Study Finds Racial and Ethnic Differences in Parental Stress
While decades of research on child development have found that parental stress can have lasting negative impacts on their children, less is known about the racial-ethnic disparities in parenting stress.
“Sometimes researchers lump everyone together,” said Sharon Borja, who is an Institute of Translational Health Sciences TL1 trainee and social work doctoral candidate. “Families of color are often at the intersection of multi-form adversity and racial disparities, but we don’t really understand much about the differences across these ethnic groups.”
Borja wanted to examine what demographic, social, economic, cultural, and health-related factors contribute to differences in parental stress predictors between African Americans, Latinos, and whites.
This analysis shows African American, Latino, and white parents are all affected by stressors differently. We can’t lump everyone together.
To do this, she analyzed data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study, which has been following 5,000 children born in U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000.
“Exploring cumulative adversity, parental stress, parenting capacities, and early childhood socio-emotional health with longitudinal cohort data is critical in helping advance our understanding of pathways affecting individuals in early childhood,” Borja explained.
The ITHS TL1 program has helped me learn how to communicate to others about my work and think about how my work links to other disciplines and how it translates to practice.
Borja’s research showed differences between the three groups. She found that when their children were between ages one and five, African Americans reported the highest levels of parental stress, followed by Latino parents, and then white parents. Around age five, Latino and white parents began to report similar levels of stress. African American parents consistently had the highest stress levels.
Borja also found differences in predictors of parenting stress across groups. Food insecurity significantly predicted parenting stress for white and Latino mothers. Material insecurity and number of government services received potentially indicating greater socio-economic need predicted parental stress of African American mothers. Lower level of education predicted higher stress levels for African American and Latino parents, but not for white parents.
“This analysis shows African American, Latino, and white parents are all affected by stressors differently,” Borja said. “We can’t lump everyone together and say, ‘This is what’s causing this stress.’ Examining these differences has important implications towards tailored approaches that reduce parental stress, strengthen parent capabilities, and promote healthy child development.”
Her long-term goal is to establish a practice-based research program and collaborate with immigrant families and families of color to produce evidence towards developing culturally responsive social work interventions.
Borja’s work is supported by the ITHS TL1 program, which has helped her find ways to communicate her work, she said. “It’s easy for me to talk about my research with those in social work. They’ll understand it even if I used social work jargons,” she explained. “But, the TL1 program has helped me learn how to communicate to others about my work, especially to other health disciplines like public health and epidemiology. The program has helped me think about how my work links to other disciplines and how it translates to practice.”