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Beyond the Binary: Intraracial Diversity in Family Organization and Black Adolescents' Educational Performance

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Abstract

Using a nationally representative sample of African American adolescents from the National Survey of American Life Adolescent supplement (NSAL-A), this study examines intraracial diversity in two key dimensions of family organization-family structure and family integration-and assesses their relationship with youths' educational performance, namely, grades, grade repetition, and number of suspensions. Results show that there is substantial within-group heterogeneity in family organization among African Americans, and that patterns of organization varying systematically by level of household resources, specifically household income. Results also indicate that the relationship between family structure and family integration and black adolescents' educational performance differs by resource level. These factors are generally unrelated to the grades, grade repetition and number of suspension of adolescents from low-income households, but they are associated with these outcomes for adolescents from the most economically advantaged households. Irrespective of household income, findings demonstrate that the substantive impact of family organization on black youths' educational outcomes is small, which suggests that family organization has a more limited relationship with black Americans' life chances than previously theorized.
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Beyond the Binary: Intraracial Diversity in Family Organization and Black Adolescents’
Educational Performance
Christina J. Cross, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology
Center for Population and Development Studies
Harvard University
ABSTRACT
Using a nationally representative sample of African American adolescents from the National
Survey of American Life Adolescent supplement (NSAL-A), this study examines intraracial
diversity in two key dimensions of family organizationfamily structure and family
integrationand assesses their relationship with youths’ educational performance, namely,
grades, grade repetition, and number of suspensions. Results show that there is substantial
within-group heterogeneity in family organization among African Americans, and that patterns
of organization varying systematically by level of household resources, specifically household
income. Results also indicate that the relationship between family structure and family
integration and black adolescents’ educational performance differs by resource level. These
factors are generally unrelated to the grades, grade repetition and number of suspension of
adolescents from low-income households, but they are associated with these outcomes for
adolescents from the most economically advantaged households. Irrespective of household
income, findings demonstrate that the substantive impact of family organization on black youths’
educational outcomes is small, which suggests that family organization has a more limited
relationship with black Americans’ life chances than previously theorized.
Material is based on work supported by the JPB Foundation, the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, and the
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE 1256260. The author thanks
Karyn Lacy, Natasha Pilkauskas, Paula Fomby, Barbara Anderson, Fabian Pfeffer, and three anonymous reviewers
for their helpful comments and suggestions.
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Introduction
For over a century, the organization of black family life has been of central importance to
scholarship related to social inequality, race/ethnicity, and individual life chances. In fact,
research on black families emerged in the late 19th century out of an urgent concern among social
scientists to account for the higher levels of poverty and unemployment, worse educational
performance, and lower life chances of blacks compared to whites (e.g., Du Bois, 1899, 1909;
Frazier, 1932, 1939; Moynihan, 1965; Myrdal, 1944). This early emphasis on explaining African
Americans’ uniquely disadvantaged structural position as a function of family organization has
indelibly shaped the trajectory of research on black families. It has given rise to a contemporary
cross-race comparative approach that is primarily concerned with evaluating the extent to which
black families constitute disorganized or adaptive, superorganized forms relative to other racial
groups, namely whites (see Sarkisian and Gerstel, 2004 for an in-depth review of the
disorganization versus superorganization perspectives).
While this approach provides insight into the average experience of a member of a
racial/ethnic group to the average experience of a member of another racial/ethnic group
(Monk, 2015; Schwartz and Meyer, 2010), it does not capture the substantial within-group
heterogeneity in family organization that exists among group members. Black families, however,
are not monolithic, and despite the numerous challenges that black Americans face, many black
people experience favorable outcomes across various domains of social life (Lacy, 2007). If we
focus solely on the extent to which black families are similar to or different from other groups,
we fail to understand the important distinctions among them that are positively or negatively
associated with individual life chances, or are perhaps, altogether inconsequential. For this
reason, some scholars have called for research that transcends the binary approach to classifying
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black families as disorganized or superorganized relative to other groups (Sarkisian & Gerstel,
2004). Among studies focused on the organization of black family life, however, responses to
such a call are rare, especially among quantitative studies. Furthermore, and importantly, little
research has explicitly tested the extent to which the two key dimensions of family
organizationfamily structure and family integrationare related to the life chances of black
Americans. Studies that do examine the influence of family organization overwhelmingly
compare samples of low-income black, often single-mother families, to white families, as if these
samples were representative of the black population overall (Barnett, 2008; Billingsley, 1992;
Garcia Coll et al. 1996; McLoyd, Cauce, Takeuchi, & Wilson, 2000). It is well-documented,
however, that the daily experiences and life chances of black Americans differ markedly by
socioeconomic position (e.g., Anderson, 1990; Dow, 2019; Haynes, 2001; Lacy, 2007; Patillo,
1999; Wilson, 1987), and while underexplored, it is likely that patterns of black family
organization and their consequences for individual wellbeing will vary by level of household
resources.
To fill this gap, this study draws on data from the National Survey of American Life
Adolescent Supplement (NSAL-A) to examine intraracial diversity in black family organization
and its association with three important and developmentally appropriate indicators of
adolescents’ educational performance: reported grades, grade repetition, and number of
suspensions. These three factors are known predictors of future life outcomes for black youths
such as educational attainment, employment, and even incarceration (Leventhal, Graber, and
Brooks-Gunn, 2001; Owens & McLanahan, 2019; Rocque and Paternoster, 2011; Shollenberger,
2015; Wald & Losen, 2003; Yang, Harmeyer, Chen, and Lofaso, 2018). Given the central role
that socioeconomic position plays in shaping the social experiences and outcomes of black
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Americans, throughout this study I consider the extent to which family organization and
educational outcomes for black youths differ by household income. Household income is an
established measure of socioeconomic position, and the single most important mechanism
through which family structure, a central component of family organization, influences
adolescent wellbeing (Brande et al. 2019; Heflin and Patillo, 2006; Lacy, 2007; McLanahan and
Sandefur, 1994). Findings from this research expand our theoretical understanding of family
organization and its impact on individual life chances by 1) moving beyond cross-group
comparisons to explore heterogeneity in family patterns and processes among black Americans;
2) identifying mechanisms that explain variation in life chances for this group; and 3) comparing
the relative impact of the two key dimensions of family organization. Identifying factors that are
protective for black youth or elevate their risk of experiencing negative outcomes can inform the
development of targeted family interventions that build on strengths and support weaknesses.
Background and Theoretical Perspectives
The Organization of Black Family Life: A Brief Overview
While some ambiguity exists in the use of the term “family organization”, scholarship in
this area generally refers to two elements of family life: (1) family form, specifically, family
structure, and (2) family function, namely family integration (Allen, 1979; Rose, Joe, Shields,
and Caldwell, 2014; Sarkisian and Gerstel, 2004; Yabiku, Thornton, and Axinn, 1991). Family
structure is typically conceptualized based on the presence or absence of a child’s biological
parents in a household and parents’ union status (Brown, 2010; Manning, Brown, & Stykes,
2014). Commonly used indicators of family structure are rates of marriage, divorce, cohabitation,
and single parenthood. Family integration is a multidimensional concept that represents three
functions of the family: cohesion, expressive functions (e.g., love), and instrumental functions
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(e.g., financial support) (Dager & Mccullough, 1982). Indicators of family integration usually
involve some measure of kin support (e.g., childrearing assistance); a few studies also include
factors such as family closeness and contact. Researchers generally regard intact nuclear
families (i.e., households including both biological parents and only their shared children) and
high family integration as signifiers of better family organization (Sarkisian and Gerstel,
2004).
