The role of parenting attitudes, depressive symptoms, maternal education, and social support in the relationship between economic hardship and parental socialization in single-mother, African American families

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Within the past decade, policymakers and family practitioners have become increasingly concerned about the challenges facing single-mother families. This heightened concern for single mothers was sparked by the 1996 welfare reform legislation, Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which placed limits on welfare participation and required single mothers to leave welfare and enter the workforce. Since a large percentage of single mothers are disproportionately from marginalized populations and earn low wages, it has been expected that single- mother families would experience significant economic hardships. Economic hardship has been found to negatively impact single parenting. Consequently, there is a need to identify factors that may influence and protect against the impact of economic hardship on single mothering. Thus, the purpose of the current study was to examine four factors: 1) parenting attitudes and 2) depressive symptoms with the potential to mediate; and 3) maternal education and 4) social support with the potential to buffer the impact of economic hardship on the parental socialization (i.e. nurturance, teaching/provision of stimulating materials, and discipline) of single mothers.

Secondary analyses were performed utilizing data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Wave II dataset, a nationally representative sample of single mothers in U.S. cities with a population of 200,000 or more that have been impacted by welfare reform. The current study utilized a subsample consisting of 678 African American, single mothers with children between 12 -18 months old.

Results revealed that economic hardship indirectly impacts the parental socialization of single mothers through its negative impact on maternal parenting attitudes. Maternal parenting attitudes significantly predicted parental socialization. Findings further revealed that maternal educational attainment and informal, instrumental social support moderated the indirect relationship between economic hardship and parental socialization. Specifically, the relationship between parenting attitudes and teaching/provision of stimulating materials was strengthened for mothers that obtained some college or more. Furthermore, as parenting attitudes increased, maternal discipline (i.e., spanking) decreased for mothers with instrumental supports. Findings suggest a need for culturally-sensitive strategies to expand educational opportunities and instrumental supports for low-income, African American single mothers of infants and toddlers. Implications for policy and research are discussed.