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Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Parentification, and Psychological Functioning: Comparisons Among a Nationwide University Sample

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Childhood parentification has been reported to have enduring effects on psychological, relational, and physical functioning across the life span. Few studies have examined the implications of race/ethnicity and gender on the levels of parentification. We examined racial/ethnic and gender differences in 977 American college students (81% female, 5% Latino/Latina American, 10% Black American, and 85% White American) who reported a history of childhood parentification. We also examined the extent to which current level of functioning (as indicated by self-rated depressive symptoms, well-being, and posttraumatic growth) is associated with parentification in the current nationwide sample (mean age = 21.39, SD = 5.84). Overall, we found differences in parentification scores based on race/ethnicity and gender. Males had significantly higher levels of parentification than females; this finding was consistent across all racial/ethnic groups. White Americans reported lower levels of parentification compared to Black Americans and Latino/Latina Americans, who shared similar parentification levels. Both gender and race/ethnicity affected some—but not all—of the significant relations among study variables as well. Latino/Latina Americans appeared to receive positive psychological benefit from parentification, while this was not true of Black Americans and White Americans. Future researchers and family counselors should develop research studies and pose clinical questions that account for cultural differences in the assessment and treatment of parentification and its possible wide-ranging aftereffects. The results of the current study suggest that both the benefits and detriments associated with parentification should be considered equally in practice and research.
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Article
Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Parentification, and
Psychological Functioning: Comparisons
Among a Nationwide University Sample
Lisa M. Hooper
1
, Sara Tomek
1
, Justin M. Bond
1
, and Meagan S. Reif
1
Abstract
Childhood parentification has been reported to have enduring effects on psychological, relational, and physical functioning across
the life span. Few studies have examined the implications of race/ethnicity and gender on the levels of parentification. We
examined racial/ethnic and gender differences in 977 American college students (81% female, 5% Latino/Latina American, 10%
Black American, and 85% White American) who reported a history of childhood parentification. We also examined the extent to
which current level of functioning (as indicated by self-rated depressive symptoms, well-being, and posttraumatic growth) is asso-
ciated with parentification in the current nationwide sample (mean age ¼21.39, SD ¼5.84). Overall, we found differences in
parentification scores based on race/ethnicity and gender. Males had significantly higher levels of parentification than females; this
finding was consistent across all racial/ethnic groups. White Americans reported lower levels of parentification compared to Black
Americans and Latino/Latina Americans, who shared similar parentification levels. Both gender and race/ethnicity affected some—
but not all—of the significant relations among study variables as well. Latino/Latina Americans appeared to receive positive
psychological benefit from parentification, while this was not true of Black Americans and White Americans. Future researchers
and family counselors should develop research studies and pose clinical questions that account for cultural differences in the
assessment and treatment of parentification and its possible wide-ranging aftereffects. The results of the current study suggest
that both the benefits and detriments associated with parentification should be considered equally in practice and research.
Keywords
parentification, race/ethnicity, gender, college students, depressive symptoms, well-being, posttraumatic growth
The term parentification wasintroducedbyfamilysystems
theorists Minuchin and colleagues (Minuchin, Montalvo,
Guerney, Rosman, & Schumer, 1967), who asserted that
in the process of parentification, ‘‘the parent(s) relinquishes
executive functions by delegation of instrumental roles to a
parental child or by total abandonment of the family psy-
chologically and/or physically’’ (p. 219). Other terms used
interchangeably with parentification have included adultifi-
cation (Burton, 2007), spousification (Sroufe & Ward,
1980), role reversal (Macfie, McElwain, Houts, & Cox, 2005),
adultoids (Galambos & Tilton-Weaver, 2000; Greenberger &
Steinberg, 1986), little parent (Byng-Hall, 2008), mature
minor (Garber, 2011), and young carers or young caregivers
(Aldridge & Becker, 1993; Siskowski, 2006). Garber (2011)
provided a comprehensive review of how some of these terms
may be defined, operationalized, and differentiated.
Since 1960, the negative outcomes associated with parenti-
fication have been significant, expansive, and unwavering
(Minuchin et al., 1967; Pasternak & Schier, 2012). The empiri-
cal literature has shown that depressive symptoms, attachment
disturbances across the life span, alcohol use and dependence,
personality disturbances, trauma and adversity, disordered
eating signs and symptoms, and eating disorders are all associ-
ated with parentification (Garber, 2011; Hooper, DeCoster,
White, & Voltz, 2011; Jankowski & Hooper, 2014; Pasternak
& Schier, 2012). Consequently, the trend has been for research-
ers to focus on when negative outcomes emerge from parenti-
fication; for whom parentification serves as a significant
adverse event and process; and under what individual- and
family-level conditions negative outcomes are derived, ampli-
fied, or exacerbated.
In contrast, few researchers have explored the exceptions to
these negative outcomes, or even the possibility of positive out-
comes; that is, for whom, and under what individual- and fam-
ily- level conditions, well-being or posttraumatic growth may
1
Department of Educational Studies in Psychology, Research Methodology,
and Counseling, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Lisa M. Hooper, Department of Educational Studies in Psychology, Research
Methodology, and Counseling, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
35487, USA.
Email: lhooper@bamaed.ua.edu
The Family Journal: Counselin g and
Therapy for Couples and Families
1-16
ªThe Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permission:
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DOI: 10.1177/1066480714547187
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occur (Gilford & Reynolds, 2011; Hooper, Marotta, & DePuy,
2009; Kuperminc, Wilkins, Jurkovic, & Perilla, 2013; Shin &
Hecht, 2013; Telzer & Fuligni, 2009). Importantly, select
researchers have contended that the most complete clinical pic-
ture of the diverse antecedents, family systems contexts, and
outcomes of parentification can be clarified by establishing a
balanced approach to examining parentification, meaning inves-
tigations that consider a range of outcomes: both symptoms of
pathology and well-being (see Byng-Hall, 2008; East, 2010;
Hooper, 2013; Kuperminc et al., 2013; Telzer, Gonzales, &
Fuligni, 2013).
Researchers have also encouraged new investigations that
challenge myopic views related to cultural factors (Gilford &
Reynolds, 2011; Hooper, 2013; Kam, 2011). Examples of these
views include the presupposition that rates of parentification
will be higher in females than in males and hypotheses that fail
to investigate the extent to which cultural factors may mediate
or moderate outcomes associated with parentification. The cen-
tral thesis of several recent discussions is that the intersection
of cultural factors such as race/ethnicity and gender might
relate to disparate outcomes (Shin & Hecht, 2013).
In addition, parentification experienced in families
described as collectivistic may be related to fewer deleterious
outcomes than parentification experienced in families charac-
terized as individualistic (Hall, 2013). Indeed, a consideration
of the family structure is important as well, although examina-
tions of parentification often focus on the individual. The fam-
ily system and structure in which parentification takes place are
often, by definition, embedded in or composed of (a) subsys-
tems (parental, child, and sibling) with loose or nonexistent
boundaries (Kerig, 2005); (b) inverted hierarchies, where the
child acts as the parent and the parent acts as the child (Minu-
chin et al., 1967); and (c) systems (family, community, and
neighborhood) in which every day and chronic stressors (e.g.,
parents with serious medical conditions, divorce, significant
crime, and low-resource communities), adversity, and some-
times trauma are present (Burton, 2007; Dearden & Becker,
2000; Garber, 2011; Hall, 2013; Hooper, 2007b; Stein, Riedel,
& Rotheram-Borus, 1999). Consequently, the most compre-
hensive and fine-grained studies are multipronged and take into
account the cultural, individual, and familial psychology
and the neighborhood and community ecology in which paren-
tification takes place (Hall, 2013; Telzer et al., 2013; Ungar,
Ghazinour, & Richter, 2012).
Unfortunately, not all empirical studies can include multiple
systems and layers in their investigations. However, two
important steps in extending the clinical and empirical litera-
ture are purposeful examinations of (a) cultural factors such
as race/ethnicity and gender and (b) positive outcomes that may
be associated with parentification. New investigations could
add to the past 50 years of research and inform future investi-
gations as well as culturally tailored and competent clinical
therapeutic practices (Cree, 2003; East, 2010; Gilford & Rey-
nolds, 2011; Hall, 2013; Hooper, 2013; Kam, 2011; Shin &
Hecht, 2013). The next section briefly describes the literature
on race/ethnicity, gender, and parentification.