As early as the late 19th century, social theorists pointed to racial differences in family
organization to explain persistent racial inequality in America. Pioneering researchers of the
study of black families such as W.E.B. Du Bois (1899; 1909), E. Franklin Frazier (1932; 1939),
and Gunnar Myrdal (1944) argued that a long history of slavery and racial discrimination led to
the separation of African American families and high rates of single parenthood and widowhood.
In fact, in reflecting on the consequences of slavery for the black community, Du Bois wrote:
“The essential features of Negro slavery, was [sic] 1) No legal marriage; 2) No legal family life;
3) No legal control over children…This is what slavery meant, and no amount of kindliness in
individual owners could save the system from its deadly work of disintegrating the ancient Negro
home” (Du Bois, 1909:21,37). In his historical analysis of black family life, Frazier (1939) also
pointed to the role of slavery in shaping black family organization. While rejecting the notion
that higher rates of “out-of-wedlock” births and divorce were a result of biological determinism,
Frazier attributed the rise of “unstable matriarchal families” to a loss of African cultural identity
and a cultural pathology produced by slavery (Roschelle, 1997; Allen 1978). Although Frazier
and other early scholars’ perspectives on African cultural erasure, family dysfunction, and black
matriarchy have been called into question (see Hunter, 2006 for a detailed discussion), it bears
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noting that their studies emphasized the importance of investigating how variation in social
conditions among African Americans led to diversity in black family organization.
This scholarly tradition became somewhat overlooked following the publication of one of
the most well-known and controversial studies of black family life, the Moynihan Report (1965).
This report cited the lower levels of educational attainment and higher rates of unemployment
and “welfare dependency” among African Americans as evidence of the deterioration of the
black community, and it concluded that the disorganization of black family life lay at the center
of this degenerative process (Allen, 1978). Successive scholars seemed obligated to respond to
this report, and it gave rise to a cross-race comparative approach that is primarily concerned with
evaluating the extent to which black family organization, especially amongst the poor and
working classes, parallels that of white middle-class families (Billingsley, 1992). Some
researchers challenged the report’s focus on negative aspects of black family life, and they
emphasized the structural and/or cultural resiliency of black families, particularly strong
extended kin ties among black Americans (Allen 1979; Billingsley, 1968; Gutman, 1976; Hays
and Mindel, 1973; McAdoo 1980; Stack, 1974; Sudarkasa, 1996). These scholars maintain that
due to the structural racism that black families face, and/or enduring African cultural traditions
that promote family connectedness, black families rely more on one another for support and have
higher levels of integration than white families. Therefore, in contrast to the Moynihan Report’s
premise of black family disorganization, they maintain that black families can be thought of as
superorganized.
Recently, scholars have acknowledged that either characterization of black family life
assumes a uniformity in family organization among black Americans (e.g., Sarkisian and Gerstel,
2004). Given recent findings documenting considerable within group variation in exchanges of
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family support, a key aspect of family organization, (Cross, Taylor and Chatters, 2018; Lincoln,
Taylor, and Chatters; 2013; Taylor, Chatters, Woodward, and Brown, 2013), there is reason to
believe that this assumption is inaccurate. However, even if this assumption were true, a focus on
the relative organization of black families as compared to white families does not aid us in
identifying what aspects of family organization have significant implications for individual
wellbeing. Thus, rather than asking whether black families have a distinct pattern of organization
that contributes to their relative deprivation, a more productive question would be “What aspects
of family organization enhance the wellbeing of black Americans, and what aspects are
inconsequential or even detrimental to their life chances?”. This question is the focus of the
current study, which I describe in further detail below.
Family Organization and Educational Performance
Family structure. A holistic theory of black family organization and its relationship with
individual outcomes has yet to be developed. Nevertheless, numerous studies have documented
an association between family structure and youths’ educational performance. In general,
children who are raised by both biological parents fare better academically than those raised in
any other family structure (i.e., single parent, stepparent, cohabiting, and divorced families)
(Amato, 2001; Brown, 2010; Ginther and Pollak, 2004; McLanahan and Percheski, 2008;
McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994). Researchers posit that family structure impacts children’s
education through three distinct (but not mutually exclusive) mechanisms: economic resources,
parenting practices, and family stability (Brown, 2010; Fomby and Cherlin, 2007; McLanahan
and Sandefur, 1994; Wu, 1996). Youth raised by two biological married parents typically benefit
from access to greater economic resources, a clearer and stronger parental authority structure,
and a more stable home environment than those raised outside this arrangement. Combined,
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these factors provide children with the material resources, monitoring and supervision, and
emotional security necessary to flourish academically.
Family integration. While the relationship between family structure and youths’
educational performance is well-documented, few studies investigate the association between
family integration and educational outcomes, and to the best of my knowledge, this study is the
first to examine these two components of family organization side-by-side. However, when
evaluating the impact of family organization on individual life chances, it is important to
consider not only how families are configured, but also how they function. Theory on social
integration provides compelling reasons to expect family integration to be related to adolescents’
educational performance. Social integration theory, developed by Emile Durkheim (1897 [1951),
asserts that individuals are social beings whose outcomes are unequivocally shaped by the nature
of their social relationships. In the context of his study, Durkheim finds that weaker attachments
(i.e., less integration) to social institutions such as family, religious, and political groups resulted
in higher rates of suicide within a society. Conversely, individuals who were more integrated into
social institutions were less likely to commit suicide. He reasoned that social integration
influenced suicide rates in two ways. First, social integration, developed through positive and
routine exchanges and interactions among group members, fosters the creation of shared values
and goals that provide a guide for appropriate human behavior. Second, it promotes a sense of
belonging and a supportive environment within which individuals can carry out group-defined
goals, which leads to more positive psychosocial outcomes. Given that the family is regarded as
one of the primary institutions for youths’ socialization, it is reasonable to expect that a higher
degree of integration into family life would reinforce socially-valued norms and behaviors
related to academic achievement and provide a supportive environment within which academic
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expectations can be actualized. Indeed, recent work indicates that adolescents who report higher
levels of family involvement experience more positive outcomes. They report higher levels of
self-esteem, coping, and locus of control, and are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors
(Knoester & Hayne, 2005; Rose, Joe, Shields, & Caldwell, 2014; Yabiku et al., 1999).
Furthermore, in the family solidarity-conflict framework developed by Bengtson and
colleagues (1991, 1995, 2002), negative aspects of family integration are considered. This
framework acknowledges that family integration exists on a continuum. Conflict, they maintain,
is an inevitable feature of family relationships that impacts how family members perceive one
another and their propensity to help each other. Increased conflict can decrease family members’
sense of group belonging and willingness to be involved with and support one another, which
can be adversely related to educational performance. Apart from research focused on parental
relationship quality, few studies consider how conflict among family members potentially
impacts adolescent wellbeing. Taking advantage of unique questions related to family conflict
available in the NSAL-A, I consider how negative interactions within the broader family network
relate to adolescents’ educational performance, which represents an improvement upon prior
work in this area.
