Latinx families and their children represent a diverse group in terms of immigration history, language, country of origin, nativity status, and socioeconomic status. There are currently 60 million Latinxs in the United States (33 percent foreign-born) with the three largest origin groups being Mexicans (37 million), Puerto Ricans (5.6 million), and Salvadoreans (2.3 million). Because 57 percent of Latinxs have household incomes that place them at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, there is more research on low-income Latinxs compared to middle-class Latinxs. Low-income Latinx families face multiple barriers, including low levels of education, limited English proficiency, racism and discrimination, and limited access to healthcare and early childcare. These financial and social stressors can undermine positive parenting and jeopardize the well-being of children and families. Despite this adversity, many Latinx families are characterized by strengths or assets that can mitigate the negative effects of adversity on children’s well-being. Latinx children have a strong, healthy start in life, as indexed by Latinx mothers’ engagement in healthy prenatal practices (e.g., less likelihood of smoking) which result in good birth outcomes. Latinx children are also highly likely to have warm, sensitive, and loving mothers and fathers who are highly motivated and invested in their development. In terms of parenting practices and behaviors, correlational studies show that many Latinx parents engage their children in cognitively stimulating activities, such as reading, singing, or telling stories, and socialize their children to value and prioritize the family (i.e., familismo) and to be respectful (i.e., respeto) of others, especially authority figures. Latinx children are highly likely to live with both parents who are likely to stay together as a couple during the first five years of children’s lives. Many Latinx children are reared to be bilingual; have a strong connection to their heritage; and develop strong social skills that enable them to easily adapt to different situations and form and sustain positive relationships with peers and other adults, thus allowing Latinx children to function adaptively across sociocultural contexts.
Risk Factors in Latinx Families
Nationally representative data highlight how a significant portion of Latinx families have limited resources. Approximately 57 percent of Latinx families have incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level and rates of poverty vary by nativity status, with children of foreign-born Latinx parents being more likely to live in poverty compared to children with native-born Latinx parents. Despite variation in education levels, 59 percent of Latinxs have a high school degree or less. These overall conditions of limited resources place children at risk for poor outcomes via the quality of parenting. Yu, et al. 2020 found that Latinx mothers who have severe levels of poverty (i.e., 50 percent below the poverty line) are less sensitive and supportive, which in turn, is associated with lower levels of self-regulation (e.g., inhibitory control) in children. Low-income Latinx mothers, particularly those with less than a sixth-grade education, also experience other social stressors, such as racism and discrimination, which further increase risk, by leading to increased levels of sadness, anxiety, and anger, which is particularly detrimental for children because of its impact on parenting—see Ayón, et al. 2017 and Gassman-Pines 2015 for more information. Latinx parents who report high levels of discrimination also report using more harsh discipline and engaging in less monitoring as compared to parents who report lower levels of discrimination (Ayón and García 2019). An understudied risk factor among Latinx families, especially fathers, is the effect of parents’ mental health on children’s development. Latinx mothers who report high levels of depressive symptoms have children who exhibit more negative emotionality and behavioral problems in early childhood (Harris and Santos 2020). Latinx fathers report more depression symptoms in the first five years following their child’s birth compared to prior to becoming a father, which may affect the quality of father-child interactions (Garfield, et al. 2018). Risk factors associated with the experience of being Latinx immigrants can also negatively affect families’ well-being. Latinx parents who were born outside the United States were more likely to report language barriers, long working hours, difficulties in balancing work and family life, lack of time to improve their human capital, and more stressful work conditions than Latinxs who were born in the United States (Parra-Cardona, et al. 2008). These stressful conditions may result in higher levels of parenting-related stress among foreign-born Latinxs compared to parents born in the United States—more information can be found in Yu and Singh 2012.
Ayón, C., and S. J. García. “Latino Immigrant Parents’ Experiences with Discrimination: Implications for Parenting in a Hostile Immigration Policy Context.” Journal of Family Issues 40.6 (2019): 805–831.
This cross-sectional study examines the association between parents’ perceived discrimination and their parenting practices. The authors create four latent profiles of parents that vary in their perceived discrimination and find that experiencing high levels of discrimination is negatively associated with positive parenting practices. This study has implications for understanding how societal factors may affect how Latinx parents engage with their children.