Literature Review
Parentification and the Implications of Race/Ethnicity
The empirical evidence that Black Americans and Latino/
Latina Americans are more likely to be economically disadvan-
taged than other racial/ethnic groups cannot be ignored. This
disadvantage might lead Black and Latino/Latina Americans
to experience parentification at higher rates than White Amer-
icans. Furthermore, in some of these family systems, fathers are
less likely to be present, possibly causing the father’s would-be
roles to be distributed among the rest of the family members,
including the children (Burton, 2007). These ideas are echoed
by Bittman, Fisher, Hill, Thompson, and Thomson (2004), who
found that youth who have been parentified are more likely to
be poor and to live in single-parent households—two attributes
more prevalent among racial minorities.
Among foreign-born immigrant families, cultural brokering
and language brokering are vital and usually expected, thereby
requiring children to assume more active roles in their families
(Burton, 2007; Chao & Otsuki-Clutter, 2011). If one considers
family structure and socioeconomic factors, one might
hypothesize that underserved, racially/ethnically diverse mino-
rities are far more likely to experience parentification. How-
ever, this hypothesis was not supported by Castro, Jones, and
Mirsalimi (2004). Their study, composed of college students,
found no differences in rates of parentification among Black
American, White American, and Asian American participants.
Burton (2007) argued that community cohesion is an aspect
of social capital and is a crucial predictive construct for out-
comes associated with parentification. Nebbitt and Lombe
(2010) found that community cohesion coupled with adultifica-
tion (or parentification) mediates depressive symptoms in
urban, economically disadvantaged, Black American youth.
Nebbitt and Lombe also reported that an inverse association
between depressive symptoms and instrumental adultification
levels emerged in their study. In addition, they found that
females in their urban Black American sample were parentified
at a higher rate than their male counterparts. Finally, McMahon
and Luthar (2007) found that Black Americans (N¼356) were
more likely to engage in instrumental parentification and that
Black Americans frequently have the responsibility of caring
for siblings. They also found that 53%of the youth had parents
who abused drugs and alcohol, and 46%of the households in
their study were categorized as single-parent families.
One interesting systemic process that may exist in single-
parent families—possibly with greater frequency in Black
American families than in those of other races/ethnicities—is
transference of negative feelings harbored by a mother for an
absent father (Anderson, 1999). This systemic pattern, dis-
cussed by Lowe (2000), can result in a phantom triangulation
process in which a child is a third party who is pulled into the
parent’s relationship and into emotional and attachment issues.
Of the 12 males, mostly Black Americans, in Lowe’s study, all
participants had been parentified at some point in their lives.
This research is informative, given that over half of Black
American children in the United States live in single-parent
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homes—mostly with their mothers (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004,
2012).
Researchers have commented on the criticality of the family
system and ecology in which parentification takes place. For
example, Johnson (2013) and Burton (2007) contended that
in the assessment and treatment of families where parentifica-
tion exists, determining the extent to which social support and
extended family members are available to assist the parentified
family member is paramount. In Black American families, kin-
ships and kin may buffer or exacerbate the negative outcomes
associated with parentification (Johnson, 2013). In her descrip-
tion of the importance of kinships and fictive kin, Hall (2013)
asserted ‘‘the clinician should routinely evaluate how the social
support system impacts treatment either negatively or posi-
tively’’ (p. 491). With relevance to the current study, Hall also
reported on the importance of the benefits and satisfaction that
may be evinced in Black American families when parentifica-
tion exists. She suggested that these roles, responsibilities, and
relationships—in particular with siblings—may engender a
source of satisfaction and competence for the parentified indi-
vidual and for other family members.
Recently, researchers investigating parentification in other
ethnic groups also have considered the extent to which paren-
tification may relate to cultural-specific factors and disparate
outcomes (Kuperminc et al., 2013; Shin & Hecht, 2013; Telzer
et al., 2013). Some findings indicate that Latino/Latina Amer-
ican families may be more likely to have children take on adult,
parent-like roles. Latino/Latina American youth are often
required to act as cultural brokers: for example, by helping
family members to acculturate to a new culture; by managing
or coordinating family finances, health care, and social ser-
vices; or by translating for family members in the community
(Burton, 2007; Chao, 2006; Kam, 2011; Kuperminc et al.,
2013). Some researchers have suggested that family members’
negative attitudes about cultural brokering often correspond to
harmful behaviors and health-related effects. For example,
Kam (2009) found that Latino/Latina American youth who
engage in cultural brokering experience acculturation stress,
depression, increased use of cigarettes, and increased risk of
alcohol abuse. However, Kam also reported that Latino/Latina
youth in her study experienced some positive outcomes when
they exhibited positive attitudes about cultural brokering and
recognized its benefits, such as being able to read English faster
and achieving higher grades in school.
Kam (2011) later conducted a longitudinal study (N¼684)
that focused on the link between levels of parentification and
risky behavior. She found that youth who perceived cultural
brokering as a positive act and a positive contribution to the
family system reported higher levels of parentification, com-
pared to those youth who considered cultural brokering as an
embarrassing and stressful process. In addition, Kam found that
parentification as a result of language brokering had no signif-
icant relation to risky behaviors, such as alcohol or substance
abuse. Both of Kam’s (2009, 2011) studies suggested the
potential for both positive and negative outcomes to be evi-
denced from an individual’s experiences with parentification.
The range of deleterious or beneficial outcomes that individu-
als face as a result of parentification appears to depend on many
factors, including personal experiences, interactions within
their family, and whether their culture and family support or
culturally sanction parentification.
Telzer and Fuligni (2009) found that Latino/Latina youth in
their study (N¼232) performed more family assistance and
caregiving responsibilities than did children from Asian Amer-
ican and White American backgrounds. Asian American chil-
dren were the second most involved in parentification,
whereas White Americans were the least involved in carrying
out roles, responsibilities, and relationships related to parentifi-
cation. In addition, among these three racial/ethnic groups in
Telzer and Fuligni’s study, gender was not found to be a signif-
icant predictor of the amount of family caregiving. Black
American youth, however, did not participate in this important
study. Telzer and Fuligni, whose study was one of the few to
assess for wellness, also found that the strength of the associa-
tion between parentification and happiness was strongest in
adolescents whose fathers typically worked fewer hours.
In another study that investigated both positive and negative
outcomes of parentification in Latino families (N¼199),
Kuperminc, Wilkins, Jurkovic, and Perilla (2013) found that
while high levels of family caregiving (i.e., parentification) and
low levels of perceived fairness were associated with psycholo-
gical distress, family caregiving was also associated with inter-
personal self-efficacy and cooperative behavior. Unlike Telzer,
Gonzales, and Fuligni’s (2013) findings, there were no signif-
icant differences in amount of assistance provided with regard
to gender.
In contrast to Telzer and Fuligni’s (2009) findings, East and
Weisner (2009) found that caregiving among Latino/Latina
Americans can be harmful. In their study composed of 110
Latino/Latina youth who were either brothers or sisters of a
pregnant teenager, East and Weisner found that the number
of hours spent in caretaking is positively associated with fre-
quent school absences and behavioral problems. They noted
important gender difference with regard to school performance
and engagement. Female caregivers reported significant nega-
tive changes in grades and more disciplinary problems than
males did. The researchers’ results also did not support the idea
that positive feelings regarding family obligations serve as a
protective factor against deleterious outcomes. No such buffer-
ing effect was evidenced. On the contrary, East and Weisner
found a strong connection between (a) family roles, responsi-
bilities, and obligations and (b) stress levels, school absences,
and slipping grades. East and Weisner also reported that
females were more likely to provide assistance than males, and
older siblings were more likely to take on adult roles than
younger siblings were.