Socioeconomic diversity in black family organization. Family structure, family processes,
and youth outcomes are undeniably shaped by the social contexts within which they operate
(Barnett, 2008; Garcia Coll et al., 1996; Mcloyd et al., 2000). Mounting evidence indicates that
patterns of family formation and integration and their consequences for adolescent wellbeing are
not uniform across groups (Amato, 2001; Brand, Moore, Song, and Xie, 2019; Cross, 2020;
McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994). For example, recent studies have shown that while children of
color are more likely to experience parental separation, the negative effects of family disruption
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are less pronounced for these youths (e.g., Brand, et al., 2019; Cross, 2020). Indeed, Cross
(2020) finds that while black youths are more likely to live in single-parent families than white
youths, the negative effect of parental absence from the home on on-time high school completion
is weaker for this group. Additionally, Brand et al. 2019’s causal mediation analysis indicates
that while parental divorce reduces the likelihood of college attendance and completion among
white youths, it has no significant effect on these outcomes for children of color. These racial
differences in the effects of family structure are largely attributed to group differences in access
to socioeconomic resources. It is estimated that disparities in household resources between two-
parent families and other family types explain up to two-thirds of the gap in educational
attainment (Brand et al. 2019). Due to a legacy of structural racism in the U.S., black families are
more likely to live in socioeconomically stressful environments than whites, regardless of family
structure type (McLoyd et al. 2000; National Center for Education Statistics, 2020). Therefore,
gaps in resources between two-parent families and other family structures may be smaller for this
group, resulting in a weaker, negative effect of family disruption on their educational outcomes.
In this way, exposure to socioeconomic deprivation may make the independent effect of family
disruption less impactful, above and beyond existing social disadvantages.
Although within-group heterogeneity in family structure effects was not the focus of
these two prior investigations, study findings highlight the importance of household resources in
shaping the relationship between family organization and youth outcomes. It is common
knowledge that black Americans do not collectively occupy the same socioeconomic position,
and a straightforward extension of findings from previous work would suggest that the impact of
family structure and family integration on black youths’ educational performance will also differ
by level of household resources. Therefore, I conduct all analyses separately for low-, middle-,
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and high-income groups and test for group differences in any observed associations between
family organization and adolescent outcomes.
The Current Study
This study explores intraracial diversity in family organizationthat is family structure
and family integrationamong black Americans and examines its association with black
adolescents’ educational performance. Specifically, I use nationally representative data from the
National Survey of American Life Adolescent supplement (NSAL-A) to document the
prevalence of various family structures and levels of family support, closeness, contact, and
negative interactions reported by African American adolescents. I then investigate how these
factors are associated with youths’ reported grades, grade repetition, and number of suspensions.
I also evaluate the extent to which patterns of family organization and its consequences differ by
household income. Lastly, I compare the relative influence of family structure versus indicators
of family integration on youths’ educational outcomes.
With its focus on cross-race comparisons, much of the research on black family
organization has obscured within-group heterogeneity among African Americans. Given that
patterns of family structure and integration are shaped by their social contexts (Barrett, 2008),
and that there is significant variation in socioeconomic position within the U.S. black population
(Dow, 2019; Haynes, 2001; Lacy, 2007; Patillo, 1999), I expect to find considerable diversity in
family structure and integration by level of household resources (Hypothesis 1). Further, extant
theories and findings indicate that children raised by both biological parents perform better in
school than those raised outside this context. Recent work on racial differences in family
structure effects has also suggested that the consequences of family organization differ by level
of household resources, with more economically advantaged racial groups being the most
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affected. Therefore, I hypothesize that black youth who are raised by both biological parents will
report higher grades, fewer suspensions, and will be less likely to repeat a grade than youth
raised in other family structures, and that any observed associations will be stronger for youth
from higher-income households (Hypothesis 2). Moreover, social integration theory suggests
that greater involvement with and support from social institutions such as the family is protective
against a number of risk factors (Durkheim, 1897[1951]; Rose et al., 2014; Yabiku et al., 1991).
Consonant with this logic, I anticipate that black youth who report higher levels of family
integration will perform better academically, and that the impact of family integration will also
be greater for more advantaged youths (Hypothesis 3). Finally, previous research has not
compared the relative influence of the two key components of family organization. I hypothesize
that family integration will be as strongly related to youths’ educational performance as family
structure (Hypothesis 4).
Data and Methods
Data
The data for my analyses are drawn from the National Survey of American Life
Adolescent sample (NSAL-A). The NSAL-A is a supplemental sample of 1,170 adolescents who
were attached to adult households from the National Survey of American Life (NSAL) parent
study. The NSAL parent study is a nationally representative household survey of approximately
6,000 African American, non-Hispanic White, and Black Caribbean adults. The data were
collected (February 2001 to June 2003) by the Program for Research on Black Americans at the
University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, as part of the National Institute of Mental
Health Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys initiative (Colpe, Merikangas, Cuthbert,
& Bourdon, 2004). The NSAL provides extensive data on mental disorders, stressors, and risk
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resilient factors for black Americans (see Jackson et al., 2004, for more detailed information
about the NSAL).
The NSAL-A differs from other national studies in two important ways that make it well-
suited for this investigation. Rather than oversampling for black Americans in major
metropolitan areas, the NSAL-A uses a multi-stage stratified and clustered sample design that
follows the population distribution of U.S. blacks, which differs from the broader U.S.
population distribution (Jackson et al., 2004). This allows for greater socioeconomic diversity
among sample members and more precision in the estimation of within-group differences in
family organization, which enables me to make accurate inferences about the national population
of African American adolescents. The NSAL-A also includes a rich set of indicators of family
integration (i.e., family support, contact, closeness, and negative interactions) that are typically
unavailable in social surveys. This allows me to explicitly focus on both elements of black
family organization (family structure and family integration) and compare their relative influence
on black youths’ outcomes.
To generate the NSAL-A sample, every African American and Black Caribbean
household that included an adult participant was screened for an eligible adolescent living in the
household, and adolescents were chosen using a random selection procedure. In instances where
more than one adolescent in the household was eligible for participation, up to two adolescents
were selected for the study, and when possible, the second adolescent was of a different gender
(Seaton et al. 2008). The data include detailed information about youths’ household income,
educational background, family structure, and family interactions. My analytic sample includes
African American adolescents who provided complete information on all study variables; this
includes 98% of the original adolescent sample (n=791). The NSAL-A weight was designed to
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adjust for non-independence in probabilities of selection within households and non-response
rates across households and adolescents.
Measures
Outcome variables. Three outcome variables are used as indicators of youths’ educational
performance: self-reported grades, grade repetition, and number of suspensions. For self-reported
grades, adolescents were asked whether they earned mostly As, Bs, Cs, Ds, or Fs in school.
Although actual grade information from participants’ academic transcripts was not collected,
prior work has shown strong correlations (Pearson’s r= .76 to .97) between self-reported and
actual grades (Cassady, 2001; Hishinma, 2001; Thomas, Caldwell, Faison, and Jackson, 2009).
This suggests that students tend to be fairly accurate and unbiased in their reports of grades
earned. Self-reported grades were coded categorically: 1=F/D, 2=C, 3=B, 4=A. Grade repetition
is a binary variable indicating whether respondents ever repeated a grade level (no=0, yes=1).
Number of suspensions is a continuous variable based on the number of times participants
reported being suspended from school.
Independent variables. Family structure and integration are the key independent
variables. Consistent with the approach of Gavin, Chae, and Takeuchi (2009), family structure is
constructed based on adolescents’ responses to questions about who raised them the majority of
childhood. Specifically, respondents were asked “What woman (and man) mostly raised you?”
