Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Raising the Future: Contexts and Parenting Practices in Immigrant Families

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 9:10 AM
Stanford (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Julia Gelatt1, H. Elizabeth Peters1, Heather Koball1 and William Monson2, (1)Urban Institute, (2)The Urban Institute
Children of immigrants, who form a growing share of all children in the United States, sometimes face challenges related to their parents’ social and economic integration. Immigrant parents’ work lives, incomes and material hardship, networks of social support, and mental health all affect how they relate to their children. Prior literature has generally shown that immigrant parents use more controlling parenting styles and are less responsive to and emotionally supportive of children (Driscoll, Russell, and Crockett 2007; Glick, Bates, and Yabiku 2009; Glick et al. 2012; Ispa et al. 2004). But while prior studies account for differences parental education and family income in examining these associations, few account for the full range of differences in socioeconomic status, employment conditions, physical and mental health, social support, and material hardship between foreign-born and US-born parents, and among parents from different national origins.

In this paper, we employ data from a large, nationally-representative birth cohort of US children called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) to look at the contexts–socioeconomic status, material hardship, work, social support, and health–in which immigrant parents operate. We use data from the second and third waves of the ECLS-B, when the children are age two and preschool age, collected in 2003 and 2005-2006.  We look at differences between US-born and foreign-born parents, and then at differences by parents’ place of birth: Mexico, other Latin America, China, other Asia, and all other. We examine differences in parenting between foreign-born and US-born parents, and among foreign-born parents from different countries and regions. In doing so, we explore four measures of parenting, two observed and coded by researchers, and two based on parents’ self-reports. Finally, we explore whether differences in contexts mediate differences in parenting among these groups.

We observe, in broad strokes, that foreign-born mothers show less emotional and cognitive supportiveness, as rated by researchers, and report lower household routines compared to US-born mothers. Foreign-born mothers also show lower use of physical punishment. Differences are larger for foreign-born Mexican and Latin American mothers than for Chinese or Asian mothers whether using white US-born mothers or co-ethnic US-born mothers as the reference group. When we add in controls for family contexts—family structure and socioeconomic status, material hardship, employment experiences, mother’s well-being, and social support—we find that these factors explain some, but certainly not all, of the differences in parenting practices between Mexican and Latin American born mothers relative to US-born white mothers, and explain some of the differences in parenting between Mexican-born mothers and US-born Latina mothers. On the other hand, after adding our controls and mediators, we observe greater differences between Asian-born mothers and US-born white mothers and between Chinese-born mothers and US-born Asian mothers. This research has implications for efforts to support parents’ mental health and economic well-being and for home visiting and parenting interventions in immigrant households.