Linda M Burton
  • Linda M Burton

  • Dean of Social Sciences and James B. Duke Professor of Sociology
  • Sociology
  • 348A Soc/Psych Building
  • Campus Box 90088
  • Phone: (919) 660-5609
  • Fax: 919-660-5623
  • Homepage
  • Specialties

    • Family Structure
    • Poverty and Inequality
    • Child Development
  • Research Description

    My program of research is conceptually grounded in life course, developmental, and ecological perspectives and focuses on three themes concerning the lives of America's poorest urban, small town, and rural families: (1) intergenerational family structures, processes, and role transitions; (2) the meaning of context and place in the daily lives of families; and, (3) childhood adultification and the accelerated life course. My methodological approach to exploring these issues is comparative, longitudinal, and multi-method. The comparative dimension of my research comprises in-depth within group analysis of low income African American, White, and, Hispanic/Latino families, as well as systematic examinations of similarities and differences across groups. I employ longitudinal designs in my studies to identify distinct and often nuanced contextual and ethnic/racial features of development that shape the family structures, processes (e.g., intergenerational care-giving) and life course transitions (e.g., grandparenthood, marriage) families experience over time. I am principally an ethnographer, but integrate survey and geographic and spatial analysis in my work. I was one of six principal investigators involved in an multisite, multi-method collaborative study of the impact of welfare reform on families and children (Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three-City Study). I directed the ethnographic component of the Three-City Study and was also principal investigator of an ethnographic study of rural poverty and child development (The Family Life Project).
  • Areas of Interest

    Intergenerational Families,
    Family Life Course Transitions,
    Neighborhood Context,
    Ethnographic Methods
  • Education

      • PhD,
      • Sociology, University of Southern California,
      • 1985
      • MA,
      • Sociology, University of Southern California,
      • 1982
      • BS,
      • Gerontology (with honors), University of Southern California,
      • 1978
  • Selected Publications

      • Brady, D. & Burton, L.M. (Eds.).
      • (forthcoming).
      • Oxford handbook of poverty and society (forthcoming).
      • Oxford University Press.
      • Burton, L.M. & Stack, C. B..
      • (in press).
      • “Breakfast at Elmo’s:” Adolescent boys and disruptive politics in the Kinscripts’ narrative.
      • In A.Garey, R. Hertz, & M. Nelson (Eds.),
      • Open to disruption: Practicing slow sociology
      • .
      • Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
      • Burton, L.M. Lichter, D.T., Baker, R.S., & Eason, J.M..
      • (2013).
      • Inequality, family processes, and health in the “new” rural America.
      • American Behavioral Scientist
      • ,
      • 57
      • (8)
      • ,
      • 1128-1151.
      Publication Description

      Rural America is commonly viewed as a repository of virtuous and patriotic values, deeply rooted in a proud immigrant history of farmers and industrious working-class White ethnics from northern Europe. These views are not always consistent with the population and socioeconomic realities of rural terrains. Exceptions to these stereotypes are self-evident in large poor racial/ethnic minorities residing in rural ghettos in the “dirty” South and among poor Whites living in remote, mountainous areas of Appalachia. For these disadvantaged populations, socio-cultural and economic isolation, a lack of quality education, too few jobs, and poor health have taken a human toll, generation after generation. Moreover, the past several decades has brought dramatic shifts in the spatial distribution and magnitude of poverty in these areas. And, America’s persistent racial inequalities have continued to fester as rural communities become home to urban-origin racial minority migrants and immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. As a result, the face of rural America has changed, quite literally. In this article, we address the primary question these changes pose: How will shifting inequalities anchored in poverty and race shape health disparities in a “new” rural America? Guided by fundamental cause theory, we explore the scope and sources of poverty and race inequalities in rural America, how patterns in these inequalities are transduced within families, and what these inequalities mean for future of health disparities within and across rural U.S. terrains. Our goal is to review and interrogate the extant literature on this topic with the intent of offering recommendations for future research.

      • Burton, L.M. & Hardaway, C.R..
      • (2013).
      • Low-income mothers as "othermothers" to their romantic partners' children: Women's coparenting in multiple partner fertility family structures.
      • Family Process
      • ,
      • 51
      • ,
      • 343-359.
      Publication Description

      In this article, we investigated low-income mothers’ involvement in multiple partner fertility (MPF) relationships and their experiences as “othermothers” to their romantic partners’ children from previous and concurrent intimate unions. Othermothering, as somewhat distinct from stepmothering, involves culturally-scripted practices of sharing parenting responsibilities with children’s biological parents. We framed this investigation using this concept because previous research suggests that many low-income women practice this form of coparenting in their friend and kin networks. What is not apparent in this literature, however, is whether women unilaterally othermother their romantic partners’ children from different women. How often and under what circumstances do women in nonmarital MPF intimate unions with men coparent their partners’ children from other relationships? We explored this question using a modified grounded theory approach and secondary longitudinal ethnographic data on 256 low-income mostly unmarried mothers from the Three-City Study. Results indicated that 78% of the mothers had been or were involved in MPF unions and while most had othermothered the children of their friends and relatives, 89% indicated that they did not coparent their partners’ children from any MPF relationship. Mothers’ reasons for not doing so were embedded in: (a) gendered scripts around second families or casa chicas; (b) the tenuous nature of pass-through MPF relationships; and, (c) mothers’ own desires for their romantic partners to child-swap. Implications of this research for family science and practice are discussed.

      • Burton, L.M., Garrett-Peters, R., & Eason, J.
      • (2011).
      • Morality, Identity, and Mental Health in Rural Ghettos.
      • .
      • NY: Springer.
      • Burton, L.M., Bonilla-Silva, E., Ray, V., Buckelew, R., & Hordge Freeman, E..
      • (2010).
      • Critical race theories, colorism, and the decade's research on families of color.
      • Journal of Marriage and Family
      • ,
      • 72
      • ,
      • 440-459.
      Publication Description

      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.

      • Burton, L.M., & Bromell, L..
      • (2010).
      • Childhood illness, family comorbidity, and cumulative disadvantage: An ethnographic treatise on low-income mothers' health in later life.
      • Annual Review of Gertontology and Geriatrics
      • ,
      • 231-263.
      Publication Description

      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.

      • Burton, L.M., Cherlin, A., Winn, D.M., Estacion, A., & Holder-Taylor, C..
      • (December, 2009).
      • The role of trust in low-income mothers' intimate unions.
      • Journal of Marriage and Family
      • ,
      • 71
      • ,
      • 1107 - 1127.
      Publication Description

      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.

  • View All Publications
  • Postdoctoral Students

    • Juhi Verma
      • 2012 -Present
    • Cecily Hardaway
      • Present
    • Sabrina Pendergrass
      • 2010 - Present
    • John Eason
      • 2008 - 2010
    • Please See Comments to the Chair
      • 2008-Present
    • Please See Comments to the Chair
      • 2004- present
    • Please See Comments to the Chair
      • 2006 - present
  • ict background