Responses were coded into the following categories: (1) both biological parents (reference); (2)
single parent, (3) biological parent and parent’s non-biological partner, (4) extended relative(s)
and/or nonrelative(s) only. For many African Americans, childrearing extends beyond the
boundaries of households, marriage, or even blood relation (Collins, 2000; Garcia Coll et al.
1996; McAdoo, 2007; Billingsley, 1992). This measure of family structure reflects this
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longstanding tradition of communal childrearing in the black community in that rather than
focusing on coresidence, biological parentage, and parents’ union status, it identifies the adults
who are most influential in raising black youths. Additional measures that focus solely on
parental coresidence and union status are not available in NSAL-A. To assess the robustness of
my findings, I re-ran my analyses using a traditional longitudinal measure of family structure
constructed by Gaydosh and Harris (2018), that draws on data from The National Longitudinal
Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). While Add Health does not permit the
inclusion of several key indicators of family integration, results related to the distribution of
family structure among African Americans align with results from NSAL-A, with one notable
exception. The share of African American respondents in single-parent families is substantially
higher in Add Health than NSAL-A (see Appendix 1). This may be the case if youths who live
apart from a parent still benefit from the caregiving of their nonresident parent or other parental
figures and thus report being raised by them. Nevertheless, results from multivariate analyses
using Add Health data support findings from the main analyses (see Appendix 2).
Family integration is measured based on three commonly used indicators: family support,
subjective family closeness, and family contact, as well as a salient aspect of family integration
that is often overlooked in previous research, negative interaction. Family support involves the
frequency of emotional and instrumental support that adolescents receive from their family
members. Emotional support was assessed with a three-item index in which respondents were
asked how often their family members (both nuclear and extended) (1) “Make you feel loved and
cared for?”, (2) “Listen to you talk about your private problems and concerns?”, and (3)
“Express interest and concern in your wellbeing?” Each question used the same response format:
(4), fairly often (3), not too often (2), or never (1). Values for the three questions were summed,
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resulting in a range of 3 to 12. Higher values represent more frequent emotional support received
from family members. Cronbach’s alpha for this three-item index was .65. While this value
indicates moderate internal consistency, this same scale is used in other work using the NSAL
adult sample (Cronbach’s alpha= .72) and it is consistent with prior work assessing exchanges of
family support (e.g., Lincoln et al., 2013; Sarkisian and Gerstel, 2004). Instrumental support
refers to the tangible assistance that family members provide to each other. In this study, it is
measured based on the frequency of financial and transportation help that adolescents receive
from their relatives. Respondents were asked how often their family members provided them
with transportation and how often their family members help them financially. Response formats
for these two questions used a 4-point Likert scale with a response range of never = 1 to very
often = 4. Values for these two questions were combined and summed to produce a range of 2 to
8. Higher values indicate receiving instrumental support from family more frequently (in
analyses not shown, I separated these measures and obtained similar results).
Subjective family closeness was assessed by the question: How close do you feel towards
your family members? Would you say very close (4), fairly close (3), not too close (2) or not
close at all (1)?”. Family contact was measured by the question: “How often do you see, write, or
talk on the telephone with family or relatives who do not live with you? Response categories are:
every day (5), at least once a week (4), a few times a month (3), a few times a year to at least
once a month (2), hardly ever or never (1). Higher scores represented stronger feelings of family
closeness and higher frequency of family contact, respectively. Negative interaction is measured
based on a three-item index that asks participants how often their nuclear and extended family
members (1) “Make too many demands on you?”, 2 “Criticize you and the things you do?”, 3
“Try to take advantage of you?”. The response format for this question ranges from never=1 to
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very often=4. Higher values indicate higher frequencies of negative interaction. Cronbach’s
alpha for the three-item index was .71.
Controls. I include several controls in this analysis, some of which pertain to individual
characteristics of adolescents that may impact their educational performance (i.e., gender and
age). Other controls relate to characteristics of the adolescents’ households that may influence
how the family is organized (i.e., region and number of children in the household). Gender is
measured as female (reference) or male and age is coded in years. Region is classified into four
categories: Northeast (reference), North Central, South, and West. Number of children is a
continuous measure that represents the number of individuals living in the adolescents’
household that are under the age of 18. This variable does not include the adolescent her or
himself; it was top-coded at four by the data collectors.
Household income. This study conducts multivariate analyses separately for children
from low-, middle-, and high-income households. Income was first coded into five categories:
(1) at or below the poverty threshold (reference); (2) 101200% of the poverty threshold; (3)
201300%; (4) 301400%; and (5) greater than 400% of the poverty threshold. These categories
are constructed by dividing the reported household income by the poverty threshold for the year
that the adolescent was interviewed. Consistent with the work of Jiang, Ekono, and Skinner,
2015, youths whose household incomes were at or below 200% of the poverty threshold were
categorized as low-income. Based on federal guidelines, these families are typically considered
poor or near poor and they often struggle financially to meet their basic needs, (Jiang, Ekono,
and Skinner, 2015). Those whose household incomes were between 201-300% of the poverty
threshold were assigned to the middle-income category, and adolescents whose household
incomes were above 300% were classified as high-income. As a point of reference, in 2003, the
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median household income was $43,318 for a family of four (Department of Health and Human
Services, 2003) and 300% of the poverty threshold was $55,200 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003).
Thus, adolescents in the middle-income category had household incomes that approximate the
national median; youths assigned to the high-income category lived in households with incomes
well above (at least 25% higher than) the national median.
Analysis Strategy
To explore variation in black family organization, I display descriptive statistics
indicating the frequency with which adolescents report being raised in the each of the four types
of family structure, as well as their reported frequency of each of the indicators of family
integration. To assess the relationship between family organization and children’s educational
performance, I perform three types of analyses. Consistent with prior research (e.g., Thomas et
al., 2009), I treat reported grades as an ordinal variable, and I use generalized ordered logit
models to examine the association between family organization and adolescents’ grades. I rely
on logistic regression to predict the likelihood of having repeated a grade in school. In my
analysis of number of suspensions, the outcome is a count variable, and it is skewed toward 0
and has overdispersion (the variance of the variable is greater than its mean). Therefore, I use
negative binomial regression. I compare the relative influence of family structure and family
integration by calculating predicted values for each outcome by family structure and each
indicator of family integration, and then I contrast the magnitudes of these predicted values. To
assess whether indicators of family organization were differentially associated with educational
performance by income level, I ran all models separately for adolescents from low-, middle-, and
high-income households and then conducted Chow tests on the fully interacted model that
compared the three groups. Significant differences by income in family structure and family
19
integration, as well as in the factors that predict reported grades, grade repetition, and number of
suspensions are indicated with footnotes.
Results
Descriptive Statistics
Table 1 shows the distribution of sample characteristics by household income. In general,
the demographic characteristics of respondents are representative of the U.S. population of
African American adolescents. The sample is nearly evenly split by gender, the average age is 15
years, and most adolescents reside in the South (62%). Sixty-three percent of respondents live in
low-income households, 17% are considered middle-income, and 20% live in high-income
families.