There seems to be a lack of consensus in the literature
regarding the relation between race/ethnicity and parentifica-
tion. Telzer and Fuligni (2009) characterized the relation
as beneficial, whereas others have provided a potentially neg-
ative view of parentification and the associated outcomes
(Diaz, Siskowski, & Connors, 2007; East & Weisner, 2009;
Hooper et al. 3
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Kam, 2009; Kuperminc, Jurkovic, & Casey, 2009). Some scho-
lars have argued that parentification may be both beneficial and
detrimental, depending on several individual, contextual,
familial, and ecological factors (Byng-Hall, 2008; East, 2010;
Hooper, 2013; Kuperminc et al., 2013; Telzer et al., 2013).
More research is clearly needed to promote greater understand-
ing of the implications of race/ethnicity for parentification.
Parentification and the Implications of Gender
During earlier periods (1970–1990s), both clinicians and
researchers widely assumed that females were parentified to
a greater extent than males. In fact, some instruments designed
to assess parentification were developed and piloted solely with
female samples (see Mika, Bergner, & Baum, 1987). Thus far,
the scant research that has focused on gender differences has
produced equivocal results. Because females typically have a
considerable capacity for empathy, some scholars have sug-
gested that parents might seek emotional support from female
children more often than from male children (Garber, 2011;
Jurkovic, 1997; Peris & Emery, 2005). Mixed findings in the
literature have underscored the complexity of understanding
the relation between parentification and gender.
Eley (2004) and Dearden and Becker (1998) found that girls
are more likely to engage in roles and responsibilities related to
young caregiving—in particular, instrumental parentification.
The seminal scholars Dearden and Becker (2004) found in
another survey study (N¼6,178) that females were more
involved than males in all aspects of caregiving. Their study
found that 45%of female caregivers were involved in instru-
mental caregiving, compared to 44%of males. In addition,
22%of females, compared to 13%of males, were involved
with emotional parentification. Differences in who experienced
parentification were also evidenced in this study: 12%of
females versus 8%of males were involved in sibling-focused
caregiving. Mayseless, Bartholomew, Henderson, and Trinke
(2004) also found in their sample (N¼1,212) that females
were involved in a role reversal more often than males; how-
ever, both genders were more likely to engage in parentifica-
tion with their mothers than with their fathers. Results of
McMahon and Luthar’s (2007) study, composed of a racially
diverse sample (N¼356), suggested that males in economi-
cally strained families in which substance abuse and depen-
dence are present are slightly more likely to perform
instrumental parentification than are females in the same
circumstances.
Although it is infrequently discussed among clinicians, and
rarely investigated by researchers, levels of parentification
likely vary by gender, and substantial differences likely exist
between males and females when race and ethnicity are also
considered. The knowledge base on the effects of gender on
parentification has been informed by two populations: (a) prac-
titioners who have reported observations seen in their clinical
practices and (b) researchers who have examined gender in
their empirical investigations. A preliminary finding that has
emerged is that when parentification is experienced, females
are more likely to report higher rates of parentification than
males (East & Weisner, 2009). However, the research has been
mixed, and some researchers have contended that levels of par-
entification based on gender may be moderated by race
(Fuligni, Tseng, & Lam, 1999). Toward this end, Fuligni,
Tseng, and Lam (1999) found that family caregiving by adoles-
cents was differentiated by race rather than gender. Kuperminc
and colleagues (2013) found no gender differences in levels of
parentification in their sample of Latino immigrants.
The Present Study
Individuals who self-report parentification have long been
assumed to experience higher levels of psychological distress
during adulthood than those individuals who do not experience
parentification. These later associations are rarely explored
with a specific attention to the impact of race/ethnicity and gen-
der. Because the roles, responsibilities, and relational aspects
of parentification may be more aligned with tasks assumed to
be sanctioned and endorsed by females, not males, the clinical
literature has often adopted and perpetuated the assumption
that gender differences exist in parentification, with females
experiencing higher levels of parentification than males do.
Similarly, because of the additional assistance that the parenti-
fied child or adolescent often provides, clinicians and
researchers have also contended that parentification may
be more prevalent, highly valued, and culturally sanctioned
in racially and ethnically diverse families than in White Amer-
ican families. The current study explores these clinically theo-
rized, culturally focused relations. Finally, because varied
culture-specific outcomes may be related to parentification, the
current study explored both psychopathology and well-being
as possible later correlates of childhood family caregiving or
parentification.
Research Questions
Because of the dearth of empirical investigations specifically
examining the extent to which racial/ethnic and gender differ-
ences exist with regard to parentification (East, 2010; Hooper,
2013; Kam, 2011; Telzer & Fuligni, 2009), we used the follow-
ing four questions focused on race/ethnicity and gender to
guide our exploratory study. We also included variables that
the literature has found to be associated with the later effects
of parentification. Social desirability was included to determine
whether study constructs were related to various self-reporting
styles.
1. To what extent are there differences in the level of par-
entification based on gender?
2. To what extent are there differences in the level of par-
entification based on race/ethnicity?
3. To what extent is the level of parentification a potent
predictor of distress (i.e., depressive symptoms), psy-
chological health (i.e., well-being), and growth (i.e.,
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posttraumatic growth) in a racially/ethnically diverse
sample?
4. To what extent do gender and race/ethnicity moder-
ate the relations between level of parentification in
childhood and psychological health (i.e., depressive
symptoms, well-being, and posttraumatic growth) in
adulthood?
Method
Participants and Procedure
The original sample was composed of 1,941 college student
participants. However, a total of 890 participants were
excluded from the final sample due to missing data. Missing
data were due to subjects failing to complete all of the items
in the online survey. A total of 80 failed to answer more than
30 questions, but most of the participants failed to answer fewer
than 15 items. Average number of missing questions was M¼
8.69 (standard deviation [SD]¼20.26). Participants were
included in the data set only if they fully completed the entire
survey. Imputation was not utilized, as our sample size with full
completions was sufficiently large (power ¼.95 to detect slope
differences of 0.02). A further exclusion limited the sample to
three self-identified racial/ethnic groups—Latino/Latina
American, Black American, and White American—given the
small number of participants in the sample’s other racial/ethnic
groups (American Indian, n¼5; Asian American, n¼29;
mixed race, n¼26; and other, n¼14). Participants in the final
sample (N¼977) were primarily female college students from
American universities across the nation. Participants ranged in
age from 18 to 64, with an average age of 21.39 (SD ¼5.84).
The sample was 81%female (n¼793) and 19%male (n¼
184). Participants self-identified as 5%Latino/Latina Ameri-
can (n¼50), 10.0%Black American (n¼102), and 85.0%
White American (n¼825). Most participants, 97.0%(n¼
941), were heterosexual; a few participants self-identified as
gay or lesbian, 1.0%(n¼11), or as bisexual, 2.0%(n¼22).
Participants excluded from the analysis (n¼890) did not differ
based on age (M¼21.47, SD ¼5.41), gender (81%females),
nor sexual orientation (96%heterosexual) than the final study
sample. As four racial/ethnic groups were purposefully
excluded, there are slight differences in the racial/ethnic distri-
bution of the excluded sample; however, within the included
racial/ethnic groups (Latino/Latina American, Black American,
and White American), frequencies of those removed from anal-
ysis (3%,17%,and80%, respectively) did not differ signifi-
cantly from those included in the planned analysis.
Following institutional review board approval, participants
were recruited for a study on childhood roles, responsibilities,
and relationships and on adult psychological functioning. A
web-based survey was used. The electronic invitation included
a description of the study, a link to the survey, and an informed
consent form. Extra course credit was provided as an incentive
and as compensation for the time related to participation in the
study. The complete procedure took approximately 30 min.
Measures
Demographic survey. The questionnaire, created for the purposes
of this research study, asked for information regarding gender,
current age, and sexual orientation. Participants were also
asked to report their race and ethnicity. For the purposes of
analysis, race/ethnicity was trichotomized into Black Ameri-
can, Latino/Latina American, and White American.
