White children are more likely than black children to act out if their mothers have multiple live-in lovers, an analysis by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore shows.
The report, published in the upcoming April issue of the American Sociological Review, found a connection between such family changes and behavior problems, but only in white children.
The two-generation study of a nationally representative sample of 1,965 mothers and their 3,392 kids examined data from 1979, when the mothers were adolescents, and from 2000, when the mothers were adults and their children were ages 5-14. The mothers reported behavior problems about their children, and kids ages 10-14 reported details of delinquent behaviors such as vandalism, theft and skipping school.
Sociologists Andrew Cherlin and Paula Fomby found that children who experienced three to four transitions by age 14, such as a move in or out by a parent or a parent’s romantic partner, had more behavioral problems, such as acting out or aggressive behavior, than those who had no transitions.
Hispanics were not included in the study because the 1979 data didn’t provide a good sample to account for the dramatic increase in immigration in the past two decades, the researchers say.
Fomby says the study goes further than previous research, which questioned how much a mother’s past behavior influenced her children’s behavior. “We did find relationships between a mother’s delinquent behavior and children’s delinquent behavior,” she says. But after taking those influences into account, transitions did appear to make a difference to some children. “Three to four (transitions) seem to be the trouble point,” Fomby says.
Cherlin says the analysis suggests stability is key.
[Editors Note: A PDF file of “Family Instability and Child Well-Being,” by Paula Fomby and Andrew J. Cherlin,” can be read here.
[It can be downloaded from here.]