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Family Demography and Human Development

Busting the “Model Minority” Myth: Academic Performance and Substance Use Varies Widely Across Asian American Youth Ethnicity and Sexual Orientation

Stephen T. Russell and Amy L. McCurdy

Asian Americans are often characterized as a “model minority,” uniformly high‐performing and hardworking people who have achieved success despite systemic racism and disenfranchisement. This model minority stereotype influences the way people think about Asian American youth, who are seen as “problem free,” and therefore assumed to be high-achieving and less likely to use substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, or marijuana. This stereotype obscures diversity within Asian American groups. In this brief, PRC faculty scholar Stephen Russell and former PRC postdoctoral fellow Amy McCurdy explore how the multiple identities and experiences of Asian American youth intersect to impact their academic performance and substance use. They found that academic performance and substance use outcomes for Asian American youth varied widely across their ethnicity, sexual orientation, and experiences of bias-based bullying. Thus, Asian American youth are often treated as a single high-achieving group, yet that view overlooks diversity among Asian American youth, many of whom need support for academic success and health behaviors that they do not currently receive. The authors argue that to minimize the negative impact of bias-based bullying, schools should implement or strengthen school practices and policies that promote school safety and the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and all students.

Black parents’ race-related experiences in their workplaces impact how they teach their adolescents about race and race relations

Lorraine E. Scott and Fatima Varner

Racial discrimination – the unjust or prejudicial treatment of a person or a group of people based on racial group membership – is a harmful stressor on Black families and occurs across many contexts, including workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. Black parents try to lessen the negative effects of racial discrimination by communicating racial socialization messages through which they tell their children about their race, racial group membership (cultural socialization), and interracial interactions (preparation for bias). In this brief, PRC graduate student trainee Loraine Scott and PRC faculty scholar Fatima Varner test how the racial composition of Black families’ contexts interact with experiences of racial discrimination to shape parents’ racial socialization messages to their adolescents. They found that more personal experiences of racial discrimination and working with more Black people was associated with more cultural socialization messages. Adolescents’ and parents’ experiences with racial discrimination were associated with more preparation for bias messages. In addition, parents with few Black co-workers gave more preparation for bias messages when they had more personal racial discrimination experiences. To lessen experiences of racial discrimination for Black workers and other workers from marginalized communities, the authors advocate for strengthening policies related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Volunteering Improves Older Parents' Mental Health After the Death of a Child

Hyungmin Cha and Patricia A. Thomas, August 2023

About 13% of parents experience the death of their child, a devastating and stressful life event with negative mental health consequences. Few studies, however, have asked whether parents’ mental health eventually returns to the levels they had before losing their child, and if so, how long the healing process takes. Still fewer studies still have examined whether certain activities may lessen recovery time. Hyungmin Cha, former CAPS and PRC graduate student trainee and current postdoctoral fellow at USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, and Patricia Thomas, former PRC postdoctoral fellow (2010-2013) and current associate professor of sociology at Purdue University, analyze Health and Retirement Study data to examine of the duration of mental health recovery for bereaved parents. They also measure the impact of volunteering on that recovery. They find that, compared to nonbereaved parents, parents aged 50 and older whose child died between 1998 and 2016 had an immediate increase in depression after child loss and then returned to their pre-bereavement levels after about 7 years. They also found that depression for bereaved parents who started volunteering after their loss returned to their pre-bereavement levels more quickly, in about 4 years. They advocate for policies and programs to encourage volunteering to help older parents recover their mental health more quickly after child loss. Published in partnership with UT Austin’s Center on Aging and Population Sciences.

