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UCR researchers say African American fathers needed more than ever

UCR researchers say African American fathers needed more than ever

(September 19, 2000)

A study by University of California, Riverside psychologists Jelani Mandara and Carolyn Murray on the impact of family dynamics on African American youth, found that adolescent boys with a single mother run a higher risk of developing low self-esteem than those with two parents at home.

A household where rules are strictly enforced, however, may buffer the effect of having a single parent, the study found.

The study titled, "Effects of Parental Marital Status, Income and Family Functioning on African American Adolescent Self-Esteem," was released in the September issue of the American Psychological Association's quarterly Journal of Family Psychology. The study found that a father's absence has a much more negative affect on African American teenage boys' self-esteem than on that of girls.

Because parents tend to be stricter on children of the same sex, the role of fathers is crucial to the growth of boys' self-esteem, said Mandara, a graduate student. Specifically, the pressure that fathers place on boys to achieve builds boys' self-confidence.

Mandara and Murray's study flies in the face of recent studies that concluded the role of the father in the African American household was not very important.

"The old adage that mothers tend to raise their daughters and love their sons may be truer than we thought," Psychology Professor Murray, said.

The trend over the past 50 years has not been favorable for African American families. Married couples headed about 80 percent of African-American households in 1950, but the rate had dropped to 34 percent by 1996, according to census figures.

Mandara and Murray's study quotes a 1991 study which predicted that three-quarters of African American children born to married couples would experience a divorce by age 16.

With the rate of divorce and single mothers heading households growing rapidly among African Americans in the past 50 years, the researchers hoped their findings have an impact on public policy. They suggested non-custodial parents be given more time to spend with their children. Couples should be given more affordable marital counseling to help keep them intact, Mandara added.
"Our community is in crisis," said Murray, who is African American. "Obviously, something needs to be done."

Murray and Mandara conducted the study of 116 African American students attending high schools in Inglewood, Moreno Valley, Rialto and Riverside. The students studied were 64 percent female, 36 percent male and all were age 15. Parents provided income and marital status information. The rest of the information came from the students themselves.

About half the parent participants were married, 38 percent were divorced, and 13 percent were never-married single mothers.

Editor's Note: The full text of the journal article is available from the APA Website at
Carolyn Murray can be reached by e-mail at
Jelani Mandara can be reached by e-mail at
Both can be reached by telephone at (909) 787-5293.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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