A Family Process Model of Economic Hardship and Adjustment of Early Adolescent Boys


  • This paper is based on collaborative research involving the Iowa Youth and Families Project at Iowa State University, Ames, and the Social Change Project at UNC—Chapel Hill. The combined research effort is currently supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (MH43270), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA05347), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Program for Successful Adolescent Development among Youth in High-Risk Settings, the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health (MCJ-109572), and a Research Scientist Award (MH00567).

Requests for reprints should be addressed to Rand Conger, Department of Sociology, 107 East Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011. Journal Paper No. 13888 of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, Ames, IA. Project No. 2931.


We propose a family process model that links economic stress in family life to prosocial and problematic adolescent adjustment. Employing a sample of 205 seventh-grade boys aged 12 to 14 years (M= 12.7) and living in intact families in the rural Midwest, the theoretical constructs in the model were measured using both trained observer and family member reports. In general, results were consistent with the proposed model. Objective economic conditions such as per capita income and unstable work were related to parents' emotional status and behaviors through their perceptions of increased economic pressures such as the inability to pay monthly bills. These pressures were associated with depression and demoralization for both parents, which was related to marital conflict and disruptions in skillful parenting. Disrupted parenting mediated the relations between the earlier steps in the stress process and adolescent adjustment. The emotions and behaviors of both mothers and fathers were almost equally affected by financial difficulties, and disruptions in each parent's child-rearing behaviors had adverse consequences for adolescent development.