Journal of African American Studies

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 74–98

Single Black Mothers’ Role Strain and Adaptation across the Life Course

Authors

    • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Phillip J. Bowman
    • University of Michigan
  • Libin Zhang
    • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
ARTICLES

DOI: 10.1007/s12111-012-9220-7

Cite this article as:
Mendenhall, R., Bowman, P.J. & Zhang, L. J Afr Am St (2013) 17: 74. doi:10.1007/s12111-012-9220-7

Abstract

This study examines how Black single mothers maintain resiliency, despite having family provider role strain (e.g., low income, joblessness, and underemployment). Guided by a strengths-based role strain and adaptation approach that addresses how ethnic-specific strengths facilitate resiliency across the life course, we extend Bowman and Sanders (Journal of Comparative Family Studies 29:39–56, 1998) work on Black unmarried fathers. We focus on the role of strong religious beliefs and extended family closeness in protecting psychological functioning, despite having family provider role difficulties. Multivariate analyses were conducted on a sub-sample of 617 single Black mothers using the National Survey of Black Americans, a national probability sample survey which includes data from 2,107 face-to-face interviews. The early postindustrial era of the late 1970s and 1980s created critical and unprecedented provider role challenges because both Black men and women faced the highest levels of joblessness and economic marginality since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As hypothesized, strong religious beliefs and extended family closeness operated as significant protective factors promoting more resilient outcomes—a sense of personal efficacy, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. These theory-driven findings can also guide future policy-relevant research on more complex provider role strain–adaptation processes among Black mothers facing chronic poverty during the 2007 Great Recession and beyond.

Keywords

Black mothersResiliencyRole strain and adaptationLife course

When understanding the life courses of Black women, Black feminist scholars emphasize the importance of social–historical context, resiliency despite adversity, intersectionality, and resistance (Collins 1998; Harris [2009] 2011; Hine 1993; Hull et al. 1982). These scholars reveal a complex picture of how racial and gender discrimination in the U.S. significantly restricts Black women’s choices in family life, neighborhood quality, educational achievement, and employment opportunities—limitations that have profound implications for Black women’s well-being (Dickerson 1995). However, despite structural barriers, Black women have demonstrated profound resiliency which has enabled many to not only maintain personal well-being but also to engage in collective action and make significant contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, the modern Women’s Movement, the Welfare Rights Movement, the fight for desegregated housing (Gautreaux Program), and other sociopolitical campaigns (Brewer 2003; Hine 1993; [Authors]; Williams 2004).

The expression of Black women’s resiliency and resistance is closely associated with the U.S. political economy (ideology, policy, and structure of the U.S. economy) and historical shifts in race and gender oppression (Collins 1990[1991]). As the U.S. economy has shifted from the industrial era, single Black mothers have faced unique family provider role problems during the early postindustrial displacement period of the 1970s and 1980s and ongoing postindustrial globalization era (Bowman 1988, 1995; Rowley and Bowman 2009; Wilson 1987, 1996). Bowman and Sanders (1998) describes provider role strain as both objective barriers (e.g., low income, underemployment, joblessness, etc.) that increase family economic provider role problems and/or subjective reactions to such problems (discouragement and self-blame) that increase personal vulnerability or distress. Therefore, when Black mothers encounter family economic provider role barriers, we need to better understand how protective cultural strengths operate to promote resiliency, agency and empowerment (Bowman 2012; Bowman and Sanders 1998; Harrison et al. 1985; Hine 1993; Ladner 1971; McAdoo 2007; Author et al. 2006).

During the early postindustrial era of the late 1970s and 1980s, both Black men and women faced the highest levels of joblessness and economic marginality since the Great Depression of the 1930s (e.g., Bowman et al. 1982). According to Wilson (1987), the 1970s and 1980s brought historic structural changes in the economy: (1) U.S. labor market changed from primarily unskilled manufacturing to service; (2) the available employment opportunities were increasingly becoming either for low-wageservice sector or high-wage technical jobs; (3) technological innovations also decreased the demand for unskilled industrial workers; and (4) as manufacturing companies relocated to the suburbs, the South, and other countries, a mismatch developed between where new jobs were located and where most urban Black families lived.

The adverse economic impact of postindustrial displacement on Black families was further exacerbated when the 1973 high oil prices lead to a recession and rising inflation with falling real wages and policy decisions to “allow unemployment to rise in order to fight inflation” (Wilson 1987:45). Moreover, between 1970 and 1980 a labor surplus environment existed with 24 million people entering the labor force primarily due to the large 1950s baby boom cohort and women. In addition to devastating effects on Black male joblessness, this early postindustrial era also resulted in a feminization of Black family poverty with increasing numbers of single, Black mothers faced with severe economic pressures as primary or sole family providers (Bowman 1988, 1995; Harrison et al. 1985; McLafferty and Preston 1992).

During the early postindustrial era, in addition to structural changes in the economy, major sociopolitical changes also occurred in the U.S. especially as it relates to Blacks and women (e.g., welfare reform, affirmative action, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in both houses, and fair housing laws) (Giddins 1984). For example, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress (from 1969 to 1983) and to eventually run for President in 1972. As the first Black woman U.S. Representative (NY), Chisholm demonstrated exemplary strength and resistance as she used several policy instruments at her disposal (laws, money, and moral persuasion) to confront race, class, and gender barriers. Chisholm worked tirelessly to increase the minimum wage from $1.60 to $2.20 and to make sure domestic workers benefited from these laws.

Haskins (1975) suggests that Chisholm’s early experience with family provider role challenges facing black mothers helped to shape her resiliency, resistance, and later political agenda. For example, he believes that Chisholm was a big supporter of day-care and unions for domestic workers because, during the Depression, she often stayed home alone while her mother did domestic work. Chisholm understood the economic strain experienced by her mother as she tried to raise children and provide for them. Therefore, she sought to change entrenched U.S. structures that created such family economic provider role strain. As with Chisholm’s mother, family economic provider role strain continues to represent a major resiliency challenge for single Black mothers due to their social location at the intersection of race, class, and gender.

The historical and contemporary persistence of chronic economic inequality in the Black community makes it important to better understand how single, Black mothers maintain resiliency despite low incomes, joblessness, and/or underemployment. A better understanding of family provider role risk, cultural protection, and psychological resiliency is especially important as we try to comprehend the effects of the 2007 Great Recession and the jobless recovery (Taylor et al. 2011). In February 2010, the economic crisis left Black women caring for their children, as single heads of families, with an unemployment rate of 15 % (U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee 2010). Although chronic provider role barriers can have devastating psychological consequences, cultural strengths among Black women can promote personal resiliency, and in turn, even inspire more collective modes of sociopolitical coping across generations. Black single mothers have continued to demonstrate exemplary resiliency, personal agency, and sociopolitical empowerment despite marginalizing forces such as postindustrial displacement and conservative trends in welfare reform.