Ayón, C., D. Valencia-Garcia, and S. H. Kim. “Latino Immigrant Families and Restrictive Immigration Climate: Perceived Experiences with Discrimination, Threat to Family, Social Exclusion, Children’s Vulnerability, and Related Factors.” Race and Social Problems 9.4 (2017): 300–312.
This study examines how various factors are associated with the negative impact of immigration policies (e.g., social exclusion, discrimination) on Latinx immigrant parents and their children. Predictors include sociodemographic characteristics; immigration-related variables (e.g., number of years living in the United States); and cultural factors (e.g., familismo).
Garfield, C. F., C. Abbott, J. Rutsohn, and F. Penedo. “Hispanic Young Males’ Mental Health from Adolescence through the Transition to Fatherhood.” American Journal of Men’s Health 12.5 (2018): 1226–1234.
This is a longitudinal study that followed Latinx males from adolescence through their transition to fatherhood. The authors compared men’s report of their depressive symptoms before becoming a father and up to five years following the birth of their child. They also examined differences by fathers’ residential status.
Gassman-Pines, A. “Effects of Mexican Immigrant Parents’ Daily Workplace Discrimination on Child Behavior and Family Functioning.” Child Development 86.4 (2015): 1175–1190.
This study examines how mothers’ and fathers’ perceptions of workplace discrimination are associated with parents’ self-reported moods (e.g., depressed and anxious), the quality of parent-child interactions (parent-reported), and their preschoolers’ behaviors (parent-reported), using a daily diary methodology.
Gennetian, L., L. Guzman, M. A. Ramos-Olazagasti, and E. Wildsmith. An Economic Portrait of Low-Income Hispanic Families: Key Findings from the First Five Years of Studies from the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families. National Research Center on Hispanic & Families, 2019.
This brief synthesizes findings regarding the economic characteristics of Latinx families, such as household income, employment, and poverty rates. The authors also provide descriptions of their economic characteristics by nativity status.
Harris, R. A., and H. P. Santos Jr. “Maternal Depression in Latinas and Child Socioemotional Development: A Systematic Review.” PloS One (2020) 15.3: e0230256.
This systematic review examines how maternal depression in Latinx mothers is associated with young children’s early socioemotional outcomes. The authors also examine the role of mediators (e.g., maternal sensitivity) and moderators (e.g., acculturation) in the association between depression and children’s socioemotional functioning.
Noe-Bustamante, L., and A. Flores. Facts on Latinos in the US. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2019.
This fact sheet provides demographic and economic information about Latinxs living in the United States based on data from the 2017 American Community Survey and the United States decennial census. These sociodemographic characteristics are presented for Latinxs as a whole and by nativity status.
Parra-Cardona, J. R., D. Córdova, K. Holtrop, F. A. Villarruel, and E. Wieling. “Shared Ancestry, Evolving Stories: Similar and Contrasting Life Experiences Described by Foreign Born and U.S. Born Latino Parents.” Family Process (2008) 47. 2: 157–172.
Using a focus-group method, this qualitative study examines the experiences of foreign-born and native-born Latinx parents, highlighting commonalities and differences in their life experiences. Discussions revolved around sources of strength that have helped parents cope with adversity as well as how discrimination, cultural values, and gender roles have influenced their parenting.
Yu, D., M. O. B. Caughy, E. P. Smith, A. Oshri, and M. T. Owen. “Severe Poverty and Growth in Behavioral Self-Regulation: The Mediating Role of Parenting.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 68 (2020): 101135.
Using a longitudinal design, the authors examined how severe poverty was associated with Latinx and African American children’s growth in behavioral self-regulation from 3.5 to 7 years of age, with parenting practices as a potential mediator.
Yu, S. M., and G. K. Singh. “High Parenting Aggravation among US Immigrant Families.” American Journal of Public Health 102.11 (2012): 2102–2108.
This study uses a nationally representative sample of ethnically diverse children from the 2003 National Survey of Children’s Health. The authors examine how parenting aggravation varies as a function of nativity status, ethnicity, child age, and household income.
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