Parentification. The Parentification Inventory (PI; Hooper, 2009)
is a 22-item retrospective self-report measure that assesses car-
egiving and parental roles, responsibilities, and relationships
usually reserved for adults but carried out by children. The PI
also measures the perceived benefits of performing family car-
egiving and parental roles in one’s family of origin. Partici-
pants responded to the 22 items using a 5-point, Likert-type
scale, ranging from 1 (never true)to5(always true). The PI
consists of three subscales: parent-focused parentification
(PFP; 12 items), sibling-focused parentification (SFP; 7 items),
and perceived benefits of parentification (PBP; 3 items). Items
associated with PFP include ‘‘I was expected to comfort my
parents when they were sad or having emotional difficulties’
and ‘‘My parent(s) often shared secrets with me about other
family members.’’ Items associated with SFP include ‘‘I was
responsible for making sure that my siblings went to bed every
night’’ and ‘‘I was the primary person who disciplined my sib-
lings.’’ Items associated with PBP include ‘‘I really enjoyed my
role in the family.’’ The PI subscale scores were computed by
adding the subscale item scores and then dividing by the num-
ber of items in each subscale. All subscale scores ranged from 1
to 5, with higher scores reflecting greater perceived levels or
PBP.
In the original validation study, factor analysis resulted in a
three-factor solution for the PI items (Hooper et al., 2011).
Construct validity of parentification, as measured by the PI
scores, was demonstrated. Internal consistency coefficients
ranged from .79 to .84 (Hooper et al., 2011). In two studies,
Hooper and colleagues also found that in their American col-
lege student sample, the PI scores were associated with other
measures to assess young caregiving (see Hooper & Doehler,
2012), and psychological distress (measured by scores on the
Beck Depression Inventory [BDI-II] and the Brief Symptom
Inventory) in theoretically expected ways (Hooper et al.,
2011). The reliability for three subscales was a¼.79 for PFP,
a¼.58 for SFP, and a¼.80 for PBP.
Psychological distress. The BDI-II (Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996)
was used to measure psychological distress. The BDI-II con-
sists of 21 self-rated questions that assess depressive sympto-
matology consistent with the criteria for major depressive
disorder delineated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders (Fourth edition; American Psychiatric
Association, 1994). Participants were asked to select the option
that best corresponds to the way they have been feeling during
the preceding 2 weeks. Responses were self-rated on a 4-point
Hooper et al. 5
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Likert-type scale: 0 (absence of symptoms)to3(severe pres-
ence of symptoms).
The BDI-II was scored by summing the participant’s response
for each of its 21 items (Beck et al., 1996). Scores ranged from 0 to
63; higher scores reflect greater severity of depressive symptoma-
tology and a greater probability of a clinical diagnosis of major
depression. With regard to reliability,scores from the BDI-II have
been shown to have sound internal stability. Studies using the
BDI-II have reported acoefficients ranging from .77 to .92
(Carmody, 2005; Dozois, Dobson, & Ahnberg, 1998; Hooper &
Doehler, 2011). For comparison, the original validation study—
composed in part of college student participants—reported a
Cronbach’s avalue of .93 (Beck et al., 1996). Internal reliability
in the current study’s sample was high, a¼.92.
Psychological health. The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS;
Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985) is a 5-item scale
designed to measure global life satisfaction or well-being.
Sample items include ‘‘In most ways my life is close to my
ideal,’’ ‘‘So far I have gotten the important things I want in
life,’’ and ‘‘If I could live my life over, I would change almost
nothing.’’ Items were scored on a 7-point Likert-type scale
ranging from 7 (strongly agree)to1(strongly disagree). Scores
ranged from 5 to 35, with higher scores reflecting greater glo-
bal satisfaction with life. The SWLS was originally validated in
a college undergraduate sample (see Diener et al., 1985).
Scores from that validation study suggested acceptable reliabil-
ity (Cronbach’s a¼.87) and test–retest reliability (Cronbach’s
a¼.82). Internal reliability in the current study’s sample was
acceptable with an alevel of .89.
Psychological growth. The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory
(PTGI; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996) consists of 21 self-report
items indicating positive changes that may occur as a result
of experience with adversity or trauma. As suggested by
Tedeschi and Calhoun, our current study defined the adversity
from which we presumed growth would stem. More specifi-
cally, we instructed the participants to consider childhood par-
entification as the index event or experience when they
answered the questions. Sample items include ‘‘I have a great
feeling of self-reliance,’’ ‘‘I have a great sense of closeness
with others,’’ and ‘‘I have more compassion for others.’’ Items
were scored on a 6-point Likert-type scale ranging from 0 (Idid
not experience a change)to5(I experience this change to a
very great degree). The 6-point scale yielded a total score with
a possible range of 0–105 for the total scale. Higher scores indi-
cate greater growth as a result of the designated index event.
Internal consistency and test–retest reliability of the PTGI full-
scale score have been reported as .90 (Tedeschi & Calhoun,
1996). The obtained reliability, Cronbach’s a, was .96 in the cur-
rent study.
Social desirability. The Social Desirability Scale (SDS; Crowne
& Marlowe, 1960) is a 33-item inventory designed to assess the
need individuals may have to present themselves in a favorable
light to others. Sample items include ‘‘It is sometimes hard for
me to go on with my work if I am not encouraged’’ and ‘‘I am
always careful about my manner of dress.’’ Each item had a
true/false response option, with the total scale scored using a
coding key to determine whether the response is ‘‘correct.’’ The
scale ranged from 0 to 33, with higher values indicating higher
social desirability. The SDS was used to determine whether
study constructs were related to various self-reporting styles.
The reliability in the current study was adequate, a¼.79.
Analysis Plan
Mean parentification scores for the three PI subscales were
compared based on gender and the three study racial/ethnic
groups using a 2 3 multivariate analysis of variance (MAN-
OVA). Next, regression equations were computed using the
three PI subscale scores as independent variables. The first set
of regression equations were computed for the entire sample
using the BDI-II, SWLS, and PTGI separately as dependent
variables. Following this analysis, identical regression equa-
tions were computed for the three racial/ethnic groups (Black
American, Latino/Latina American, and White American) and
two genders (males and females). The simple slopes were com-
pared between both (a) the three racial/ethnic groups and (b)
the two genders using a t-test. Testing of the simple slopes sep-
arately result in greater power as compared to testing the inter-
action terms themselves when looking for moderation effects in
regression with categorical moderators (Robinson, Tomek, &
Schumacker, 2013). In the comparisons of the simple slopes,
a Bonferroni correction was used for each dependent variable.
The correction was set at a¼.0125 (.05/4) for all t-tests. The
critical level for awas set at .05 for all other hypothesis tests.
All analyses were conducted using SAS software version 9.3.
Results
Parentification by Gender and Race/Ethnicity
Mean parentification scores for the three PI subscales (PFP,
SFP, and PBP) were compared with a 2 (gender) 3 (race/eth-
nicity) MANOVA. A significant overall effect of gender was
found: Wilks’s l¼.99, F(3, 969) ¼3.06, p¼.03. Means for
both the main effects and interactions are reported in Table 1.
In subsequent analyses of variance (ANOVAs), males were
found to have significantly higher PFP subscale scores, F(1,
971) ¼2.40, p¼.003, compared to the scores of females.
No significant gender differences were found for either SFP
subscale scores, F(1, 971) ¼0.49, p¼.15, or PBP subscale
scores, F(1, 971) ¼0.07, p¼.75.
The overall effect of race/ethnicity was also found to be sig-
nificant in the MANOVA: Wilks’s l¼.98, F(6, 1938) ¼3.60,
p¼.002. Significant mean differences were found in the sub-
sequent ANOVAs for PFP subscale scores, F(2, 971) ¼5.46,
p< .001, and SFP subscale scores, F(2, 971) ¼2.83, p¼
.003. The post hoc Tukey’s tests revealed that White Ameri-
cans scored significantly lower on the PFP subscale and SFP
subscale scores than did Black American and Latino/Latina
American participants. However, the latter two racial/ethnic
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Table 1. Parentification Inventory Subscale Score Means (Standard Deviations) Based on Race/Ethnicity and Gender.