Guided by a strengths-based role strain and adaptation approach, the current study extends earlier work by Bowman and Sanders (1998) on Black unmarried fathers to address how ethnic-specific strengths among single Black mothers facilitate their resiliency across the life course. The earlier study of unmarried fathers found that objective provider role difficulties (e.g., unemployment, underemployment, and low-income) and subjective provider role difficulties (i.e., discouragement as primary family economic providers, self-blame for provider role problems) negatively affected personal efficacy, self-esteem, and life purpose. However, cultural strengths such as religion and family closeness were protective against psychological distress. In this national study, we focus on the role of strong religious beliefs and extended family closeness in protecting Black single mothers’ psychological functioning, despite having family provider role difficulties.

Theoretical Framework and Literature Review

Life Course and Role Strain Theory

Heinz and Krüger (2001:33) define the life course as “a sequence of stages or status-configurations and transitions in life which are culturally and institutionally framed from birth to death.” Areas of research include historical time (generations and cohorts), individual time (life history, biography), and institutional time (careers, sequences, transitions). Institutions, such as labor markets and welfare systems, are key components of life course theory because they reproduce inequalities in society, influence individuals’ decisions about work and family, and affect subjective feelings about decisions and events in their lives (Heinz and Krüger 2001). Life course theorists also stress the importance of historical events and places, developmental timing (effect of event depends on age), human agency (choices and adaptations based on opportunities and constraints), and linked lives (events in one life affect broader networks) in shaping the life course (Elder 1998; Author et al. 2006).

When speaking about the life course and life chances of Black women, Hine (1993) argues that the Black feminist’ intellectual tradition consistently revisits four themes regardless of historical era, age, or social class: (1) the legacy of struggle, (2) the search for voice to dismantle stereotypical images like the welfare queen (who has more children for money and refuses to work), the mammy (a grinning worker who left her children to nurture White children) and the matriarch (who is blamed for emasculating men and failing her own children), (3) the interdependence of thought (intellectual inquiry) and action (political activism), and (4) the significance of agency and resistance in everyday life. See Jordan-Zachery (2010) for a detailed discussion of stereotypical images, ideology, and public policy (including the Moynihan report).

The life courses of Black women, often depicted negatively in stereotypical images, demonstrate that motherhood and work are not separate public and private spheres. Traditionally, Black mothers have participated in both spheres and have been labeled as deviant (to White middle-class role norms) because of it. Despite working outside the home and providing economically for their families, Black mothers are also seen (often by Black men) as “superstrong” mothers that have unending devotion, self-sacrifice, and unconditional love without any costs to well-being. Collins (1998, 1990 [1991]) describes the need for an Afrocentric feminist analysis of Black motherhood that counters extreme images of Black mothers as deviant or self-sacrificial in key roles across the life course. A feminist analysis would also discredit ideologies that blame Black mothers for negative family and work outcomes (e.g., low income, underemployment, and unemployment) that are often due to oppressive conditions and economic restructuring. The complex interplay between Black motherhood and family provider role under oppressive conditions and economic restructuring highlights the importance of understanding Black mothers’ resilience, strength, and adaptations in managing these role strains.

Bowman’s (1989, 1990) earlier studies used his role strain and adaptation framework to explore family provider role issues primarily with men. Bowman and Sanders (1998:41) defines role strain as “objective difficulties and/or subjective reactions to such difficulties which impede successful performance in a valued social role.” Role adaptation involves the use of agency to activate resources in order to mitigate psychological risks due to role strain. Bowman argues, in his role strain and adaptation theoretical model, that structural constraints often jeopardize Black males’ chances of successfully accomplishing developmental goals throughout the life course as students (pre-adult years), workers (early adulthood), and providers (middle adulthood). Unfortunately, failure in one role or developmental stage has negative implications for achievement in the next stage. This vulnerability is especially visible in the post-industrial information age. Bowman’s theoretical model specifies cultural strengths that appear to mitigate the consequences of persistent structural constraints such as, ethnic community networks, familial relationships, and personal belief systems.

Family Provider Role Barriers and Psychological Risk

Bowman’s and Sanders’ (1998) research on Black unmarried fathers found that objective provider role difficulties such as unemployment and low income were harmful psychologically. The harmful effects of objective barriers were exacerbated by role discouragement, which involves cognitive appraisals of feeling you are not doing well as a father or providing for your family. Cultural strengths such as para-kin friendships, religiosity, and family closeness served as buffers against fathers’ psychological vulnerability. Regarding life course stages, the role strain–adaptation model found that for younger fathers, para-kin networks were the most effective coping resources. However, for older fathers, religion and family bonds were more salient. The authors stressed the need for longitudinal research to disentangle cause and effect and the age effects.

Although much of Bowman’s empirical work is on Black men (an exception is Harrison et al. 1985), the role strain and adaption theoretical model can also be applied to Black women. Black women often experience role strain throughout the life course due to their status as women of color with limited economic resources. Scholars have widely studied the challenges of Black women as (1) mothers without partners (Hattery and Smith 2007), (2) low-waged and low-skilled workers (McLoyd and Enchautegui-de-Jesús 2005), (3) recipients of public assistance (Patterson 2010), (4) dwellers of high-crime neighborhoods (Du Bois 1899[1996]; Mendenhall et al. 2006, 2009; Williams 2004), and (5) mothers of poor children struggling to achieve developmental goals (Kotlowitz 1991).

It is important to view these intersectional challenges in historical context and identify the Black women’s strengths that give them agency despite their extreme circumstances. Regarding historical context, the National Survey of Black Americans was conducted in the early postindustrial era and about 14 years after Moynihan (1965) wrote his report and the firestorm that followed it. Jordan-Zachery (2010) argues that Moynihan employed stereotypes of Black women in his report, especially that of the matriarch. In the late 1970s, single mothers headed 60 % of low-income families with children (Patterson 2010). During this same time, Black mothers had higher rates of labor participation than mothers from other racial/ethnic groups (McLoyd and Enchautegui-de-Jesús 2005).

