In the millennium’s inaugural decade, two interrelated trends influenced research on America’s families of color: the need for new knowledge about America’s growing ethnic/racial minority and immigrant populations, and conceptual advances in critical race theories and perspectives on colorism. Three substantive areas reflecting researchers’ interests in these trends emerged as the most frequently studied topics about families of color: inequality and socioeconomic mobility within and across families, interracial romantic pairings, and the racial socialization of children. In this review, we synthesize and critique the decade’s scholarly literature on these topics. We devote special attention to advances in knowledge made by family-relevant research that incorporated ways of thinking from critical race theories and the conceptual discourse on colorism.
Using longitudinal ethnographic data on low-income families residing in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio, we explore the ways in which childhood illness, family comorbidity, and cumulative disadvantage shape behavioral and social contexts for young mothers’ physical and mental health in later life. Data are from the Three-City Study ethnography which examined, over a 6-year period, the lives of 256 low-income Latino, African American, and White mothers and their children (N=685). Grounded theory analysis of the data revealed a markedly high prevalence of chronic physical and mental health conditions among the mothers and their children, with 80% of the mothers being categorized as comorbid and 72% of their children as such. Mothers’ current illnesses were related to their childhood health problems - - problems which were similarly demonstrated in the morbidity patterns of their children. Moreover, 68% of the families were designated comorbid as they included both mothers and children with multiple concurrent physical and mental health problems. Family comorbidity was associated with cumulative disadvantages anchored in mothers’ educational histories and unstable low-wage employment. The implications of these findings for future research on low-income mothers’ health and the utility of ethnographic methods for studying these issues are discussed.
Recent scholarship emphasizes generalized gender distrust as a major impediment to sustainable intimate unions among low-income mothers. Guided by symbolic interaction theory and results from longitudinal ethnographic data from the Three-City Study (N=256 low-income mothers), we argue that generalized gender distrust may not be as influential in shaping mothers’ unions as some researchers suggest. Grounded theory analysis of the data revealed that 96% of the mothers consistently voiced a general distrust of men, yet that distrust did not deter them from serially-seeking or maintaining intimate unions. Rather, the pivotal ways mothers’ enacted trust in their unions were demonstrated by four emergent forms of interpersonal trust that we labeled as suspended, compartmentalized, misplaced, and integrated. Implications for future research are discussed.