Turning to family structure, there is significant variation in family structure both within
and across income groups. Being raised by both biological parents was the most common family
structure for black adolescents overall; approximately 50% of African American youth reported
being raised in this context (this estimate for African Americans is similar to estimates produced
using a traditional measure of family structure from Add Health data [Appendix 1]).The second
most common arrangement is a single-parent family (25%), followed by being raised by a
biological parent and his or her non-biological partner (16%), and extended relatives or
nonrelatives in the absence of biological parents (10%). The most striking differences in family
structure by household income were between low-income and high-income groups. Whereas
42% of youths in low-income families were raised by both biological parents, 65% of youths
from high-income families lived in this arrangement. Additionally, nearly three times as many
low-income households were single parent (33%) or extended (11%), as high-income
households, with values of 12% and 4%, respectively. Overall, these estimates confirm that there
20
is considerable heterogeneity in family structure among black adolescents by household
resources, with youths from lower-income families being less likely to be raised by both
biological parents than those from high-income families, and they are more likely to be raised by
a single parent or extended relatives and nonrelatives. They also show that while research on
black families is characterized by a focus on low-income, typically single-mother families
(Billingsley, 1992 McLoyd et al., 2000), this overemphasis is misleading and obscures the
diversity of family structures that black youths experience. Twenty-five percent of adolescents
reported being mostly raised by a single parent; 75% were raised by both biological parents, a
biological parent and a nonbiological partner of their parent, or extended relatives and
nonrelatives.
In terms of family integration, African American adolescents report similarly high levels
of subjective family closeness, negative interaction, and receipt of family support, irrespective of
household income. For example, the average scores for instrumental and emotional support are 7
(out of 8) and 10 (out of 12), respectively for all income groups. Research on family social
support among African American adults has shown greater socioeconomic variation in receipt of
these forms of support (Cross, Nguyen, Taylor, and Chatters, 2018; Nguyen, Chatters, and
Taylor, 2016). However, these reports of high levels of family support appear consistent with
their reliance on their families to meet many of their basic needs at this stage in the life course.
Multivariate Results
Reported grades. Table 2 displays odds ratios from generalized ordered logit models
predicting grades for African American and Black Caribbean adolescents. This model is
preferred over ordinal logistic regression because unlike the former model, the proportional odds
assumption is not violated, and it still allows for a relatively straightforward interpretation of
coefficients (Williams, 2016). Coefficients for earned grades are not equal across all grade
21
categories (e.g., odds ratios for mostly D/F’s differ for those for mostly A’s); therefore, odds
ratios are shown separately for each grade category. Results indicate that family structure is
unrelated to grades for African American youths from low- and middle-income households, but
they are associated with earning higher grades for the most advantaged group. Among
adolescents from high-income households, being raised by a single parent instead of both
biological parents is associated with a 92% decrease in the odds of earning mostly C’s, versus
earning mostly D’s or F’s. Similarly, among adolescents from high-income households, being
raised by a biological parent and their nonbiological partner or extended relatives and
nonrelatives is associated with a 67% and 100% decrease, respectively, in the odds of earning
mostly C’s, compared to earning mostly D’s or F’s. Further, adolescents from high-income
backgrounds who are raised by a single parent are 86% less likely to earn mostly B’s versus
mostly C’s than those raised in a two-parent family, and those raised by a biological parent and
their nonbiological partner are 67% less likely to do so. Living outside a two-parent family is not
associated with lower odds of earning mostly B’s versus earning mostly A’s. Altogether, results
indicate that for adolescents from high-income households, family disruption is associated with a
decrease in the odds of earning mostly B’s or mostly C’s compared to earning failing grades.
Among indicators of family integration, instrumental support is related to earning higher
grades for youths from low-income households, and subjective family closeness is associated
with higher grades for youths for high-income households. Consistent with expectations from
social integration theory, each one-point increase in low-income adolescents’ instrumental
support score is associated with a 39% increase in the likelihood of earning mostly C’s instead of
mostly D’s or F’s and each one-point increase in high-income adolescents’ family closeness
22
score is associated with a seven-fold increase in the likelihood of earning mostly C’s rather than
failing grades.
Grade repetition. Table 3 shows odds ratios from logistic regression analysis estimating
the likelihood of grade repetition. After individual and household characteristics are taken into
account, we observe little association between family organization and grade repetition for
adolescents from low- and middle-income households. Family structure is unrelated to this
outcome. One indicator of family integration, negative interaction, is associated with grade
repetition; each one-point increase in low-income African American youths’ negative interaction
score is associated with a 12.2% increase in the likelihood of repeating a grade. Family structure
is related to grade repetition for adolescents from high-income families. Youth who are raised by
a single parent are nearly three times more likely to repeat a grade. Adolescents raised by
extended relatives and/or nonrelatives in the absence of a parent were also substantially more
likely to experience grade repetition (the odds ratio for youths in this arrangement is imprecise
due to a small cell size, but the coefficient is highly significant). Like youth in low-income
families, negative interaction is associated with a higher likelihood of grade repetition.
Number of suspensions. Table 4 presents incidence rate ratios from negative binomial
regressions estimating number of suspensions. Family structure is associated with suspensions
for adolescents from middle- and high-income households. Youths from these families who were
raised by a single parent had rates of suspension that are nearly three times that of youths raised
by both biological parents. Adolescents from high-income families who were raised by extended
relatives or nonrelatives also had suspension rates roughly three times higher than those raised in
a two-parent family. One indicator of family integration, negative interaction, is associated with
suspensions. Each one-point increase in low- and high-income youths’ negative interaction score
23
is associated with an increase in their suspension rates by a factor of 1.083 and 1.213,
respectively.
These estimates show the links between family structure and family integration and
African American youths’ educational performance, but they do not show the relative influence
of family structure versus family integration on each outcome. To demonstrate this, I calculated
the expected changes in the likelihood of earning high grades (mostly A’s), repeating a grade,
and number of suspensions if: 1) youth who were raised by both biological parents were instead
raised in one of the three other family structures and if 2) youths’ family closeness, contact,
emotional and instrumental support, and negative interaction scores increased by one standard
deviation (holding all variables at their mean or modal values). Table 5 presents the estimated
changes in predicted probabilities for high grades and grade repetition, as well as the predicted
changes in number of suspensions (calculated by using the mchange command in STATA 16). In
general, we see that family structure (whenever significantly related to each outcome) has a
larger effect sizethan family integration on each outcome. For example, if adolescents from
high-income households who were raised by both biological parents were instead raised by a
single parent, their predicted probability of grade repetition would increase by 17.5 percentage
points (Column 2). If their negative interaction score was raised by one standard deviation, their
predicted probability of grade repetition would increase by 8 percentage points (Column 2).
Similarly, if adolescents from high-income families who were raised in a two-parent family were
instead raised by extended relatives and/or nonrelatives, their predicted number of suspensions
would increase by 2 (Column 3). If their negative interaction score increased by one standard
deviation, their estimated number of suspensions would decrease by 0.87 (Column 3).
24
Although family structure appears to have a greater impact on black youths’ educational
performance than family integration, the total effect of family structure on this population’s
educational outcomes is substantively small. The total effect of family structure is relatively
small because the share of youth raised in family structures that tend to be associated with worse
outcomes (e.g., single-parent family) is substantially smaller than the share of youth raised in
family structures that are associated with better outcomes (e.g., two-parent family). Referring to
my previous example of youth from high-income households who were raised by a single parent,
we see that that these adolescents comprise less than three percent of the sample (Column 4).
When we multiply the percentage of the sample affected (2.91%) (Column 4) by the estimated
effect of the change (17.5%) (Column 2), we see that the total effect (or population-level) change
in grade repetition would be an increase of 0.5 percentage points (Column 6). Thus, while this
simulation illustrates the greater relative influence of family structure and it identifies youth who
are at higher risk of experiencing negative outcomes, it does not indicate that promoting the two-
parent family over other family structures would substantially improve African American
youths’ grades or decrease grade repetition and number of suspensions.