The interlocking effects of these challenges and the ideologies associated with them have left Black single mothers economically and psychologically vulnerable (Brewer 2003; Dickerson 1995). However, as suggested in Shirley Chisholm’s life story, Black mothers have historically managed to draw on protective resources within African American communities to promote resiliency, empowerment, and resistance across the generations (Duchess 2009 [2011]). Promotion of resiliency, empowerment, and resistance is evidenced by Black women: (1) using their voice to counter stereotypical images of Black motherhood (Collins 1998, 1990 [1991]), (2) legitimizing Black single mothers “experiences as points of resistance and potential sources of power” (Dickerson 1995:179), and (3) developing self-help institutions (within clubs, churches, etc.) to transcend oppression (Hill 1996; Giddins 1984; Hull et al. 1982). Black women’s resiliency continues to be documented in African American Studies literature that helps to clarify protective cultural strengths within African American communities (Billingsley 1992; Bowman 1989, 1990; 2012; Drake and Cayton 1964; Du Bois 1903a; Hill 1972; Herskovits 1935; McAdoo 2007). Therefore, it is critical to incorporate multi-level protective factors such as personal agency (e.g., belief systems), family support (e.g., extended kin and mutual aid), and community resources (faith-based organizations) into theoretical models about Black women.

Adaptive Cultural Strengths: Religion and Family

Among researchers in African American Studies, there is a long standing debate about the origins of distinct ethnic or cultural strengths among Black people in America. A traditional view is that African American ethnic patterns are devoid of African origins and are essentially reactions to racial oppression in America (e.g., Frazier 1939; Hannerz 1969; Kiel 1966). In contrast, other scholars study these patterns as distinctly West African adaptations to American circumstances rather than mere reactions to oppressive institutional barriers (e.g., Herskovits 1935, 1941; Karenga 1993; Sudarkasa 2007). These African-centered scholars emphasize African American heritage as the primary source of adaptive cultural strengths.

W.E.B. Du Bois was among the first scholars to promote the importance of religion and family as pivotal protective factors and sources of resiliency, agency, and empowerment for African Americans faced with the discouraging problem of the color-line (e.g., Du Bois 1903b; 1909). Guided by the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, Melville Herskovits (1941[1990]) was a distinguished anthropologist who helped to further clarify how religion and religious institutions in the African American tradition represented adaptive survivals of African culture or Africanisms. Herskovits examined how West Africans worshipped a Creator and several lesser gods. They believed in communicating with the Creator through prayers, rituals, songs, drums, sacrifices, and dances. Many of the West African spiritual beliefs and practices were similar to Christianity. Therefore, while many West Africans converted to Christianity for pragmatic reasons as slaves, they were still able to continue many of their traditional practices.

The Black church is viewed as one of the most important institutions in the Black community and has provided important cultural resources and leadership on social reform (Billingsley 1999; Taylor and Chatters 2011; Taylor et al. 2004). Data from a national survey revealed that the overwhelming majority (98 %) of Blacks engage in prayer (Taylor et al. 2004). The types of prayer include: (1) ritualistic (e.g., reading from a book, reciting memorized prayers), (2) conversational (informal conversation with God), (3) petitionary (requests for needs), and (4) meditative (quietly thinking, listening, or experiencing God).

Research shows that prayer and the process of placing problems in the hands of a divine being may create a greater sense of personal control, reduce worry and distress, and allow individuals to invest energy in components of the problem that can be altered with active coping strategies (Taylor et al. 2004; Krause et al. 2001). As a result, religious participation is psychologically advantageous for Blacks as evidenced by its association with less depression and depressive symptoms (Taylor et al. 2004). These advantages appear to be even greater for women, the elderly, and individuals living in the South.

Another important institution in the Black community is the extended family and kinship networks (Billingsley 1992; Hill 1972; Stack 1974; Taylor and Chatters 2011). Herskovits (1941 [1990]) identified various types of Black cooperative societies as another example of Africanisms (or survivals of West African culture) because of similarity to groups in West Africa where mutual helpfulness existed. Reflecting on these benevolent societies he stated, “That in time of need [they] assure their members access to resources greater than those of any individual” (Herskovits 1941 [1990:162]).

According to Billingsley (1992:17), the Black “family remains a resilient and adaptive institution reflecting the most basic values, hopes, and aspirations of the descendants of African people in America.” The Black extended family and kinship networks represent cultural legacies that provide collective cooperation, mutual aid, role egalitarianism, and other resources that allow individuals to avoid psychological risk or recover from their vulnerabilities (Bagley and Carroll 1998; Stack 1974). Similar to the church, the family also serves as a site of resistance against interlocking oppressions (Thorton 1998). Examples of resistance include Black parents’ socialization messages to their children which range from mainstream themes regarding education and work to messages about resisting and coping with racism to discussions about Black culture. Also included in these messages are themes about structural versus individual blame when encountering challenges achieving developmental goals (e.g., Bowman and Howard 1985; Hughes et al. 2006).

Focus of the Current Study

In the USA, individuals’ psychological well-being is closely associated with their status locations within society. Mental health inequalities are influenced by interlocking systems of inequality (racism, classism, sexism, etc.) working together in overt and subtle ways (Department of Health and Human Services 2011; Bonilla-Silva 2005; Omi and Winant 1994; Pearlin et al. 2005; Pierce 1970; Sue 2010; Thompson and Neville 1999). Guided by Bowman and Sanders (1998), this national study of single Black mothers focuses on several role strain and adaptation questions: Do single Black mothers’ cultural strengths, such as strong religious beliefs and extended family closeness, serve as protective factors that promote resiliency despite provider role barriers? Do these mothers engage in specific role strain–adaptation processes at different stages of the life course? How do these role strain and adaptation processes among these mothers compare with what Bowman and Sanders (1998) found for single Black fathers? First, we hypothesize that strong religious beliefs and extended family closeness will operate as significant protective factors promoting more resilient outcomes—a sense of personal efficacy, self-esteem, and life satisfaction—despite family provider role strain. Second, we hypothesize that single Black mothers will engage in specific role strain–adaptation dynamics during various periods of the life course—early, middle, and older adulthood.