Children Growing Up in Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Families and from Marginalized Racial/Ethnic Groups Tend to Have Epigenetic Profiles Associated with a Faster Pace of Biological Aging

Laurel Raffington, Peter T. Tanksley, Aditi Sabhlok, Liza Vinnik, Travis Mallard, Lucy S. King, Bridget Goosby, Kathryn P. Harden, and Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, March 2023

To better understand how social inequalities become embedded in the body and impact the mind across the lifespan, researchers can study a child’s epigenetic profile – a score based on markers on the DNA that turn genes “on” or “off.” In this brief, former Population Research Center Postdoctoral Fellow Laurel Raffington, along with PRC Faculty Scholars Kathryn Paige Harden, Elliot Tucker-Drob and Bridget Goosby and colleagues, took DNA-methylation samples from the saliva of young people participating in the Texas Twin Project to create epigenetic profiles. They found that the epigenetic profiles of children from disadvantaged backgrounds looked worse than those of other children, including a faster pace of biological aging, higher chronic inflammation, and lower cognitive functioning. The authors argue that, to decrease disparities in the cognitive and physical health of adults, interventions to reduce educational, nutritional, and environmental disparities need to start in childhood.

Social Isolation Increases from Adolescence through Later Life but Varies by Gender, Age, and Partnership Status

Debra Umberson, Zhiyong Lin, and Hyungmin Cha, September 2022

Substantial evidence has found that people who are socially isolated experience worse mental and physical health and are more likely to die compared to their less isolated peers. And while the negative health impacts of social isolation affect both men and women, social isolation unfolds over the life course and perhaps in different ways for men and women. In this research brief, CAPS director and PRC faculty scholar Debra Umberson, along with PRC faculty affiliate Zhiyong Lin, and CAPS/PRC graduate student trainee Hyungmin Cha, report on a recent study that explores the gendered patterns of social isolation from adolescence to old age. Using Add Health and Health and Retirement Study data, they find that social isolation increases from adolescence through later life and that men are more socially isolated than women across all age and partnership categories with one exception: after age 62, married women are more socially isolated than married men. Published in partnership with UT Austin’s Center on Aging and Population Sciences.

Mexican-Origin Adolescents’ Spanish Proficiency Is High and Benefits Ethnic Identity, Resilience, and Life Meaning

Jun Wang, Wen Wen, Lester Sim, Xin Li, Jinjin Yan, and Su Yeong Kim, September 2022

Retaining one’s heritage language is critical for the positive development of linguistic minority youth. However, research on heritage language development primarily focuses on younger children’s experiences. In a recent study exploring Spanish proficiency across six years during adolescence among Mexican-origin youth with first-generation immigrant parents, Jun Wang of Texas A&M along with PRC faculty scholar Su Yeong Kim and colleagues found that Spanish language proficiency was high and language development continued during adolescence. They also found that family relationship quality was more predictive of language proficiency than how much Spanish was spoken at home and that Mexican-origin adolescents’ Spanish proficiency consistently benefits their ethnic identity, resilience, and life meaning. The authors recommend that targeted and evidence-based intervention, prevention, and promotion programs be offered to support adolescents’ heritage language and resulting positive development.

The Messages African American Mothers and Fathers Give Adolescents about Race Are Shaped by Their Own Experiences with Racial Discrimination and Their Observations and Fears of Racial Discrimination

Kathleen Holloway and Fatima Varner, October 2021

African American parents commonly socialize their adolescent children about race, ethnicity, and interracial relations. These racial socialization messages include communications about potential racial barriers – known as preparation for bias – and messages about African American culture, history and heritage – known as cultural socialization. How parents view their race and think others view them, as well as whether they are a mother or father, can influence the relationship between race-related stressors and the racial socialization messages that they give their children. Analyzing data from a national sample of 567 African American parents of adolescents, Human Development & Family Sciences graduate student Kathleen Holloway and HDFS assistant professor and PRC faculty scholar Fatima Varner found that personal and vicarious racial discrimination experiences were related to the cultural socialization messages parents gave their adolescent children. Parents who gave more messages to prepare their children for bias included, for example, those who experienced high vicarious racial discrimination who also believe that others view their race negatively. Holloway and Varner recommend increasing resources available to schools, mental health providers, and institutions that serve African American families, encouraging schools to adopt curricula that include racial socialization messages.

