Early Childhood Family Structure and Mother-Child Interactions: Variation by Race and Ethnicity

Journal Article (Academic article)

With data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort (n = 6,449), a nationally- representative sample of births in 2001, we used hierarchical linear modeling to analyze differences in observed interactions between married, cohabiting, never-married, and divorced mothers and their children. In contrast to previous studies, we concentrated on early childhood, a developmentally critical period yet understudied in the family structure literature, and relied on objective observational measures of mother-child interactions, which are unlikely to be biased by maternal perceptions of interactions with children. Non-marital family structures were common in the lives of young children, as 32% lived outside of a married, biological parent home. Compared to those living in married families, both mothers and children living in unmarried families were consistently rated as having lower quality interactions. However, these effects were concentrated among Hispanic families, with few family structure differences found for either non-Hispanic Blacks or non-Hispanic Whites. Among Hispanics, married mothers’ interactions were rated more positively than those of unmarried cohabiting mothers, suggesting that a two parent family alone does not ensure optimal interactions and that marriage may be associated with advantages for the mother-child relationship.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Gibson Davis, CM; Gassman Pines, A

Published Date

  • 2010

Published In

  • Developmental Psychology

Volume / Issue

  • 46 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 151 - 164

PubMed ID

  • 20053014