To investigate these questions, we used the National Survey of Black Americans (NSBA) data set from 1979 to 1980. As we mentioned earlier, the early postindustrial era of the late 1970s and 1980s created critical and unprecedented provider role challenges because both Black men and women faced the highest levels of joblessness and economic marginality since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Our findings advance the literature on Black women and role strain in several important ways. First, it allows us to compare the effects of family provider role strain and coping mechanisms across gender—with a systematic consideration of gender by racial, parental, marital status intersections. The NSBA also allows the use of a life span comparative approach to examine how the type of cultural strengths Black women employ to cope with provider role strain may change throughout the life course (i.e., young, mid-life, older years). Finally, the focus on specific family provider role strain and adaptation hypotheses among single Black mothers in a nationally representative sample can guide future quantitative and qualitative studies to further clarify cultural sources of resiliency, resistance, and empowerment. This will be important as scholars investigate the impact of the Great Recession of 2007–2009 on Black families in an era where the U.S. Joint Economic Committee (2010) used a comprehensive unemployment measure (U-6 rate) and estimated that one in four (or 24.9 %) Blacks were either unemployed or underemployed. In addition, 72 % of Black children are born to single mothers (Washington 2010).

Method

Data

The National Survey of Black Americans is a national cross-sectional sample of Black adults residing in the continental USA. Researchers employed a multistage, area probability sampling procedure to make certain that all Black households were equally likely to be chosen for participation. This required researchers to create new and creative screening techniques which eventually yielded a survey response rate of 67.1 %. Prior to going into the field, focus groups were held to pretest questions and increase the cultural sensitivity of questions and measures. Between 1979 and 1980, a nationwide staff of local interviewers was trained to conduct 2,107 face-to-face interviews with individuals living in the south (53 %), north-central (22 %), northwest (19 %), and western (6 %) regions of the USA. The professionally trained interviewers used a two-hour interview schedule with both closed-ended and open-ended questions to collect national data on a range of measures including psychological well-being, life stress, employment experience, formal and informal support networks, and social background. Most respondents (80 %) lived in urban areas and the rest resided in rural areas. The youngest respondent was 18 years of age and the oldest was 101 years old. The majority of respondents were women (1,310), 797 were men. This current study replicates the work of Bowman and Sanders (1998) on unmarried fathers but focuses on the sub-sample of 612 Black single mothers in this national probability sample.

Measures

Dependent Variables

Three indicators of psychological well-being were used: self-esteem, personal efficacy, and perceived life quality. The indices were adapted from standard scales that were broadly tested with African American samples (Bowman and Sanders 1998). Self-esteem was measured with a six-item index adapted from the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (1965) that examines if individuals feel they are useful, worthy, have things to be proud of, etc. All item–item correlations for this widely used self-esteem scale were statistically significant. The traditional Rosenberg (1965) four-point rating scale was utilized which ranges from 4 “almost always true” to 1 “never true” with a Cronbach’s alpha of .68, reproducibility of .92 and scalability of .72. Additional psychometric studies on other large samples also show test-retest reliability of .85 and convergent validity of .83 with a health self-image questionnaire (Silbert and Tippett 1965; Robinson and Shaver 1972).

Although the psychometric evidence was less definitive for the remaining two well-being outcome measures, they have also been used extensively in national survey studies. Personal efficacy was an index of four items that capture the women’s beliefs about their control over their lives in general with high levels indicating a sense of personal power and control and low levels of a sense of uncertainty. For example, one question was whether they ran their own life or did problems take over (response choices included “can run own life” or “problems of life are too big”). All inter-item correlations for the four personal efficacy questions were statistically significant and the Cronbach’s alpha statistic for this national sample is .57. In large scale studies of both Blacks and Whites, these four personal efficacy items were consistently associated with various adaptive motivational and behavioral outcomes (Bowman and Sanders 1998; Robinson and Shaver 1972).

Perceived life quality included the summing of scores from measures of global life happiness, life satisfaction, and life fulfillment. The global happiness question assessed whether a person feels generally happy with life ranging from “very happy” to “not to happy.” The life satisfaction item asked “In general, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” with a Likert-type rating scale ranging from “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied.” The life fulfillment item assessed whether respondents felt they had generally gotten what they wanted out of life with response ranging from “got mostly what wanted” to “got less than wanted.” Item–item correlations for this perceived life quality index demonstrated statistically significant levels of internal consistency with a Cronbach’s alpha of .60. Related research has found that these items are conceptually and empirically convergent (Bowman and Sanders 1998; Robinson and Shaver 1972).

Independent Variables

The predictor variables included objective provider role difficulties, subjective provider role difficulties, cultural strengths, and age. Objective provider role difficulties included a dummy variable of whether the mother is jobless or not, an under employment measure of average weekly hours with less hours worked representing the most underemployment, and an inadequate income measure based on annual personal income. Subjective provider role difficulties included primary provider discouragement where mothers respond to a four-point scale question “Given the chances you have had, how well have you done in taking care of your family’s wants and needs, on a four-point scale ranging from “would you say you have done very well” to “not well at all?” We also included mother role discouragement with the same four-point scale: “Given the chances you have had, how well have you done at being a good mother to your children?” Lastly, we looked at ability blame that was measured by the following question: “I’m going to read you a list of things that sometimes keeps people from getting good jobs in their lives. Please tell me if these things have been important in keeping you from getting the really good jobs: How about not having enough ability to get the really good jobs in life?” The four response categories ranged from 1 “very important” to 4 “not at all important.”

Cultural strengths included a question on “How religious would you say that you are?” The four-point scale ranged from 1 “not religious at all” to 4 “very religious.” We also used a question on family closeness: “Would you say your family members are very close in their feelings to each other, fairly close, not too close, or not close at all?” We looked at para-kin friendships by using questions about whether they have a best friend (other than their spouse/partner) and friends that they feel especially close to emotionally. Age was used as a continuous variable and to represent various stages of the life course for the comparative life span analysis: young adulthood (18–34 years), middle age (35–54 years), and the senior years (55 and older).

Analysis Strategy

In preliminary analysis, we examined intercorrelations among the outcome and predictor variables. Overall, intercorrelations between these three psychological well-being indices appeared to demonstrate that each represent a separate aspect of psychological well-being among our sample of single Black mothers. Using the role strain–adaptation model, we conducted hierarchical multiple regression analyses to determine additive relationships between the predictor variables (provider role strain and cultural strengths) and psychological well-being outcomes. Guided by the role strain and adaptation approach, we adopted a three-step regression procedure. First, we examined the effects of objective provider role difficulties on well-being. Then, we successively estimated whether subjective provider role difficulties and adaptive cultural resources also affected well-being. Finally, we examined the above associations in different stages of life span separately. Age was used both as a control variable in regressions for the total sample, and as a basis for categorizing mothers into the three distinct age groups for the subsequent comparative life span analysis.1 Due to the different values of the independent variables, we computed Z (or standard) scores so that all variables were on the same scale (with a mean of 0 and variance of 1). Standardizing the variables made them directly comparable to each other and allowed the assessment of their relative strength in affecting psychological well-being; we reported the standardized regression coefficients. All the descriptive and regression analyses were conducted with SPSS 16.0.