Black American Latino/Latina American White American Total
Female
(n¼85)
Male
(n¼17)
Total
(N¼102)
Female
(n¼36)
Male
(n¼14)
Total
(N¼50)
Female
(n¼672)
Male
(n¼153)
Total
(N¼825)
Female
(n¼793)
Male
(n¼184)
Total
(N¼977)
Parent-focused (PFP) 2.10 (0.67) 2.49 (0.72) 2.17 (0.70) 2.23 (0.61) 2.40 (0.70) 2.28 (0.63) 2.00 (0.49) 2.09 (0.50) 2.01 (0.49) 2.02 (0.52) 2.15 (0.55) 2.06 (0.53)
Sibling-focused (SFP) 2.23 (0.67) 2.33 (0.59) 2.25 (0.65) 2.25 (0.53) 2.41 (0.70) 2.29 (0.58) 2.09 (0.46) 2.14 (0.47) 2.10 (0.46) 2.11 (0.49) 2.18 (0.50) 2.14 (0.51)
Perceived benefits (PBP) 3.86 (0.94) 4.00 (0.96) 3.88 (0.94) 3.83 (1.05) 3.81 (0.89) 3.83 (1.00) 4.10 (0.80) 3.88 (0.82) 4.06 (0.81) 4.07 (0.83) 3.88 (0.83) 4.01 (0.51)
Note. PFP ¼parent-focused parentification; SFP ¼sibling-focused parentification; PBP ¼perceived benefits of parentification.
7
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groups did not significantly differ from one another. No differ-
ence in race/ethnicity was found in the PBP subscale scores,
F(2, 971) ¼1.17, p¼.43.
The overall test for the interaction between race/ethnicity
and gender was found to be nonsignificant in the MANOVA:
Wilks’s l¼.99, F(6, 1938) ¼1.68, p¼.12. Patterns between
the two genders for the three racial/ethnic groups were identical
to those found in the main effect for gender.
Relations Between Parentification and Psychological
Health and Distress
Correlations between all the study variables can be found in
Table 2. Social desirability scores were included to determine
the associations between social desirability and the other study
constructs. As illustrated in Table 2, social desirability was
positively related to PBP subscale and BDI-II and negatively
related to SWLS. Social desirability was not related to any of
the parentification scale scores. The relations among PI sub-
scale scores and the psychological health and distress variables
were examined by calculating separate regression equations for
all the independent variables. The parameter estimates for all
the regression equations can be found in Table 3.
BDI-II scores had a significant positive relation with PFP
subscale scores, b¼3.00, t(975) ¼5.67, p< .001 and SFP
subscale scores, b¼2.20, t(975) ¼3.90, p< .001. Higher
PFP and SFP subscale scores were paired with higher likeli-
hoods of depressive symptoms, as measured by the BDI-II.
Additionally, a significant negative relation was found between
PBP subscale scores and BDI-II scores, b¼3.46, t(975) ¼
10.87, p< .001. Participants with higher scores on the PBP
subscale had lower depression scores.
SWLS scores had a significant positive association with
PBP subscale scores, b¼3.73, t(975) ¼18.27, p.001.
Higher scores on the PBP subscale were correlated with higher
satisfaction with life. However, scores on the SWLS had a
significant negative relation with both PFP subscale scores,
b¼2.02, t(975) ¼5.43, p< .001, and SFP subscale scores,
b¼1.33, t(975) ¼3.35, p< .001. Participants with higher
parentification scores on the PFP and SFP subscales were
found to have lower satisfaction with life. A significant positive
relation was found between PTGI scores and PFP subscale
scores, b¼9.80, t(975) ¼6.54, p< .001, and SFP subscale
scores, b¼9.85, t(975) ¼6.19, p< .001. Participants with
higher scores on the PFP and SFP subscales were found to have
higher levels of posttraumatic growth. However, no significant
relation was found between the PBP subscale and posttrau-
matic growth, b¼0.52, t(975) ¼0.54, p¼.59.
Relations Between Parentification and Psychological
Health and Distress by Gender
Simple effects between psychological health and distress and
the parentification scores were compared for both genders with
a Bonferroni corrected a. Resulting tvalues for the differences
in simple effects are shown in Table 4. A significant gender dif-
ference was found in the relation between PBP subscale scores
and SWLS scores, t(975) ¼4.40, p< .001. The regression
equations for the two genders are displayed in Figure 1. Low
levels of PBP resulted in a greater negative relationship for the
males. Their SWLS scores were lower than those reported by
females when both genders displayed low PBP. However,
mean levels of SWLS scores were equal for both genders hav-
ing high PBP subscale scores.
Both genders were also found to have differential associa-
tions between posttraumatic growth and PFP subscale scores,
t(975) ¼2.65, p¼.008. Plots of the differential effects are
shown in Figure 1. Females were found to have higher posttrau-
matic growth scores than their male counterparts when they also
have high scores on the PFP subscale. Low levels on the PFP
subscale yield nearly equivalent posttraumatic growth scores.
All remaining simple effects between the two genders did
not differ (see Table 4).
Relations Between Parentification and Psychological
Health and Distress by Race/Ethnicity
Simple effects were computed between psychological health
and distress and the parentification scores for all three racial/
ethnic groups. Then, the resultant scores were compared using
attest for simple effects with a Bonferroni corrected a. The t
values for these differences are shown in Table 4. White
Table 2. Intercorrelations for Study Variables.
Variables a1234567
1. Parent-focused (PFP) .79
2. Sibling-focused (SFP) .58 .59**
3. Perceived benefits (PBP) .80 .22** .18** —
4. Psychological distress (BDI-II) .92 .18** .12** .33** —
5. Psychological well-being (SWLS) .89 .18** .11** .50** .49** —
6. Psychological health (PTGI) .96 .21** .19** .02 .04 .04
7. Social desirability (SDS) .79 .03 .01 .21** .31** .16** .02 —
Note.N¼977. Study variables: PFP ¼parent-focused parentification; SFP ¼sibling-focused parentification; PBP ¼perceived benefits of parentification;
depression ¼Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II) Scale; well-being ¼Satisfaction with Life Survey (SWLS); psychological health ¼Posttraumatic Growth Inven-
tory (PTGI); and social desirability ¼Social Desirability Scale (SDS).
*p< .05. **p< .001.
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Americans were found to be negatively affected by high levels
of PFP to a greater extent than Black Americans were, t(925) ¼
3.36, p< .001. The separate regression lines for the two
racial/ethnic groups are plotted in Figure 2. When both race/
ethnicities had high PFP subscale scores, the White American
participants exhibited higher levels of depressive symptoms.
Low PFP scores resulted in similar depression symptom scores
for White Americans and Black Americans.
Additionally, a greater negative relation was found
between PFP subscale scores and SWLS scores for White
Americans compared to the PFP and SWLS scores of Black
Americans, t(925) ¼2.84, p¼.004.AsseeninFigure2,
White American participants with low PFP scores had sig-
nificantly higher SWLS scores compared to the Black
American participants. High levels of PFP resulted in simi-
lar SWLS values for these two racial/ethnic groups. PFP
related to well-being to a lesser extent for the Black Amer-
ican subsample than for the White American subsample, as
the slopes were smaller in this subpopulation (i.e., Black
American participants).
Table 3. Regression Estimates (Standard Error) Based on Race/Ethnicity and Gender.