Chinese People Believe that Only Children Are Lonely. But Chinese Youth Who Are Only Children Report Less Loneliness than their Peers with Siblings

Shengjie Lin, Toni Falbo, Wen Qu, Yidan Wang, and Xiaotian Feng, July 2021

A common stereotype about only children in China is that they are lonelier than children who grow up with siblings. However, little research has documented whether large numbers of Chinese actually believe in this stereotype and whether the stereotype is even true for youth. PRC graduate student trainees Shengjie Lin and Yidan Wang, along with faculty scholar Toni Falbo, and colleagues found that young Chinese adults do indeed believe that only children experience more loneliness than those who grew up with siblings. But this belief does not match the reality in which youths with siblings report more loneliness than only children. The mismatch between stereotype and reality points to the need for counseling professionals, among others, to check their only-child-as-lonely biases and instead focus on the reality of the issues facing their clients.

Twin Study Shows that Link between Harsh Parenting and Youth Antisocial Behavior is Environmental, Not Genetic, in Origin

Alexandra Burt, D. Angus Clark, Elizabeth T. Gershoff, Kelly L. Klump, and Luke W. Hyde, March 2021

Harsh parenting, and especially hitting children in anger, has been linked to children’s aggression and antisocial behavior, as well as poorer school performance. However, while these relationships have consistently been shown across multiple studies, they have not been definitively shown to be the result of environmental, rather than genetic, factors. Studying twins can help researchers disentangle genetic and environmental effects. In this study, PRC director Liz Gershoff and colleagues studied both identical and non-identical twins to evaluate the impact of harsh parenting on youth antisocial behavior. They found that that youth antisocial behavior caused by harsh parenting is environmental, not genetic.

Emotion Work Exacts a Psychological Toll on the Emotion Worker in Both Same-Sex and Different-Sex Marriages, But the Toll Is Highest When the Spouse is a Depressed Man

Debra Umberson, Mieke B. Thomeer, Amanda M. Pollitt, and Sara E. Mernitz, September 2020

Emotion work, or devoting effort toward assessing and managing another person’s emotional needs to support their emotional well-being, is a common dynamic in intimate relationships that helps foster intimacy and closeness between spouses. While emotion work generally benefits the well-being of the recipient, providing it can be stressful and might undermine the emotion worker’s psychological well-being. Previous research on heterosexual couples suggests that emotion work may more strongly undermine psychological well-being for women than for men. In the brief, PRC director Debra Umberson, former PRC trainee Meike Thomeer, and PRC postdoctoral fellows Amanda Pollitt and Sara Mernitz use diary data with individuals in same-sex and different-sex marriages and find that emotion work exacts a psychological toll on the emotion worker in both same- and different-sex marriages, but the toll is highest when the spouse is a man with depressive symptoms.

Policy and Practice Recommendations for Ensuring that Foster Care Serves Children’s Best Interests

Sarah A. Font and Elizabeth T. Gershoff, April 2020

Foster care is a poorly regarded intervention to protect children exposed to abuse or neglect even though the totality of research evidence suggests no differences in child wellbeing between children receiving foster care versus similar children who do not, or slightly positive effects for select subgroups or for select outcomes. In this brief, PRC associate director Elizabeth T. Gershoff and co-author Sarah A. Font highlight what it would take to make meaningful improvements in children’s experiences and outcomes in the foster care system. These include: subjecting foster care interventions to rigorous impact evaluation; measuring the quality of the children’s experiences in foster care; and making strategic investments in data integration across multiple systems to produce high-quality impact and process evaluations.

How Much Household Instability Do Children Experience While Growing Up?

Kelly Raley, Inbar Weiss, Robert Reynolds, and Shannon E. CavanaghDecember 2019

While most studies of children’s family changes and instability have focused on changes in mothers’ marital and cohabiting relationships, other adults and children entering or leaving households also contribute to changes in who children live with. PRC faculty research associates Kelly Raley and Shannon Cavanagh, PRC staff member Robert Reynolds, and PRC graduate student trainee Inbar Weiss use data from the 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation to expand the description of children’s household composition and stability to include sibling and other household member transitions as well as residential instability. They find that children’s experience of household instability is much more frequent than previously documented, with black and Hispanic children experiencing more household instability than white and Asian children.