Results

Hierarchical Regression Analyses for Total Sample

The results of hierarchical multiple regressions were presented in Table 1, including each of the three well-being measures: personal efficacy, self-esteem, and life quality. The findings for the objective family provider role difficulties had small but significant effects on well-being (R2 = .03, .02, and .01, respectively, for each of the three categories of well-being). Adding subjective role difficulties significantly increased the explanatory power of the model (R2 = .06, .09, and .09, respectively). The addition of cultural strengths increased the explanatory power even more for personal efficacy (R2 = .10) and self-esteem (R2 = .12), but especially for perceived life quality (R2 = .18).
Table 1

Hierarchical multiple regression analyses of psychological well-being on provider role strain–adaptation predictors for the total sample

 

Psychological well-being indicators

 

Personal efficacy

Self-esteem

Perceived life quality

Provider role strain–adaptation predictors

ra

Bb

Bb

Bb

R2

ra

Bb

Bb

Bb

R2

ra

Bb

Bb

Bb

R2

Objective provider

Role difficulties

 Joblessness

−.12***

−.07

−.09

−.06

 

−.15***

−.14

−.18*

−0.15

 

.02

−.11

−.14

−.12

 

 Underemployment

−.11***

.06

.09

.04

 

−.14***

.04

.19*

0.14

 

.06

.18*

.39****

.28***

 

 Low Income

−.18***

−.18****

−.18****

−0.14***

 

−.11***

−.07

−.07

−0.06

 

.01

−.04

−.04

−.04

 

 R2 at this step

    

.03****

    

.02****

    

.01****

 F statistic

    

5.90****

    

8.70****

    

1.19

 

Subjective provider

Role difficulties

 Primary provider discouragement

−.10**

 

−.15****

−.13***

 

−.20***

 

−.18****

−.18****

 

−.21***

 

−.17****

−.17****

 

 Mother role discouragement

−.03

 

−.010

.00

 

−.14***

 

−.07

−.07

 

−.17***

 

−.07

−.05

 

 Ability-blame

−.11***

 

−.010

.00

 

−.18***

 

−.16**

−.14

 

−.09**

 

−.25****

−.21****

 

 R2 at this step

    

.06c

    

.09c

    

.09c

 F statistic

    

5.21****

    

4.09****

    

8.49****

 

Cultural strength

 Religiosity

.11***

  

.04

 

.12***

  

.10**

 

.17***

  

.03

 

 Family closeness

.13***

  

.10**

 

.13***

  

.10**

 

.18***

  

.12***

 

 Para-Kin friendship

.09**

  

.05

 

.05

  

.03

 

−.04

  

−.03

 

 Non-urban community

−.15***

  

−.13***

 

−.06

  

−.01

 

.06

  

.01

 

 Age

.07

  

.12**

 

.05

  

.00

 

.30***

  

.22****

 

 R2 at this step

    

.10c

    

.12c

    

.18c

 F statistic

    

5.55****

    

6.56****

    

10.48****

n = 612

*p < .10; **p < .05; ***p < .01; ****p < .001

ªPerson Product Moment Correlation between each predictor and well-being measure

bAt each step, standardized regression coefficients are reported for variables entered into the regression at that step

cThe variables in this block add significantly to the explanatory power of this model

Personal Efficacy

For single Black mothers, the full role strain model accounted for 10 % (p < .001) of the variance in personal efficacy (F = 5.55, p < .001). When subjective provider role difficulties, cultural strengths, and age variables were incrementally added to create the full model, they accounted for a significant increase in the variance explained. In step one, low income had the strongest negative relationship with personal efficacy among the objective provider role difficulties. In step two, the primary provider discouragement variable was the most negatively associated with personal efficacy among subjective provider role difficulties. In terms of cultural strengths in step three, religiosity, family closeness, and para-kin friendship were not significantly affecting personal efficacy. Non-urban community was negatively associated with personal efficacy, suggesting that the 20 % of the mothers in rural areas had lower efficacy than their counterparts in more urban areas. Age, as an independent predictor in the total sample, was positively related to personal efficacy showing efficacy increasing as mothers grow older.

Self-Esteem

The complete role strain model accounted for 12 % of the variance in self-esteem (F = 6.56; p < .001). In step one, none of the objective role difficulty predictors were statistically significant. In the next step, we added the subjective provider role difficulties and observed a significant increase in R2 from .02 to .09 (p < .01). Primary provider discouragement and ability blame were significant at .18 and .16, respectively. In step three, the inclusion of cultural strengths and the age variable significantly increased the explanatory power of the model from .09 to .12 (p < .001). As expected, increased reports of religiosity and family closeness was significantly associated with increased self-esteem.

Perceived Life Quality

The full role strain hierarchical model explained 18 % of the variance in perceived life quality (p < .001). F statistic was 10.48 (p < .001). At step 1, the three objective role difficulty predictors accounted for only 1 % of the variance (p < .001). When we introduced subjective provider role difficulties in step two, it resulted in a significant increment in R2 (from .01 to .09). Adding cultural strengths and the age variables in step three doubled the percent of variance explained from .09 to .18.

Unpacking objective provider role difficulties in step one, only underemployment was borderline significant (p < .10). When examining subjective provider role difficulties in step two, both primary provider discouragement and mother role ability blame were important predictors of perceived life quality. In the next step with cultural strengths and age, family closeness showed a positive relationship with perceived life quality along with age. On the bivariate level, religiosity was significant. However, when we added family closeness and age, religiosity became insignificant. Therefore, religiosity may serve as a mediator in the complex relationship between age, family closeness, and perceived life quality.

