Original Paper

Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 416-426

First online:

Parental Loss and Residential Instability: The Impact on Young Women from Low-Income Households in Detroit

  • Leslie R. BermanAffiliated withDepartment of Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health, University of Michigan Email author 
  • , Rachel C. SnowAffiliated withDepartment of Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health, University of Michigan
  • , Jessica D. MoormanAffiliated withDepartment of Communication Studies, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, University of Michigan
  • , Deena PolicicchioAffiliated withAlternatives for Girls
  • , Arline T. GeronimusAffiliated withDepartment of Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health, University of Michigan
  • , Mark B. PadillaAffiliated withDepartment of Global and Sociocultural Studies, School of International and Public Affairs, Florida International University

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Abstract

High poverty urban areas in the U.S. are over-burdened by early adult death and disability, yet there has been little documentation of how early parental death impacts youth residing in these communities. We conducted qualitative, community-based research on the health and well-being of 20 residentially unstable young women ages 18–24 in Detroit during 2011–2012. Participants were selected through their association with a local social service organization. We found that nine of these 20 young women had experienced the loss of a parent or primary caretaker during childhood or adolescence. Using data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews, this paper explores the role of parental loss as a precipitating event for residential instability and episodic homelessness. For these young women, parental loss was a catalyst for subsequent periods of intermittent homelessness and persistent mobility between the households of extended family and friends. These narratives provide unique testimony to the impact of early parental loss on young women from low-income households in an economically-stressed urban context in the U.S. Their stories highlight the dynamic associations between periods of housing insecurity and vulnerability to numerous social risks, including sexual commerce, acute stress, and alienation from social support networks. In this context, parental loss reflects a broader social inequality of early adult mortality in high poverty areas, and the health and social gains to be realized through targeted policies to support areas of urban economic crisis.

Keywords

Parental death Homeless youth Young adult women Urban health Poverty