Economic Stress and Parental Characteristics as Predictors of Children’s Problems in Mexican American and European American Families

There are numerous cultural and ethnic variations in the U.S. Many of these variations are associated with economic differences, as well as with differences in acculturation and in the length of time families have lived in the U.S. Hispanic people constitute the largest U. S. ethnic minority group, and Mexican Americans are the largest Hispanic group.

Many Mexican American children live in families with relatively short histories in the U.S. and relatively low incomes. To assess the associations of income level, economic stress, and parental characteristics with children’s problems, Parke et al. (2004) used structural equation analyses to test a family stress model for 167 Mexican American families and 111 European American families and their 5th grade children. All families resided in California and included both parents. Children’s problems were assessed with the CBCL completed separately by each parent.

Most of the Mexican American parents elected to complete Latino Spanish translations of the forms. Internalizing and Externalizing scores from the CBCLs completed by a child’s mother and father were combined to provide a total score for the child’s problems. Analysis of numerous variables revealed the following associations: (a) Economic hardship was linked to economic pressure that was, in turn, linked to depressive symptoms in mothers and fathers of both ethnic groups; (b) depressive symptoms were linked to marital problems and hostile parenting; and (c) hostile parenting by fathers predicted high CBCL problem scores among European Americans, whereas marital problems predicted high CBCL problem scores among Mexican Americans.

The most highly acculturated Mexican American mothers tended to report the highest levels of marital problems but the lowest levels of hostile parenting. The authors concluded that “as maternal acculturation increased, the level of both maternal and paternal hostile parenting decreased. The decrease is consistent with an increased awareness of alternative disciplinary strategies that are less harsh and punitive, such as reasoning, love withdrawal, and loss of privileges” (p. 1652).

Reference: Parke, R.D., Coltrane, S., Duffy, S., Buriel, R., Dennis, J., Powers, J., French, S., & Widaman, K. F. (2004). Economic stress, parenting, and child adjustment in Mexican American and European American families. Child Development, 75, 1632-1656.