Hierarchical Regression Analyses: A Comparative Life Span Analysis

To systematically examine the effects of family provider role difficulties and cultural strengths on psychological well-being across the life course, we conducted parallel hierarchical regression analyses for single Black mothers at three distinct stages of development: early adulthood (18–34 years old), middle adulthood (35–54 years old), and older adulthood (55 years old and over) as described in Tables 2, 3 and 4. We identified several differences in role strain–adaptation processes over the life course, which implied that the challenges single mothers encounter and their responses to challenges are sensitive to each developmental stage and its specific goals.
Table 2

Hierarchical multiple regression analyses of psychological well-being on provider role strain–adaptation predictors for the three adult age groups early adulthood (18–34 years, n = 244)

 

Psychological well-being indicators

 

Personal efficacy

Self-esteem

Perceived life quality

Provider role strain–adaptation predictors

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Objective provider

Role difficulties

 Joblessness

−.08

−.09

−.13

.03

.02

.01

.17

.17

.11

 Underemployment

.08

.19

.31*

−.18

.06

.02

−.16

.11

.15

 Low Income

−.17**

−.17

−.11

−.03

−.03

−.01

−.07

−.07

−.06

 R2 at this step

.03*

  

.03

  

.01

  

 F statistic

2.31*

  

2.06

  

.79

  

 

Subjective provider

Role difficulties

 Primary provider discouragement

 

−.16**

−.13*

 

−.23****

−0.24

 

−.18**

−.21***

 Mother role discouragement

 

.070

.05

 

.030

.05

 

.01

−0.01

 Ability-blame

 

−.12

−.23*

 

−.28**

−.23*

 

−.33***

−.34***

 R2 at this step

 

.06c

  

.11c

  

.08c

 

 F statistic

 

2.17**

  

4.33****

  

3.32***

 

 

Cultural strength

 Religiosity

  

−.02

  

.08

  

−.02

 Family closeness

  

.04

  

.14*

  

.05

 Para-Kin friendship

  

.06

  

−.05

  

−.04

 Non-urban community

  

−.28****

  

−0.20

  

−.02

 R2 at this step

  

.15c

  

.13c

  

.11c

 F statistic

  

3.58****

  

2.96***

  

2.39***

n = 244

*p < .10; **p < .05; ***p < .01; ****p < .001

ªPerson Product Moment Correlation between each predictor and well-being measure

bAt each step, standardized regression coefficients are reported for variables entered into the regression at that step

cThe variables in this block add significantly to the explanatory power of this model

Table 3

Hierarchical multiple regression analyses of psychological well-being on provider role strain–adaptation predictors for the three adult age groups middle adulthood (35–54 years, n = 202)

 

Psychological well-being indicators

 

Personal efficacy

Self-esteem

Perceived life quality

Provider role strain–adaptation predictors

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Objective provider

Role difficulties

 Joblessness

−.32

−.31**

−.20

−.40**

−.40***

−.30*

−.52****

−.52****

−.51***

 Underemployment

.12

.03

−.09

.27

.48**

.36*

.42**

.63****

.67***

 Low Income

−.19**

−.2**

−21*

−.16

−.15*

−.17*

−.06

−.05

−.08

 R2 at this step

.12****

  

.08***

  

.06***

  

 F statistic

8.24****

  

5.12***

  

3.94***

  

 

Subjective provider

Role difficulties

 Primary provider discouragement

 

−.12

−.11

 

−.19**

−.18

 

−.14**

−.13*

 Mother role discouragement

 

−.07

−.05

 

−.12

−.10

 

−.08

−.06

 Ability-blame

 

.13

.16

 

−.22*

−.18

 

−.22

−.24*

 R2 at this step

 

.15c

  

.18c

  

.12c

 

 F statistic

 

5.11****

  

6.18***

  

3.93****

 

Cultural strengths

 Religiosity

.17**

    

.19***

  

.04

 Family closeness

.08

    

.03

  

.20***

 Para-Kin friendship

.11

    

.08

  

−.04

 Non-urban community

.03

    

.03

  

.04

 R2 at this step

  

.20c

  

.22c

  

.16c

 F statistic

  

3.98****

  

4.52****

  

3.27****

n = 202

*p < .10; **p < .05; ***p < .01; ****p < .001

ªPerson Product Moment Correlation between each predictor and well-being measure

bAt each step, standardized regression coefficients are reported for variables entered into the regression at that step

cThe variables in this block add significantly to the explanatory power of this model

Table 4

Hierarchical multiple regression analyses of psychological well-being on provider role strain–adaptation predictors for the three adult age groups older adulthood (55 years and over n = 166)

 

Psychological well-being indicators

 

Personal efficacy

Self-esteem

Perceived life quality

Provider role strain–adaptation predictors

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Bb

Objective provider

Role difficulties

 Joblessness

.25

.24

.27

.01

−0.02

−0.05

0.03

−0.02

0.01

 Underemployment

−.18

−.22

−.24

−.13

−0.11

−0.12

0.09

0.18

0.18

 Low Income

−.17*

−.18*

−.17

−.05

−0.06

−0.03

−0.09

−0.09

−0.13

 R2 at this step

.05

  

.02

  

.01

  

 F statistic

2.15

  

.88

  

.55

  

Perceived provider

Role difficulties

 Primary provider discouragement

 

−.09

−.09

 

0

−.06

 

−.07

−.09

 Mother role discouragement

 

.03

.03

 

−.15

−.23*

 

−.13

−.18*

 Ability-blame

 

.08

.09

 

−.02

.00

 

−.12

−.14

 R2 at this step

 

.05

  

.04

  

.05

 

 F statistic

 

1.24

  

.96

  

1.21

 

Cultural resource

 Religiosity

  

−.03

  

−0.5

  

.10

 Family closeness

  

.18*

  

.13

  

.11

 Para-Kin friendship

  

−.03

  

.07

  

−.08

 Non-urban community

  

−.13

  

−.05

  

.01

 R2 at this step

 

.12

   

.12

  

.16

 F statistic

  

1.48

  

1.70*

  

2.13**

n = 166

*p < .10; **p < .05; ***p < .01; ****p < .001

ªPerson Product Moment Correlation between each predictor and well-being measure

bAt each step, standardized regression coefficients are reported for variables entered into the regression at that step

cThe variables in this block add significantly to the explanatory power of this model

Despite relatively small sample sizes, the hierarchical multiple regression analyses reveal systematic differences in the operation of provider role and cultural strength variables across the three adult development sub-groups. As shown in Tables 2, 3 and 4, the full role strain–adaptation model was most robust in explaining well-being outcomes—personal efficacy, self-esteem and perceived life quality—for mothers during middle adulthood. By comparison, the full model had less overall explanatory power for Black single mothers during early adulthood and least among older mothers. However, specific provider role difficulties and cultural strengths are statistically for mother during some periods of adulthood but not others.