Estimate
Black American
(n¼102)
Latino/Latina American
(n¼50)
White American
(n¼825)
Males
(n¼184)
Females
(n¼793)
Total
(N¼977)
BDI-II
PFP Intercept 6.71* (2.99) 6.40 (5.70) 2.45 (1.26) 4.42 (2.52) 3.03* (1.25) 3.52* (1.12)
Slope 1.24 (1.31) 1.94 (2.41) 3.55** (0.61) 2.08 (1.14) 3.37** (0.60) 3.00** (0.53)
SFP Intercept 6.34 (3.25) 12.15 (6.21) 3.40* (1.39) 2.60 (2.76) 5.42** (1.38) 4.97** (1.23)
Slope 1.35 (1.38) 0.58 (2.62) 2.67** (0.65) 2.89* (1.23) 2.09* (0.64) 2.20** (0.56)
PBP Intercept 20.77** (3.69) 12.82* (6.05) 25.18** (1.44) 19.76** (2.88) 24.85** (1.47) 23.61** (1.31)
Slope 2.93* (0.92) 0.52 (1.53) 3.83** (0.35) 2.80** (0.73) 3.69** (0.36) 3.46** (0.32)
SWLS
PFP Intercept 25.80** (2.28) 20.89** (4.15) 31.23** (0.85) 29.28** (1.95) 30.40** (0.86) 30.34** (0.79)
Slope 0.91 (1.00) 1.01 (1.76) 2.26** (0.41) 1.90* (0.88) 1.96** (0.41) 2.02** (0.37)
SFP Intercept 26.47** (2.47) 20.32** (4.50) 29.36** (0.95) 28.39** (2.16) 29.07** (0.95) 29.04** (0.87)
Slope 1.17 (1.05) 1.25 (1.90) 1.27* (0.44) 1.47 (0.96) 1.24* (0.44) 1.33** (0.40)
PBP Intercept 10.33** (2.60) 8.34* (3.81) 11.82** (0.91) 6.97** (1.87) 12.25** (0.94) 11.14** (0.84)
Slope 3.48** (0.65) 3.88** (0.96) 3.66** (0.22) 4.70** (0.47) 3.49** (0.23) 3.74** (0.20)
PTGI
PFP Intercept 37.31** (7.88) 43.06** (11.67) 43.82** (3.66) 49.81** (6.80) 39.30** (3.58) 41.49** (3.16)
Slope 13.00** (3.47) 11.28* (4.94) 8.32** (1.77) 5.68 (3.06) 10.94** (1.72) 9.80** (1.50)
SFP Intercept 40.14** (8.76) 42.24* (12.72) 42.09** (4.01) 49.71** (7.48) 38.43** (3.92) 40.56** (9.85)
Slope 11.24* (3.74) 11.56* (5.38) 8.80** (1.86) 5.66 (3.35) 10.85** (1.80) 9.85** (1.59)
PBP Intercept 65.67** (10.85) 56.54** (12.85) 57.89** (4.47) 51.85** (8.04) 61.12** (4.53) 59.43** (3.94)
Slope 0.05 (2.72) 3.19 (3.25) 0.66 (1.08) 2.63 (2.02) 0.06 (1.09) 0.52 (0.96)
Note. BDI-II ¼Beck Depression Inventory; SWLS ¼Satisfaction with Life Survey; PTGI ¼Posttraumatic Growth Inventory; PFP ¼parent-focused parentification;
SFP ¼sibling-focused parentification; PBP ¼perceived benefits of parentification.
*p< .05. **p< .001.
Table 4. Tests for Differences Between Simple Slopes.
Black Americans vs. Latino/Latina
Americans—t(150)
Black Americans vs. White
Americans—t(925)
Latino/Latina Americans vs. White
Americans—t(873)
Males vs.
Females—t(975)
BDI-II
PFP 0.42 3.36** 2.26 1.84
SFP 1.08 1.81 4.26** 1.07
PBP 2.15 2.18 7.93** 2.07
SWLS
PFP 1.54 2.84* 6.71** 0.12
SFP 1.82 0.20 4.81** 0.43
PBP 0.53 0.67 0.84 4.40**
PTGI
PFP 0.44 2.39 1.52 2.67*
SFP 0.07 0.30 0.32 2.48
PBP 1.12 0.56 2.10 2.03
Note. BDI-II ¼Beck Depression Inventory; SWLS ¼Satisfaction with Life Survey; PTGI ¼Posttraumatic Growth Inventory; PFP ¼parent-focused parentification;
SFP ¼sibling-focused parentification; PBP ¼perceived benefits of parentification.
*p< .0125. **p< .001.
Hooper et al. 9
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A greater number of significant differences were found
between the simple slopes for White Americans and Latino/
Latina Americans. Depression scores were significantly higher
for White Americans than for Latino/Latina Americans when
these two racial/ethnic groups exhibited high SFP scores, t(873)
¼4.26, p< .001. Plots of the separate regression equations are
shown in Figure 3. With lower levels of SFP, Latino/Latina Amer -
icans had higher depression scores as compared to the White
Americans. However, White Americans had a greater negative
association between the PBP subscale scores and BDI-II scores,
t(873) ¼7.93, p< .001. As illustrated in Figure 3, White Ameri-
cans had lower depression scores when paired with high PBP.
However, lower PBP subscale scores resulted in significantly
higher BDI-II scores among the White Americans.
The effect of parentification for Latino/Latina Americans
was also markedly different from White Americans. White
Americans and Latino/Latina Americans had significantly dif-
ferent associations between PFP subscale and SWLS scores,
t(873) ¼6.71, p< .001, and between SFP subscale and SWLS
scores, t(873) ¼4.81, p< .001. The separate regression equa-
tions for both of these variables can also be found in Figure 3.
In Latino/Latina Americans, higher scores on both PFP and
SFP subscales correlated with higher SWLS scores, yet White
Americans reported greater SWLS when PFP and SFP subscale
scores were lower. All other differences between the simple
effects among the three racial/ethnic groups were not signifi-
cant (see Table 4).
Discussion
Parentification has persisted as a significant clinical and family
systems construct (Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark, 1973; Hooper
Figure 1. Plots of differential regression equations for males and females.
Note.SWLS¼Satisfaction with Life Survey; PTGI ¼Posttraumatic Growth Inventory; PFP ¼parent-focused parentification; PBP ¼perceived
benefits of parentification.
Figure 2. Plots of differential regression equations of Black Americans and White Americans.
Note.SWLS¼Satisfaction with Life Survey; BDI-II ¼Beck Depression Inventory; PFP ¼parent-focused parentification.
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et al., 2011; Jurkovic, 1997; Minuchin et al., 1967; Telzer et al.,
2013). Clarifying the outcomes that may relate to childhood
parentification and emerge in adulthood is an important focus
for researchers, family counselors, and other mental health care
providers. Importantly, many researchers argue most—if not
all—empirical research ought to consider how race, ethnicity,
and other cultural factors intersect with clinical constructs such
as parentification (East, 2010; Gilford & Reynolds, 2011; Hall,
2013; Hooper, 2013; Kam, 2011). Toward this end, the current
study examined a range of outcomes that can inform future
culturally responsive research and counseling practices. Specif-
ically, one purpose of the current study was to examine
self-reported levels of parentification among college student
participants and to clarify how these levels may differ based
on race/ethnicity and gender. A second purpose was to explore
the extent to which varied outcomes—depressive symptoms,
well-being, and posttraumatic growth—may be related to par-
entification and how these outcomes may differ based on race/
ethnicity and gender. In this section, we discuss three main
findings that emerged in the current study: (a) levels of paren-
tification vary based on gender, (b) levels of parentification
vary based on race/ethnicity, and (c) parentification is
significantly and differentially related to positive and negative
outcomes among diverse racial and ethnic groups.
Our first and second findings are that levels of parentification
(i.e., mean scores) vary based on gender and race/ethnicity,
respectively. The levels and types of parentification were higher
in male participants than in female participants. Specifically, our
results show that males have significantly higher levels of PFP
than female participants do. However, no significant differences
were found for the other two subscale scores, SFP and PBP. Our
results are consistent with McMahon and Luthar’s (2007) find-
ings but are different than those of Dearden and Becker (2004)
and East and Weisner (2009). It could be that the gender effects
in our study are unique to our specific sample and better
accounted for by some other unmeasured factor or factors. For
example, although not measured in the current study, it could
be that the finding of males’ self-reported higher levels of paren-
tification as compared to females was a function of being first
born in their family of origin. In other words, being male and the
oldest sibling could have forced them into the role of parentified
child and therefore accounts for the differential gender results of
the study. It is also noteworthy that the gender effect was con-
stant across all racial and ethnic groups.
Figure 3. Plots of differential regression equations of Latino/Latina Americans and White Americans.