Discussion
This study investigated how key components of family organization, specifically, family
structure and family integration, are associated with African American adolescents’ educational
performance. It builds on prior research in several important ways. Unlike work that largely
focuses on cross-race differences in family organization, I focus on within-group heterogeneity
among black Americans. Given that differences in socioeconomic position may lead to distinct
patterns of family structure and integration, and outcomes for youth, I compare differences in
family organization and its relation to educational performance by level of household income.
Additionally, previous studies typically use family structure as a proxy for family organization,
25
without reference to qualitative aspects of family relationships that may also matter for
adolescent wellbeing. I consider these factors, namely, family closeness, contact, support, and
negative interaction to assess how each factor is related to black youths’ grades, grade repetition,
and number of suspensions. Finally, I compare the relative impact of family structure and family
integration on each outcome.
Concordant with my first hypothesis, I find that there is considerable within-group
heterogeneity in family organization among black Americans. Prior work is characterized by a
focus on low-income, black single-mother families. However, when I use a flexible measure of
family structure that incorporates adults most responsible for raising black adolescents, I find
that 25% were raised by a single parent and approximately 50% were raised by both biological
parents. When a traditional measure of family structure is used, the gap in estimates between
single- and two-parent families is smaller (see Appendix 1). However, two-parent families
remain the most common arrangement that black adolescents experience. When differences in
household income are considered, I find that youths from the most economically disadvantaged
households were significantly more likely to be raised outside a two-parent family, which is
consistent with broad trends in family structure within the U.S. and research indicating that
economic stability is important for union stability (Billingsley, 1992; Brown, 2010). With respect
to family integration, all black youths report high levels of family closeness, contact, and
support. Recent work focused on African American adults has found greater variation in the
receipt of instrumental and emotional support, key indicators of family integration, by
socioeconomic position (e.g., Nguyen, Chatters, and Taylor, 2016). The universally high levels
of family integration among black adolescents may reflect their greater reliance on their family
systems to provide for their basic needs at this developmental stage.
26
Bearing in mind a longstanding scholarly tradition that emphasizes the importance of
family organization for the life chances of black Americans, I was interested in evaluating the
extent to which family structure and integration matter for black adolescents’ educational
performance. I observe that family structure is unrelated to the grades, grade repetition, and
number of suspensions of the most economically disadvantaged adolescents, but it is associated
with these outcomes for more advantaged youths. In general, youth from high-income
households who grow up apart from a parent are less likely to earn higher grades and are more
likely to repeat a grade than those raised by both biological parents. For middle- and high-
income groups, being raised outside a two-parent family is also associated with being suspended
more frequently. The finding that differences in family structure are not associated with
differences in educational performance among low-income youths aligns with recent work
suggesting that sustained exposure to socioeconomic disadvantage renders the effect of family
disruption less severe (Brand et al. 2019). This finding has important implications for social
policy. Key social welfare programs have sought to improve youth outcomes through the
allocation of funds to promote of two-parent families (e.g., Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families [U.S. House of Representatives, 1996]). However, results indicate that these programs
may be less effective than they otherwise would be if they fail to pair these efforts with strategies
to substantially improve the economic wellbeing of disadvantaged groups.
In terms of indicators of family integration, I find that high levels of instrumental support
from family is associated with a decreased likelihood of earning failing grades among youths
from low-income families, and subjective family closeness is related to reduced odds of earning
failing grades among high-income families. Additionally, negative interactions with family
members are associated with an increased likelihood of grade repetition and number of
27
suspensions for both income groups. Both findings provide support for my third hypothesis that
indicators of family integration are positively associated with youths’ educational performance.
Although not all aspects of family integration appear to influence youths’ educational
performance, significant findings for instrumental support, subjective family closeness, and
negative interaction highlight factors that may protect black youth or put them at risk of
experiencing negative educational outcomes. Results also demonstrate the need for greater work
that considers not only the role of family structure in adolescent wellbeing, but also dynamic
features of family relationships that may also be consequential for youth outcomes. Further,
black adolescents across all income groups reported receiving similar levels of instrumental
support, experiencing feelings of family closeness to the same degree, and having negative
interactions with family members with similar frequency, but these factors were differentially
associated with outcomes by income level. Extant literature does not offer a compelling
explanation for these differences, and thus, these findings highlight the need for a more nuanced
understanding of the role of socioeconomic position in shaping the relationship between family
integration and outcomes for black Americans.
A consideration of the substantive significance of family structure and family integration
demonstrates that the former dimension of family organization has greater relative impact on
black adolescents’ educational performance than the latter, which is counter to my fourth
hypothesis that these dimensions are equally influential. Although family structure appears to
have greater relative influence, we see that simulated changes in family structure would only
marginally influence changes in educational outcomes for the African American adolescent
population. These findings suggest that while family organization plays a role in shaping black
28
youths’ academic outcomes, greater attention should also be paid to other aspects of youths’
social environment that may facilitate positive outcomes.
This study is not without its limitations. First, due to the cross-sectional nature of the
study design, estimates produced from this study are not causal. The future availability of
longitudinal data will assist with the establishment of causal links between black family
organization and youth outcomes. However, empirical association is the first criterion for the
identification of causal relationships, meaning that even in the absence of longitudinal data,
evidence that key indicators of family organization are largely unrelated to low-income African
American adolescents’ educational performance is noteworthy. Such evidence suggests that
family organization has limited explanatory power in accounting for the educational performance
of black youths who are at an elevated risk of experiencing negative outcomes (i.e., those from
low-income households), which counters popular and academic perceptions of the centrality of
family organization in shaping the life chances of economically disadvantaged black Americans.
Second, due to data limitations, I am unable to include a traditional measure of family structure
that focuses solely on parental coresidence and union status. Instead, the NSAL-A provides a
more flexible measure that is concerned with identifying the adults most involved in raising
youths. While this approach differs from traditional ones, additional analyses using an
established measure of family structure support findings from the main analyses (see Appendices
1 and 2). Third, this study relies on self-reports of grades. Although research suggests that self-
reported grades are fairly reliable measures (Cassady, 2001; Jivraj, Goodman, Ploubidis, and de
Oliveira, 2017), they likely include some level of social desirability and/or recall bias. Finally,
findings from this study are representative of African American adolescents who were aged 13 to
17 between 2001 and 2004. If the link between family organization and youth outcomes has
29
strengthened over time, my findings would be less reflective of the experiences of present-day
adolescents. Research on the potential changing association between family organization and
youth outcomes is virtually nonexistent. Nonetheless, recent studies using nationally
representative longitudinal data also find little to no relationship between family structure, a key
component of family organization, and the educational attainment of economically
disadvantaged racial groups, which is congruent with results from this study (Brand et al., 2019;
Cross, 2020). Notwithstanding these limitations, this study advances research on family
organization, race/ethnicity, social stratification, and education by highlighting the diversity of
familial arrangements that black youth experience and shedding light on important mechanisms
that explain variation in their educational performance. These factors may go unnoticed in
studies that focus on cross-group analyses. Given prevailing academic debates and social
policy’s focus on the role of family organization in explaining persistent racial inequality, this
work has important implications for research and policy.