Personal Efficacy

The full model in Tables 2, 3 and 4 explained a significant portion of variance in personal efficacy among young mothers (R2 = .15, p < .001), middle age mothers (R2 = .20, p < .001), but not for older mothers (R2 = .12, p = NS). Therefore, the F statistic in each model was statistically significant only for young and middle age mothers. After introducing the perceived role difficulties predictors at step two, we observed a slight increase in the variance explained in personal efficacy among the young mothers (R2 increased from .03 to .06, p < .05) and middle-aged mothers (R2 increased from .12 to .15, p < .001) but not among older mothers. When cultural strengths were added during step three, young mothers added a significant increment to R2 from .06 to .15 and middle age mothers went from .15 to .20. For older women, cultural strengths also increased R2 from .05 to .12; however, it was not significant which may be primarily due to older women’s smaller sample size (N = 166).

The variables with the greatest influence on personal efficacy for young mothers were non-urban or rural residence followed by low-income and primary provider discouragement. For middle age mothers, the role difficulties and strengths that made a difference in terms of efficacy included joblessness, low income, and religiosity. For older single mothers, low income and family closeness were marginally significant at −.17, p < .10 and .18, p < .10, respectively. Therefore, during middle adulthood, family closeness may play an especially important counter-balancing role in promoting self-efficacy among single Black mothers.

Self-Esteem

Self-esteem was predicted with statistical significance for young and middle age mothers (see Tables 2, 3 and 4). The full role strain–adaptation model accounted for 22 % of the variance in self-esteem for middle-aged mothers (p < .001), compared with 13 % (p < .01) for the younger and 12 % (p = NS) for the older mothers. For middle age mothers only, raising children without having a job significantly decreased self-esteem. Feeling discouraged as a primary family provider negatively affected self-esteem for mothers in both early and middle adulthood. Non-urban or rural living decreased efficacy significantly in early adulthood but not middle adulthood. For mid-life mothers, self-esteem was significantly reduced by provider discouragement as well as ability blame—but increased by religiosity. For older mothers, such discouragement was only marginally associated with self-esteem.

Perceived Life Quality

Across the three age groups of single Black mothers, robust relationships between the full model and the outcome of perceived life quality were seen in young (R2 = .11, p < .05) and mid-life mothers (R2 = .16, p < .001; see Tables 2, 3 and 4). The R2 for older mothers was the same as for mid-life mothers but did not approach significance which, again, may be due to older women’s smaller sample size (N = 166). Overall, 11 % of the variance in perceived life quality was explained for young mothers and 16 % was explained for middle-age mothers. Objective provider role difficulty, subjective reactions to such difficulty, and cultural strengths were associated with life quality in different ways for mothers across the life course. Objective provider role difficulties (i.e., joblessness and underemployment) accounted for a significant portion of the variance in perceived life quality for mid-life mothers only. Joblessness significantly reduced these mid-life mothers’ perceived life quality and, the fewer hours these mothers worked, the less happy and satisfied they were with life.

Subjective provider role difficulties played a significant role in affecting the variance in the life quality of younger mothers and mid-life mothers. To be more specific, during early adulthood, primary provider discouragement and ability blame were negatively related to life quality. By contrast, for the mid-life mothers, perceived life quality was negatively related with both joblessness and primary provider discouragement—but not self-blame. The lack of employment decreased mid-life mothers’ perceived quality of life by over a half of a standard deviation. However, cultural strength predictors added independent explanatory power for both early adult and mid-life mothers. The betas for older mothers were similar to betas for early adult mothers but they did not reach significance. Despite provider role difficulties, the closer these mothers felt to family, the higher their perceived life quality. For older mothers, none of the 10 predictors were significantly related to perceived life quality.

Discussion

This study provides additional support for the extensive literature on the importance of both religion and family as pivotal protective strengths among African Americans with a particular emphasis on single, Black mothers facing severe family economic provider role difficulties (e.g., Billingsley 1992, 1999; Du Bois 1903a, b, 1909; Herskovits 1935, 1941; Hill 1999; McAdoo 2007; Sudarkasa 1981). Despite multiple role barriers, Black women highly value motherhood and seek to have their voices heard regarding the well-being of Black children and families. Success in the mother role provides status in Black families and communities and can also serve as a vehicle for resilience, resistance, empowerment, and leadership in the broader society. However, the success and well-being of Black mothers depend on the U.S. political economy (ideology, policy, and structure of economy such as deindustrialization), their level of oppression, and their sources of resiliency, resistance, and empowerment (Chisholm 1970; Collins 1990[1991]; Giddins 1984; Haskins 1975; Hines 1993; Mendenhall et al. 2006; Mendenhall 2009).

Our role strain–adaptation hypotheses were confirmed in the following ways and further clarify pivotal sources of resilience among single Black mothers faced with historically unprecedented postindustrial barriers in the family provider role: (1) The psychological well-being of single Black mothers was negatively affected by objective provider role barriers (joblessness, underemployment, and low-income) with especially strong effects during early and middle adulthood. (2) The harmful consequences of objective provider role barriers were made even worse if mothers subjectively reacted to barriers with discouragement and self-blame. (3) Despite provider role difficulties, African American cultural strengths (religiosity and family coping) were associated with more resilient outcomes—personal efficacy, self-esteem, and perceived life quality. Strong religiosity especially enhanced self-esteem for mothers during middle adulthood, while family closeness was more consistently associated with well-being outcomes during all three stages of the life course.

In support of a life span developmental perspective, single Black mothers engaged specific role strain and adaptation dynamics in unique ways during different stages of the life course (e.g., Bowman 1989, 2012; Bowman and Sanders 1998; Elder 1998; Heinz and Krüger 2001). This suggests that different provider role difficulties and cultural strengths are associated with caring for young children (early adulthood), providing and launching older children or young adults (middle adulthood), and parenting adult children with their own young children (older adulthood). Moreover, findings that the role strain–adaptation models were most robust for early and middle adulthood is consistent with traditional life span literature showing that generativity or caring and providing for the next generation is an especially pressing developmental challenge during the early and middle adult years (e.g., Bowman 1989, 2012; Erikson 1980).

Gender Differences Across the Life Course

When you compare the current study on single mothers to Bowman and Sanders (1998) research on unmarried fathers, significant gender differences are revealed in role strain and adaptation processes. Building on the earlier findings, our hierarchical regression analyses revealed several gender differences in specific role strain–adaptation dynamics over the lifespan. Although predictive for single Black mothers and fathers, the overall role strain–adaptation models were a better fit for mothers. For both men and women, the role strain–adaptation model predicting perceived life quality was the most powerful, and the model predicting personal efficacy was the least powerful. For both genders, the addition of subjective provider role difficulties and cultural strengths added significantly to the explanatory power of the model for perceived life quality. However, the additional explanatory power of these subjective and cultural predictors for personal efficacy and self-esteem models were clearer for the Black mothers than fathers.