Note. SWLS ¼Satisfaction with Life Survey; BDI-II ¼Beck Depression Inventory; PFP ¼parent-focused parentification; SFP ¼sibling-focused
parentification; PBP ¼perceived benefits of parentification.
Hooper et al. 11
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With regard to race/ethnicity, differences in levels and types
of parentification were also found. White Americans reported
lower levels of parentification, as measured by the PFP and
SFP subscale scores, than the levels reported by either Black
Americans or Latino/Latina Americans. Interestingly, parenti-
fication levels for Black Americans and Latino/Latina Ameri-
cans were not significantly different. This expected finding is
consistent with the literature base. Many scholars have sug-
gested that family structure, cultural-specific values, and socio-
economic factors all point to the likelihood that racial and
ethnic minorities will report greater rates of parentification
than will their White American counterparts (Bittman, Fisher,
Hill, Thompson, & Thomson, 2004; Burton, 2007; Chao &
Otsuki-Clutter, 2011; Hall, 2013), although not all studies have
found differences in levels of parentification based on race (see
Castro, Jones, & Mirsalimi, 2004).
Our third finding is that parentification is significantly
related to diverse psychological health and distress constructs
in theoretically expected ways (Garber, 2011; Hooper et al.,
2011; Kuperminc et al., 2013; Pasternak & Schier, 2012; Shin
& Hecht, 2013; Telzer & Fuligni, 2009). For example, parenti-
fication in general is positively related to depressive symptoms
and posttraumatic growth and negatively related to well-being.
These relations can be differentiated by type of parentification.
Although levels of PFP, SFP, and PBP were all found to be
related to depressive symptoms and satisfaction with life, only
PFP and SFP were found to be related to posttraumatic growth.
Of significance, these associations between parentification and
psychological health and distress are also differentiated by
race/ethnicity and gender.
In general, higher rates of parentification negatively
affected White American participants to a greater extent than
they affected Black American and Latino/Latina American par-
ticipants. For example, PFP scores were found to have a signif-
icant and greater impact on depressive symptoms for White
Americans compared to Black Americans. Similarly, White
Americans expressed higher levels of satisfaction with life than
Black Americans reported when lower levels of PFP were
experienced. In this sample, the detrimental effects of parenti-
fication were greater and benefits of parentification were lower
for White Americans than for Black Americans.
Differences in the relation between parentification and study
outcomes were also evidenced between White Americans and
Latino/Latina Americans. The relation between SFP scores and
depressive symptoms was more severe for White Americans
than it was for Latino/Latina Americans. Higher SFP scores
resulted in significantly higher depressive symptoms for White
Americans as compared to Latino/Latina Americans. Lower
SFP had a greater negative effect on Latino/Latina Americans,
resulting in higher depressive symptoms as compared to White
Americans. This finding supports the long-held clinical belief
that low or no exposure to and limited experiences with paren-
tification can actually be ‘‘harmful’’ to some individuals—in
particular, individuals who come from cultures where collecti-
vism is valued, supported, and fostered (Byng-Hall, 2008; Hall,
2013; Jurkovic, 1997; Kam, 2011; Minuchin et al., 1967). In
addition, some researchers have argued that family caregiving
is related to increased levels of competency, resiliency, and
self-efficacy across the life span (Hooper et al., 2008; Jurkovic,
1997; Kuperminc et al., 2013). This view is seen in a recent
study composed of Black American female college students.
Gilford and Reynolds (2011) found parentified Black Ameri-
can college students described how the roles and responsibil-
ities experienced in their family of origin later served as an
impetus in doing well and excelling in several areas of their life
(e.g., academic success).
This finding also suggests that Latino/Latina Americans
may experience parentification as a positive phenomenon. This
takeaway is supported by our study results related to satisfac-
tion with life and parentification. Higher levels of parentifica-
tion (both parent-focused and sibling-focused) were associated
with higher levels of satisfaction with life among Latino/Latina
Americans, but the opposite was true among White Americans.
In this sample, the detrimental effects of parentification proved
to be greater and benefits of parentification were lower for
White Americans than for Latino/Latina Americans.
Implications for Family Counseling Research
and Practice
Identifying for whom, when, and based on what cultural con-
text parentification may be related to specific outcomes is use-
ful for directions for future research, prevention efforts, and
best practices. The results of the current study illustrate the
importance of considering race/ethnicity and gender when
examining the psychological aftereffects (i.e., benefits and det-
riments) of parentification in college student populations. In
the current study, the outcomes investigated—depressive
symptoms, well-being, and posttraumatic growth—show var-
ied significant relations based on level of parentification and
type of parentification. In addition, the current study’s results
add to the literature base regarding demography and culture-
specific family roles, responsibilities, and relationships that
may be changing in the 21st century (Gilford & Reynolds,
2011).
The later effects associated with parentification are impor-
tant and clinically significant (Byng-Hall, 2008; Cree, 2003;
Jurkovic, 1998). The accumulated and nascent research sug-
gests parentification serves as a risk and protective factor for
many outcomes (Hall, 2013; Shin & Hecht, 2013; Telzer
et al., 2013). This idea is buttressed in a recent empirical
study that found parentification to be a risk and protective fac-
tor. Telzer and colleagues (2013) found that a positive view
about family caregiving (parentification) was protective and
reduced the extent to which Latino/Latina older adolescents
engaged in substance use. On the other hand, they also found
that engaging in family caregiving behaviors (parentification)
was associated with higher substance use.
In addition to assessing for individual-focused risk factors,
protective factors, and outcomes, family counselors must con-
sider the context in which parentification takes place. As men-
tioned previously, it could be that the cultural context in which
12 The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families
at UNIV OF LOUISVILLE on October 8, 2014tfj.sagepub.comDownloaded from
parentification takes place in addition to the extent to which
parentification is perceived to be beneficial during childhood
and later adulthood is informative to family counselors and
other mental health care providers. If parentification is valued
and culturally sanctioned, it may not foretell commonly seen
negative outcomes. Other types of family contexts may also
influence the outcomes experienced by adolescents and later
the adults they become. For example, although not measured
in the current study, individuals who experienced parentifica-
tion in the context of homes described as chaotic or poor may
perceive the parentification process as beneficial and less bur-
densome than those individuals who experience parentification
in higher socioeconomic homes (Burton, 2007; Chase, 1999;
McMahon & Luthar, 2007; Robinson & Chase, 2001).
It is critical that family counselors take a balanced and cul-
turally responsive approach to the assessment and treatment
process. This would mean engaging in discussions that move
beyond clinical conversations focused on detriments, relational
deficits, and negative outcomes often associated with parentifi-
cation. In support of this balanced and culturally tailored
approach is research that shows parentification could have a
buffering effect on the relation between parental alcohol use
and substance use in adolescents and emerging adults (Hooper,
Doehler, Jankowski, & Tomek, 2012).
There is no doubt that parentification can be traumatic and
leave relational wounds with which individuals must cope
across their lifetime. Specifically, theory and empirical
research point to how childhood roles—such as parentifica-
tion—in the family of origin can engender poor functioning
in adult relationships. West and Keller (1991) suggest that rela-
tional deficits may emerge as compulsive caregiving in adult
relationships. In addition, Hooper (2007a, 2007b) suggests that
the inability to form healthy attachments may be a later effect
of childhood parentification. Beyond having an impact on daily
functioning and current romantic relationships, parentification
may impact the role of parenting. Although not investigated in
the current study, the transmission of inappropriate and exces-
sive caregiving could be carried forward from generation to
generation. On the other hand, there are many exceptions and
benefits that may emerge from this family systems process.
As seen in the current study and other studies, cultural factors
must be considered as well. Family therapists and other mental
health providers must be prepared to assess for the detriments
and benefits that may be related to parentification. Screening
for competency, resiliency, and well-being will aid family
therapists in determining the extent to which the roles, respon-
sibilities, and relationships experienced because of parentifica-
tion have cultural relevance and benefit (Godsall, Jurkovic,
Emshoff, Anderson, & Stanwyck, 2004; Hooper et al., 2011;
Mirsalimi, 2010).