Marital Strain Increases Psychological Distress for Couples in Both Same-Sex and Different-Sex Marriages, but Women in Different-Sex Marriages Suffer More

Michael A. Garcia and Debra Umberson, December 2019

It is well-established that marriage benefits physical and emotional well-being. However, substantial evidence – based almost exclusively on one spouse in heterosexual marriages – demonstrates that marital strain increases psychological distress for married people. In this research brief, PRC graduate student trainee Michael Garcia and PRC director Debra Umberson examine whether and how marital strain reported by both the respondent and his or her spouse is associated with psychological distress and whether differences exist for women and men in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual marriages. They find that people who report higher levels of their own marital strain as well as people whose spouses report higher levels of marital strain experience more psychological distress. They also find that, compared to men in other union types, women married to men report higher levels of distress as a result of their own and their spouse’s marital strain. Women in different-sex marriages also report higher levels of distress compared to women in same-sex marriages, but as a result of self-reported strain only. This research has implications for research on marital dynamics and health as well as on counseling for married heterosexual, lesbian and gay couples.

Sexual Minority Youth are Over-represented and Have Worse Outcomes in the Child Welfare System

Stephen T. Russell, Laura Baams, Jessica N. Fish, Bianca D.M. Wilson, and Armeda Stevenson Wojciak, May 2019

This brief, from PRC faculty research associate Stephen T. Russell and colleagues, reports on a study using nationally representative data to show that the over-representation of sexual minority youth in child welfare systems is a national phenomenon. This brief also reports on a companion study which finds that sexual minority youth in foster care or out-of-home placement experience more victimization, poorer school functioning, more substance use, and poorer mental health compared with heterosexual youth.

Having Children and Forming Marital Unions as Adolescents Negatively Impact Educational Outcomes for Brazilian Women

Leticia J. Marteleto and Aida Villanueva, November 2018

Women who have their first child during adolescence tend to have worse social and economic outcomes compared to women who have their first child later in life or those who have no children. But it is not always clear if having a child while young is the cause of poor outcomes in adulthood or if teenage mothers’ previous disadvantages are the primary cause of those outcomes. The role that early union formation plays is also unclear. This brief, from PRC faculty research associate Leticia Marteleto and PRC graduate student trainee Aida Villanueva, evaluates the causal effects of adolescent childbearing and early union on young women’s educational attainment in Brazil. Using methodologies to account for teenage mothers’ selectivity into early childbearing, the authors demonstrate the ways early childbearing and early union formation negatively impact women’s educational attainment.

No Longer Up for Debate: Physical Punishment Causes Negative Outcomes for Children

Elizabeth Gershoff, Gail S. Goodman, Cindy L. Miller-Perrin, George W. Holden, Yo Jackson & Alan E. Kazdin, September 2018

A large body of research consistently links parents’ use of physical punishment, including spanking, to harm to their children. This finding holds up across populations, settings, and cohorts. But because it is unethical to conduct randomized controlled trials to study the effects of physical punishment, some critics still debate whether there is a causal link between physical punishment and harm to children. In this brief, the authors, led by PRC faculty research associate Liz Gershoff, find that the research on physical punishment meets five standard criteria for drawing causal conclusions. The message to policymakers, psychologists, and parents is clear: it is time to implement multiple strategies to end this outdated parenting practice.

How Spouses Influence Each Other’s Health Habits in Same-Sex Compared to Different-Sex Marriages

Debra Umberson, Rachel Donnelly, and Amanda Pollitt, August 2018

Decades of research have highlighted how, compared to men, women do more work to influence their spouse’s health habits, to the health benefit of men. In this brief, PRC director Debra Umberson, PRC doctoral student Rachel Donnelly and PRC postdoctoral fellow Amanda Pollitt show that gay and lesbian spouses, like heterosexual spouses, actively work to influence each other’s health habits. Policymakers and others should highlight the ways marriage can promote health in same-sex as well as different-sex couples while also paying attention to gender differences in some of these relationship dynamics.