During the early postindustrial period of the late 1970s and 1980s, gender comparisons show that objective family provider role barriers—joblessness, underemployment, and low income—presented significant resiliency challenges for both single Black mothers and fathers. For both mothers and fathers, joblessness was most strongly associated with lower self-esteem, while low income was an especially strong threat to their sense of personal efficacy. However, future research needs to build on related life course theoretical literature to better explain gender differences in the unique psychological consequences of objective provider role barriers during various stages of adulthood (e.g., Bowman 1989; 2012; Elder 1998; Erikson 1980). For example, future research should seek to clarify why joblessness was more a threat to self-esteem for fathers during early adulthood, but for mothers during middle adulthood? Moreover, we also need to better understand why low income appears to be more of a threat to a sense of personal efficacy for single Black mothers than for fathers during early and middle adulthood—but not older adulthood? Finally, future life course studies should also explore why underemployment (working less than full-time) is strongly related to self-esteem and life quality (satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment) only among single Black mothers in the middle adult years.

With respect to subjective reactions to provider role barriers, it is interesting to note that ability blame was more strongly associated with low self-esteem and perceived life quality for Black single mothers than fathers. Future research should further clarify if such differences reflect the more general tendency for women to internalize blame, while men more often externalize blame and anger (e.g., Barnett et al. 1987; Bowman 1989). An alternative hypothesis is that women, more than men, may identify the birth of a child or giving care to family members as a personal limitation rather than an external obstacle in getting better jobs.

With respect to cultural strengths, para-kin friendships emerged as especially powerful in increasing personal efficacy for unmarried Black fathers (Bowman and Sanders 1998). However, single mothers more consistently engaged religiosity and family closeness as powerful resources for enhancing personal efficacy, self-esteem, and life quality. Guided by related literature, future research should further clarify how and why religiosity appears to be relatively more protective for Black mothers than fathers (Taylor et al. 2004; Hagestad 1994). Bowman and Sanders also showed that specific strengths were associated with well-being outcomes in unique ways at different stages of the life course for single Black fathers. For example, in early adulthood, para-kinship was especially important for personal efficacy in young fathers but family closeness was especially important for self-esteem in young mothers. This may reflect a gender-specific expectation that young mothers rather than fathers mobilize reliable sources of extended family support for childcare to earn self-esteem. In middle adulthood, religiosity became a significant source of self-esteem for men but both self-esteem and efficacy for women. In addition, for mid-life women, family closeness was an especially powerful source of life happiness and fulfillment. Family closeness became a salient source of efficacy and life quality only as fathers entered older adulthood—but remained protective for mothers at all three stages of the life course. Family closeness was most protective for self-esteem among younger mothers, for life quality among midlife mothers, and personal efficacy among older mothers.

Role Strain and Adaptation Among Black Women: Theoretical Model and Mechanisms

So what do our findings on gender differences suggest in terms of the role strain and adaptation theoretical model and Black women? The fact that the full role strain and adaptation model was more robust for single Black mothers than for a comparable sample of fathers has especially important implications for future research. First, this finding supports the importance of future research on the economic provider role among Black mothers as well as fathers. Moreover, these findings also further support the key roles that religion and extended family closeness play in the lives of Black women. An especially important direction for future research on single, Black mothers is to build on the current study to further clarify critical moderating and mediating mechanisms that provide additional insight into cultural sources of their personal resilience as well as more collective modes of resistance and empowerment.

Within the role strain and adaptation framework, adaptive cultural strengths among Black women can promote resiliency through three distinct mechanisms: (1) as protective mechanisms cultural strengths may directly facilitate resilient and empowerment outcomes, independent of adverse family provider role effects; (2) as buffering mechanisms cultural strengths may also moderate or reduce the negative effects of family provider role strain on personal resiliency and empowerment outcomes; and (3) as mediating mechanisms cultural strengths may also mediate the relationship between family provider role strain and personal resiliency, and in turn, more collective sociopolitical modes of coping (e.g., Bowman and Howard 1985; Bowman 1990, 2011, 2012; Baron and Kenny 1986; Frazier et al. 2004).

Findings from the present study provide clear support for the importance of cultural strengths as direct protective mechanisms and a solid foundation for future policy-relevant research on more complex buffering and mediating mechanisms. For example, future studies could further clarify more complex buffering mechanisms with appropriate quantitative analyses of more recent national samples of single, Black mothers struggling with family provider role difficulties during the ongoing postindustrial globalization era. However, future studies on more complex mediating mechanisms may require looking beyond cross-sectional surveys to more longitudinal measurements of family provider role difficulties, adaptive cultural strengths, and resilient outcomes that include both adaptive individual and collective modes of coping. For example, longitudinal and cross generational studies could better clarify how provider role difficulties among mothers might inspire collective action among their children in future generations. Moreover, intensive qualitative studies may also be necessary to further capture the most complex mediating processes in the lives of single, Black mothers who respond to family provider role barriers with cultural strengths, which in turn, inspire both personal resiliency and the readiness to engage in more collective sociopolitical action on behalf of themselves and other women.

Future research on such protective, buffering and mediating mechanisms can also help to shift policy discourse in research on family poverty beyond the traditional focus on deficits among single, Black mothers (Murray 1986). In contrast, strengths-based research on such complex mechanisms supports the importance of public policies that reinforce adaptive cultural strengths, resiliency, and empowerment in the face of pressing economic provider role barriers (Bowman 1995; Brodsky 2000; Hill 1996; Smith 2004). As the twenty-first century postindustrial globalization continues to exacerbate Black joblessness and chronic poverty, a strengths-based and policy-relevant analysis of Black motherhood is important to better understand how mothers activate cultural strengths and engage in activism to protect their psychological well-being as they raise and provide for their children (Patterson 2010; Duchess 2009 [2011]; Stack 1974).

Footnotes
1

In the subgroup study, age is not included as a covariate but as a basis for the major life stage analysis. Therefore, in the preliminary analysis of the model for the total sample, age was entered last rather than first to explore its effects without altering the theory driven model as compared in the various life stage subgroups. However, we did compare the results of entering age before the other predictors and the results of controlling age in the full model for different outcomes. The position of age variable is not an influential case for the results.

 

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2012