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The Negative Impact of Economic Hardship on Adolescent Academic Engagement: An Examination Parental Investment and Family Stress Processes

Abstract

Academic success is a strong predictor of adolescent adjustment and subsequent adult social, psychological, and economic well-being. Importantly, research has established a negative relationship between family economic hardship and children’s educational outcomes. Despite being disproportionately represented among the most financially disadvantaged, African Americans remain an understudied group. The current study utilizes a longitudinal study design and prospective data from the Family and Community Health Study (n = 422, 52% girls, average age = 10.5 years at Wave 1), an African American sample, to investigate the impact of economic hardship on adolescent academic engagement by testing explanations offered by two commonly employed perspectives: the parental investment model and family stress model. While both models yielded significant results when tested separately, only the processes specified by the family stress model remained significant in a combined model, demonstrating that it is the superior explanation. By addressing many of the deficits of past research on the parental investment model and family stress model, the study was able to shed new light on the specific pathways by which economic disadvantage exerts an effect on youth outcomes. In doing so, the results question whether potentially middle-class, Eurocentric models (e.g., the parental investment model) are applicable when studying economically distressed African American youth.

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Funding

This research was supported by funding from the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute (R01 HL118045) and the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (R01 HD080749).

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LGS conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript and MES performed the statistical analysis, interpretation of the data and assisted in drafting the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Leslie Gordon Simons.

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Simons, L.G., Steele, M.E. The Negative Impact of Economic Hardship on Adolescent Academic Engagement: An Examination Parental Investment and Family Stress Processes. J Youth Adolescence 49, 973–990 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-020-01210-4

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Keywords

  • Academic engagement
  • Adolescents
  • African Americans
  • Economic hardship
  • Parenting
  • Theory