Same-Sex Couples Devote More Attention to End-of-Life Plans than Heterosexual Couples

Mieke Beth Thomeer, Rachel Donnelly, Corinne Reczek, and Debra Umberson, June 2018

Engaging in end-of-life planning enhances the quality of later-life caregiving, health, and death. In this brief, Mieke Beth Thomeer, PRC doctoral student Rachel Donnelly, Corinne Reczek, and PRC director Debra Umberson report on end-of-life planning among same-sex and different-sex married couples. They find that same-sex spouses devote considerable attention to informal planning conversations and formal end-of-life plans while heterosexual spouses report minimal formal or informal planning.

Perceptions of Shared Power, Gender Conformity, and Marital Quality in Same- and Different-Sex Marriages

Amanda M. Pollitt, Brandon A. Robinson, and Debra Umberson, December 2017

Marriage is a key institutional context for the study of gender and gender inequality. This research brief, led by PRC postdoctoral fellow Amanda Pollitt, examines the relationships between gender conformity (i.e., women embody femininity and men embody masculinity), perceptions of shared power, and marital quality in same- and different-sex marriages.

Parenting Patterns, Racial Discrimination, and African American Adolescents’ Psychological and Academic Outcomes

Fatima Varner, Yang Hou, Tajma Hodzic, Noelle M. Hurd, Sheretta T. Butler-Barnes, and Stephanie J.Rowley, November 2017

Declines in academic engagement and psychological well-being, which are common for many adolescents, may be exacerbated among some African American adolescents because of exposure to racial discrimination. While discrimination can have negative effects on the development of minority children, some develop adaptive qualities to better cope with discrimination. These qualities can contribute to psychological well-being and better academic outcomes. This research brief, by PRC faculty research associate Fatima Varner and colleagues, reports on a study that examined whether there were groups of families with different combinations of parenting, specifically involved-vigilant parenting and parental racial socialization (i.e., messages about race). Next, the researchers examined whether parenting profiles, racial discrimination, and adolescent gender independently or interactively predicted adolescent academic and psychological outcomes.

What are the Effects of Mothers’ and Fathers’ Depression and Thoughts of Death on Their Children’s Level of Parental Connectedness?

Susan De Luca, Yan Yueqi, and Yolanda Padilla, August 2017

Mental health outcomes such as depression are often passed down in families. While links between the mental health conditions of parents and their children have been established, there is a limited understanding of these outcomes over time and the impact that mothers and fathers have on their children independently. Analyzing data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study, PRC faculty research associates Susan De Luca and Yolanda Padilla and co-author Yan Yueqi show that children felt less connected to both mothers and fathers with mental health symptoms, but the effects varied somewhat based on the sex of the parent.

The Parenthood “Happiness Penalty”: The Effects of Social Policies in 22 Countries

Jennifer Glass, Robin W. Simon and Matthew A. Andersson, May 2017

A large body of research has established that parents are less happy than nonparents. But is it always true that parents are less happy than nonparents? This research brief, by PRC faculty research associate Jennifer Glass and colleagues, shows that the “happiness penalty” is entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies that allow parents to better combine paid work with family obligations.

Do Gay, Lesbian, and Heterosexual Spouses Differ in the Ways They Care for Each Other During Physical Illness?

Debra Umberson, Mieke Beth Thomeer, Corinne Reczek, Rachel Donnelly, and Rhiannon A. Kroeger, March 2017

Using data collected from surveys and in-depth interviews with same- and different-sex couples, this brief summarizes two studies that analyze gendered marital dynamics around care work for physical illness.  Led by PRC Director Debra Umberson, authors include PRC NICHD Trainee Rachel Donnelly and PRC alumnae Mieke Beth Thomeer, Corinne Reczek, and Rhiannon A. Kroeger.  The authors found differences by gender and union type in the ways women and men give care to and receive care from their spouses in lesbian, gay, and heterosexual marriages.

Cohabitating Couples With Lower Education Levels Marry Less. Is This Because They Do Not Want To?

Kelly Raley, August 2016

This brief, based on PRC associate director Kelly Raley's co-authored article in Demography entitled “Diverging Patterns of Union Transition Among Cohabitators by Race-Ethnicity and Education: Trends and Marital Intentions,” addresses the decline in marriage among co-habitating couples by examining marriage intention and structural barriers.