30
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Table 1. Sample characteristics and dependent variables by household income, National Survey of American Life
Adolescent Supplement (NSAL-A)
Full sample
Low-income
Middle-income
High-income
Variables
M or percent
M or Percent
M or Percent
M or percent
Female
0.50
0.50
0.50
0.48
Age (mean, range 13-17)
14.96
14.87
15.13
15.02
(SD)
1.22
1.45
1.25
1.46
Region
Northeastb
0.13
0.14
0.08
0.16
North Central
0.16
0.16
0.13
0.17
South
0.62
0.63
0.67
0.56
West
0.09
0.08
0.12
0.11
No. of children in household (mean, range 0-4)ab
0.88
1.13
0.68
0.36
(SD)
0.94
1.22
0.82
0.62
Childhood family structure
Both biological parentsa
0.49
0.42
0.55
0.65
Single parenta
0.25
0.33
0.19
0.12
Biological parent and non-biological partner
0.16
0.15
0.16
0.18
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)ab
0.10
0.11
0.11
0.04
Subjective family closeness
Not close at all/not too close
0.05
0.06
0.04
0.03
Fairly close
0.26
0.26
0.23
0.29
Very close
0.69
0.68
0.73
0.67
Family contact
Never/hardly ever
0.11
0.13
0.10
0.07
Few times per year to at least once per montha
0.12
0.13
0.12
0.08
Few times per month
0.14
0.14
0.10
0.17
At least once per week
0.27
0.25
0.27
0.35
Nearly everyday
0.36
0.35
0.41
0.33
Emotional support (mean, range 3-12)
10.19
10.09
10.47
10.22
(SD)
1.57
1.97
1.52
1.66
Instrumental support (mean, range 2-8)
6.94
6.87
7.05
7.01
(SD)
1.20
1.46
1.30
1.30
Negative interaction (mean, range 3-12)
6.00
6.11
6.07
5.66
(SD)
1.89
2.33
1.90
2.03
Self-reported grades
A
0.16
0.14
0.16
0.20
B
0.43
0.42
0.41
0.51
Cab
0.37
0.39
0.38
0.25
D/F
0.05
0.05
0.05
0.05
Grade repetitiona
0.30
0.35
0.19
0.19
No. of suspensions (mean, range 0-11)
2.14
2.31
1.64
1.71
(SD)
2.69
3.22
2.77
2.80
No. of observations
791
496
133
162
Notes: Values are percentages unless otherwise noted. Sample characteristics were weighted to account for the complex design of the NSAL-A
sample. M=mean. SD=standard deviation. No=number. (-)=not applicable due to small cell size. aHigh-low income difference is significant at
p<.05. bHigh-middle income difference is significant at p<.05.
35
Table 2. Odds ratios from generalized ordered logit models predicting grades for African American adolescents by household income
Variables
Low-income
Middle-income
High-income
Mostly
D/F's
Mostly C's
Mostly B's
Mostly D/F's
Mostly C's
Mostly B's
Mostly D/F's
Mostly C's
Mostly B's
Family structure (versus both biological parents)
Single parenta
0.961
0.961
0.961
0.686+
0.686+
0.686+
0.085**
0.137**
1.101
(-0.138)
(-0.138)
(-0.138)
(-1.723)
(-1.723)
(-1.723)
(-3.437)
(-3.288)
(0.170)
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
0.823
0.823
0.823
0.726
0.726
0.726
0.331*
0.331*
0.331*
(-0.719)
(-0.719)
(-0.719)
(-1.549)
(-1.549)
(-1.549)
(-2.453)
(-2.453)
(-2.453)
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)ab
0.940
0.605
1.649
0.530+
0.530+
0.530+
0.003***
0.360
0.729
(-0.077)
(-1.586)
(1.078)
(-1.950)
(-1.950)
(-1.950)
(-5.111)
(-1.634)
(-0.476)
Family integration
Subjective family closenessab
1.228
1.228
1.228
1.062
1.062
1.062
7.272*
0.782
0.601
(1.034)
(1.034)
(1.034)
(0.411)
(0.411)
(0.411)
(2.738)
(-0.732)
(-1.052)
Family contact
0.877
0.877
0.877
0.968
0.968
0.968
1.242
1.242
1.242
(-1.657)
(-1.657)
(-1.657)
(-0.502)
(-0.502)
(-0.502)
(1.451)
(1.451)
(1.451)
Emotional support
1.026
1.026
1.026
1.028
1.028
1.028
0.975
0.975
0.975
(0.382)
(0.382)
(0.382)
(0.537)
(0.537)
(0.537)
(-0.263)
(-0.263)
(-0.263)
Instrumental supporta
1.390**
1.102
0.828
1.008
1.008
1.008
0.597
1.147
0.854
(2.789)
(0.949)
(-1.391)
(0.163)
(0.163)
(0.163)
(-1.587)
(0.795)
(-0.824)
Negative interaction
1.073
1.073
1.073
1.016
1.016
1.016
1.005
1.005
1.005
(1.474)
(1.474)
(1.474)
(0.479)
(0.479)
(0.479)
(0.055)
(0.055)
(0.055)
Constant
0.475
0.111
0.074
0.164
0.164
0.164
1.253
0.177
0.140
(-0.435)
(-1.478)
(-1.552)
(-1.578)
(-1.578)
(-1.578)
(0.065)
(-0.651)
(-0.654)
Observations
496
133
162
496
133
162
496
133
162
t-statistics in parentheses
*** p<0.001, ** p<0.01, * p<0.05, + p<0.10
Notes: Analysis includes controls for gender, age, region, household income, and number of children in household. Analysis uses sample weights to account for the complex design of the NSAL-A sample.
aHigh-low income difference is significant at p<.05. bHigh-middle income difference is significant.
36
Table 3. Odds ratios from logistic regression analysis predicting grade repetition for African American adolescents by
household income
Variables
Low-income
Middle-income
High-income
Family structure (versus both biological parents)
Single parentab
1.033
1.047
2.938*
(0.127)
(0.074)
(2.096)
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
1.060
1.112
2.200
(0.152)
(0.163)
(1.642)
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)ab
1.410
1.273
25.394***
(0.909)
(0.163)
(5.502)
Subjective family closeness
1.453
0.979
1.927
(1.588)
(-0.041)
(1.073)
Family contact
1.029
1.227
1.034
(0.365)
(0.961)
(0.233)
Emotional support
0.993
0.761
1.058
(-0.097)
(-1.281)
(0.507)
Instrumental support
0.957
1.122
1.184
(-0.548)
(0.518)
(1.052)
Negative interaction
1.122*
1.042
1.202*
(2.136)
(0.297)
(2.687)
Constant
0.046*
0.050
0.000+
(-2.412)
(-1.023)
(-2.056)
Observations
496
133
162
t-statistics in parentheses
*** p<0.001, ** p<0.01, * p<0.05, + p<0.10
Notes: Analysis includes controls for gender, age, region, household income, and number of children in household. Analysis uses sample weights to
account for the complex design of the NSAL-A sample. aHigh-low income difference is significant at p<.05. bHigh-middle income difference is
significant at p<.05.