Limitations
Weighing the limitations of the study can help extend and
inform future culturally relevant investigations into parentifica-
tion. With regard to the current study, several limitations ought
to be considered. One limitation is that the study variables were
all self-reported. Social desirability was significantly related to
three study measures (PBP, BDI-II, and SWLS), indicating par-
ticipants may have been responding in a socially desirable way
to these measures. A second limitation is that the generalizabil-
ity of the results is restricted by the study’s convenience volun-
teer sample and may be specific to the participating
universities. Future researchers would benefit from using pro-
cedures for randomized sampling of university populations to
increase the generalizability of a study’s findings. A third lim-
itation is the cross-sectional nature of the study; causal connec-
tions cannot be made based on the results of this study. A fourth
limitation is the lack of stability of the PBP subscale scores in
the current sample. Given the low Cronbach’s ascore for this
subscale (a¼.58), it is unclear whether the results related to
this subscale attenuated the results of the study. A large num-
ber of pairwise comparisons were performed. Fifth, although
Bonferroni corrections were used, a Type I error may have
attenuated the results of the study. A final limitation is that
this study considered only race/ethnicity and gender. Future
studies should consider other cultural factors, such as socioe-
conomic status and religiosity, and the extent to which they
relate to diverse outcomes both separately and in combination
with other cultural factors.
Conclusion
Cultural factors must be taken into consideration when study-
ing parentification. Surprisingly, few studies have investigated
how race/ethnicity and gender may relate to the parentification
process and how together these cultural factors and a history
of parentification may predict unique outcomes (East, 2010;
Gilford & Reynolds, 2011; Hooper, 2013; Kam, 2011; Telzer &
Fuligni, 2009). This study is a first step in exploring a range
of disparate outcomes—including psychopathology, posttrau-
matic growth, and also wellness—following childhood paren-
tification. Although the literature on parentification is
expansive and continues to be of intense interest to researchers,
scholars, and clinicians, this study is one of few to include an
assessment of well-being and to investigate the implications
of important cultural factors such as race/ethnicity and gender.
Black Americans and Latino/Latina Americans are the two
largest racial/ethnic minority groups in the United States, so
understanding how symptoms, familial and ecological con-
texts, and outcomes related to parentification exist in these
populations and others is paramount. Because parentification
appears to be ubiquitous, future studies that focus on other
diverse populations (e.g., Asian Americans and military fami-
lies) in addition to Black Americans and Latino/Latina Amer-
icans are urgently needed. Future researchers and clinicians
should develop research studies and pose clinical questions
that account for cultural differences in the assessment and
treatment of parentification and its wide-ranging aftereffects.
The results of the current study suggest the benefits and detri-
ments associated with parentification should be considered in
practice and research equally.
Hooper et al. 13
at UNIV OF LOUISVILLE on October 8, 2014tfj.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
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... Studies have investigated sociodemographic differences in parentification. Ethnical differences have been observed in several studies (e.g., Jurkovic et al., 2001;Hooper, Tomek, Bond, & Reif, 2015). Jurkovic et al. (2001), for example, have found that African Americans showed higher levels of instrumental caregiving in their families of origin than European Americans. ...
... Jurkovic et al. (2001), for example, have found that African Americans showed higher levels of instrumental caregiving in their families of origin than European Americans. Gender differences were also investigated (e.g., Burton et al., 2018;Hooper, DeCoster, et al., 2011;Hooper et al., 2015); however, the findings are not uniform. While some studies have found that women show higher levels of parentification than men (e.g., Burnett, Jones, Bliwise, & Ross, 2006;Jurkovic, 1997), others point out that men show higher levels of parentification than women (e.g., Hooper et al., 2015), and suffer greater negative consequences from parentification (Diaz, Siskowski, & Connors, 2007). ...
... Gender differences were also investigated (e.g., Burton et al., 2018;Hooper, DeCoster, et al., 2011;Hooper et al., 2015); however, the findings are not uniform. While some studies have found that women show higher levels of parentification than men (e.g., Burnett, Jones, Bliwise, & Ross, 2006;Jurkovic, 1997), others point out that men show higher levels of parentification than women (e.g., Hooper et al., 2015), and suffer greater negative consequences from parentification (Diaz, Siskowski, & Connors, 2007). Besides, there are studies that did not find differences in parentification levels between genders (e.g., Cho & Lee, 2018;Jurkovic, et al., 2001). ...
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... Moreover, negative indicators of emotional well-being were found to be linked to both emotional and instrumental parentification in the sample of Polish 16-year-olds (i.e., anger and depressive mood, no correlation with positive mood; Żarczyńska-Hyla et al., 2019). Including quality of life in studies on parentification can help contextualize the results and investigate bimodal consequences of parentification (see the study on parentification, psychopathology, and well-being; Hooper et al., 2014). ...
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... Including demographic variables such as adolescents' age (a proxy for adolescents' development of social and cognitive skills) is important in studies on immigrant adolescents as adolescence is a period with substantial biological, social, and psychological changes that may overlay or interact with acculturative processes and also affect family dynamics (Titzmann and Lee 2018). Previous research has shown that with growing age adolescents report to provide higher levels of family support-possibly due to their more pronounced skills and competences (Hooper et al. 2014). Moreover, in families with fewer siblings, single children or a family history of widowhood or divorce, adolescents may show higher family support, because there are simply fewer shoulders to distribute the work (Titzmann 2012). ...
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Understanding the interactions that African American youth have with their substance-using mothers is important because of the increased likelihood that these youth depend on their mothers as their primary providers. In-depth interviews were conducted with 14 urban-dwelling, African American adolescents with substance-using mothers to explore the nature of their interactions. Youth report maternal influence on their attitudes in general and toward child-rearing and peer group affiliations. Communication between the dyads is often strained and youth assume roles of sibling protector and maternal confidant. Youth have supportive adults in their lives but their engagement with these supports is also shaped by maternal substance use. Implications for how direct practice with youth might address these outcomes are discussed.
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Parental alcoholism is fast becoming an epidemic within the United States; millions of children grow up with at least one alcohol-dependent or alcohol-abusive parent (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2007). Research findings have shown that for every eight Americans, one is the child of an alcoholic (Grant, 2000; Mupier, Rodney, & Samuels, 2002). Indeed, parental alcohol abuse does not just impact the alcoholic or alcohol abuser, it also has been found to be disruptive to the entire family, including the children (COAs) (Dube et al., 2001). Adult children of dysfunctional families, where parental alcoholism is present, are typically referred to as adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs). It is suggested in various research studies that while alcoholic parents may love and support their children (Amodeo & Griffin, 1997, 2009), severe alcohol abuse negatively affects parental performance (Hall, 2010; Mulia, Yu, Greenfield, & Zemore, 2009). As a result, the parent’s maladaptive parenting style is likely to lead to the development of child psychopathology (Kumpfer & Bluth, 2004; West & Prinz, 1987).
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The Encyclopedia of Cross-Cultural Psychology presents a comprehensive collection of information relating to the fields of cross-cultural, cultural, and indigenous psychology contributed by scientists and scholars from around the world. * Over 600 entries, including biographies of 135 key people from the fields of cross-cultural, cultural, and indigenous psychology * Contains a general chronological timeline including both historical and literary key-moments * Includes coverage on ethnocentrism; distortions of diagnostic judgment; psychology of Arabs, Russians, Filipinos, and other ethnicities; obedience; and more * Available as a three-volume print set or in an easy-to-search online version
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Historically, African American adolescents have experienced higher rates of victimization and disenfranchisement compared to other subgroups in contemporary American society. Several theories exist that attempt to explicate factors that differentiated youth with positive adaptations from those with negative adaptations. Using a sample of African American youth living in urban public housing (N = 238), we contribute to this body of research by assessing whether or not adultification and community cohesion buffer the effects of exposure to deviant peers and neighborhood hazard on depressive symptoms. Results suggest that adultification and perceived community cohesion moderate the effects of delinquent peers and neighborhood risk on depressive symptoms in this vulnerable population of urban youth. Implications for policy, social work practice, and future inquiry are discussed.