood characteristics, family context, and child behaviors, the few interactions found highlight the complex influences on parenting.

Key Words: neighborhood, parenting, race.

Recent theories of socialization place parenting in the context of the cultures and neighborhoods in which it occurs (e.g., McLoyd, 1990; Sampson, 1992; Super & Harkness, 1986). Several theoretically and empirically supported neighborhood characteristics that affect parenting include poverty, residential instability, public services, limited social networks, and danger (Furstenberg et al., 1993; Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Sampson; Wilson, 1987, 1991a, 1991b). In general, these neighborhood characteristics tend to undermine positive parental behaviors, such as warmth and appropriate and consistent discipline, and to increase problematic parental behaviors, such as harsh interactions (Furstenberg et al.; Klebanov, Brooks-Gunn, & Duncan, 1994). Although distinct neighborhood characteristics may exert unique effects on different parental behaviors (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn), these specific relations have received little empirical study. This study examined the unique and combined effects of race, locality (urban vs. rural community context), poverty, residential stability, public services, social networks, and danger on parental warmth, appropriate and consistent discipline, and harsh interactions, after controlling for the effects of family context and child behavior.

NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTERISTICS, FAMILY CONTEXT, AND CHILD BEHAVIOR

Wilson's (1987, 1991a, 1991b) seminal discussions of the effect of urban neighborhoods highlight poverty as one of the most important influences on parenting. This effect has received empirical support in urban and rural contexts: When parents live among neighbors who are unemployed and have very limited incomes, they display less warmth and higher levels of harsh discipline and restrictive control (e.g., Jarrett, 1997; Simons, Johnson, Conger, & Lorenz, 1997). In fact, neighborhood poverty appears to exert a unique negative influence on parental warmth, even when the effect of family socioeconomic status is controlled (Klebanov et al., 1994).

Neighborhood instability also may compromise positive parenting. Communities where few residents own their homes and live in the same place over a number of years provide few opportunities for the development and maintenance of friendships and related support systems. The resulting social isolation can attenuate effective parenting (Furstenberg et al., 1993; Sampson, 1992).

In addition, the quality of public and institutional services may adversely affect parental behaviors (Sampson, 1992). Services such as community centers, convenient public transportation, and safe outdoor areas for children may minimize daily hassles for parents, thereby increasing the odds of positive parental behaviors. Parents living in high-risk neighborhoods and lacking access to community services and resources are more likely to physically abuse their children than comparable parents with access to those services and resources (Garbarino & Kostelny, 1993). …

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