37
Table 4. Incidence rate ratios from negative binomial regression analysis predicting number of suspensions for African
American adolescents by household income
Variables
Low-income
Middle-income
High-income
Family structure (versus both biological parents)
Single parenta
1.215
2.628**
2.820**
(1.620)
(2.798)
(3.549)
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
1.280
1.533
1.646
(1.480)
(1.071)
(1.606)
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)a
0.983
1.680
2.869*
(-0.081)
(1.269)
(2.656)
Subjective family closeness
1.006
0.687
0.972
(0.047)
(-1.606)
(-0.109)
Family contact
0.991
1.127
0.972
(-0.167)
(1.445)
(-0.316)
Emotional support
0.955
0.990
0.990
(-1.118)
(-0.115)
(-0.139)
Instrumental support
0.936
0.992
1.023
(-1.395)
(-0.060)
(0.253)
Negative interaction
1.083**
1.123
1.213**
(2.899)
(1.643)
(3.165)
Likelihood ratio test of alpha
1.149+
1.265
1.400
(1.732)
(0.967)
(1.539)
Constant
1.241
0.030
0.309
(0.273)
(-1.686)
(-0.606)
Observations
496
133
162
t-statistics in parentheses
*** p<0.001, ** p<0.01, * p<0.05, + p<0.10
Notes: Analysis includes controls for gender, age, region, household income, and number of children in household. Analysis uses sample
weights to account for the complex design of the NSAL-A sample. aHigh-low income difference is signifcant at p<.05. bHigh-middle income
difference significant at p<.05.
38
Table 5. Estimated changes in grades, grade repetition, and number of suspensions associated with changes in family structure
(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)
(5)
(6)
(7)
Change in
Pr(Earning A's)
Change in
Pr(Grade rep.)
Change in
(No. of susp.)
% of sample
affected
Total % change in
earning A's
Total % change
in grade rep.
Total change in
No. of susp.
Low-income
Family structure (versus both biological parents)
Single parent
0.017
0.008
0.365
20.99%
0.004
0.002
0.077
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
-0.049
0.014
0.474
9.23%
-0.005
0.001
0.044
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)
0.119
0.083
-0.029
9.23%
0.011
0.008
-0.003
Family integration
Subjective family closeness
0.005
0.052
0.006
68.64%
0.003
0.036
0.004
Family contact
-0.006
0.009
-0.021
27.11%
-0.002
0.002
-0.006
Emotional support
-0.011
-0.003
-0.148
16.69%
-0.002
-0.001
-0.025
Instrumental support
-0.029
-0.014
-0.164
18.16%
-0.005
-0.003
-0.030
Negative interaction
-0.001
0.061*
0.356**
19.33%
0.000
0.012*
0.069**
Middle-income
Family structure (versus both biological parents)
Single parent
-0.005
0.007
1.39*
3.29%
0.000
0.000
0.046*
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
0.020
0.016
0.456
2.78%
0.001
0.000
0.013
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)
0.024
0.038
0.581
1.52%
0.000
0.001
0.009
Family integration (+1 SD)
Subjective family closeness
0.040
-0.002
-0.238+
68.64%
0.027
-0.001
-0.163+
Family contact
0.056
0.046
0.214
27.11%
0.015
0.012
0.058
Emotional support
0.086
-0.064
-0.023
16.69%
0.014
-0.011
-0.004
Instrumental support
-0.035
0.026
-0.013
18.16%
-0.006
0.005
-0.002
Negative interaction
-0.021
0.014
0.352
19.33%
-0.004
0.003
0.068
High-income
Family structure (versus both biological parents)
Single parent
-0.043
0.175*
1.894*
2.91%
-0.001
0.005*
0.055**
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
-0.093
0.117
0.672
4.17%
-0.004
0.005
0.028
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)
-0.048
0.661***
1.945*
0.76%
0.000
0.005***
0.015*
Family integration (+1 SD)
39
Subjective family closeness
-0.041*
0.076
-0.027
68.64%
-0.028*
0.052
-0.019
Family contact
0.053
0.008
-0.061
27.11%
0.014
0.002
-0.017
Emotional support
0.013
0.019
-0.03
16.69%
0.002
0.003
-0.005
Instrumental support
-0.028
0.046
0.053
18.16%
-0.005
0.008
0.010
Negative interaction
0.011
0.08*
0.867**
19.33%
0.002
0.015*
0.168**
Sample mean (SD)
.15 (.31)
.29 (.39)
2.10 (2.68)
Notes: This table displays estimated changes in predicted values of grades, grade repetition, and number of suspensions. Analysis includes controls for gender, age, region, and number of
children. All variables are held at their mean or modal value. Analysis uses sample weights to account for the complex design of the NSAL-A sample. *** p<0.001, ** p<0.01, * p<0.05, +
p<0.10. Pr=probability. No=number. Susp=suspensions Rep=repetition. %=Percent.
40
Appendix 1. Distribution of family structure among African American adolescents, National
Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health)
Family structure
Percent
Both biological parents
48.46
Single parent
37.56
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
9.79
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)
4.18
Observations
2,339
Notes: The longitudinal family structure array variable developed by Gaydosh & Harris (2018) captures family
structure from birth to the adolescent’s latest age at follow-up at Wave I or II (ages 15 to 18). Analysis uses sample
weights to account for the complex design of Add Health.
41
Appendix 2. Odds ratios from logistic and ordinal logistic regression analysis predicting grades, grade repetition, and suspension by
household income among African American adolescents, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health)
Panel 1.
Grades
Variables
Low-income
Middle-income
High-income
Family structure (vs. both biological parents)
Single parenta
1.030
1.212
0.613*
(0.220)
(0.577)
(-1.979)
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
0.486
0.818
0.933
(-1.273)
(-0.644)
(-0.171)
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)
1.166
1.031
1.294
(0.258)
(0.037)
(0.566)
(-0.894)
(-0.609)
(2.022)
Cut 1
0.016***
0.061
0.007**
(-4.069)
(-1.368)
(-3.183)
Cut 2
0.232
1.015
0.161
(-1.452)
(0.007)
(-1.243)
Cut 3
3.417
17.806
1.426
(1.231)
(1.464)
(0.237)
Observations
1,279
409
651
Panel 2.
Grade repetition
Variables
Low-income
Middle-income
High-income
Family structure (vs. both biological parents)
Single parenta
1.334
1.016
3.615**
(1.564)
(0.034)
(2.830)
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
1.307
1.254
2.116
(0.735)
(0.380)
(1.065)
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)b
0.770
2.869*
0.702
(-0.430)
(2.084)
(-0.361)
Constant
0.006***
0.001**
0.000**
(-6.306)
(-3.288)
(-2.795)
Observations
1,279
409
651
Panel 3.
Suspension
Variables
Low-income
Middle-income
High-income
Family structure (vs. both biological parents)
Single parent
1.223
1.304
1.618+
(0.922)
(0.794)
(1.693)
Biological parent and nonbiological partner
1.713+
1.872
1.085
(1.832)
(1.165)
(0.196)
Extended relative(s) or nonrelative(s)
1.151
1.039
0.455
(0.226)
(0.065)
(-1.038)
Constant
0.423
0.124
4.873
(-1.053)
(-0.951)
(1.231)
Observations
1,279
409
651
Notes: t-statistics in parentheses. Analysis includes controls for gender, age, region, and number of children in household. Analysis uses sample weights to
account for the complex design of Add Health. Model predicting higher grades does not violate assumption of proportional odds; in the interest of parsimony,
ordinal logistic regression is used instead of generalized ordinal regression. Model predicting suspension estimates whether adolescent has been suspended in
prior year; number of suspensions is unavailable in Add Health. aHigh-low income difference is significant at p<.05. bHigh-middle income difference is
significant at p<.05.
42
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