dren whose families were lifted out of poverty when a gambling casino opened on an Indian reservation showed improvement in both psychiatric symptoms and conduct problems. Specifically, this study found that externalizing signs, including such behavior disorders as conduct disorder, improved, but that families’ improved economic circumstances did not affect the rate of internalizing psychiatric problems, such as depression. The researchers concluded that the improvements came about in part because of improved parenting practices. Experimental studies, such as the New Hope study (Huston et al., 2003), have also shown that interventions that increased employment and reduced poverty resulted in similar improvements.

Researchers have described three primary models for thinking about how economic factors influence families: the family stress model, the investment model, and the interactionist model. Research on the family stress model goes back to the 1930s, Conger said, and has since been well replicated using many samples from diverse backgrounds. It is based on evidence from both human and animal studies that punishing experiences, such as economic pressure,1 exacerbate negative affect, which can take many forms, such as despondency, depression, anger, or aggression (Berkowitz, 1969). These sorts of emotions can disrupt family relationships. The effect of the hardship depends on the way it affects daily life—in other words, the emotional response of the family and the individual are what determines the psychological effect of the event. When parents become depressed, angry, and sullen with one another and have increased conflict, the result is often harsh and inconsistent parenting or withdrawal. For adolescents, that can mean increases in risky behavior and less development of the sorts of competencies that protect them from those risks. Conger observed that other sorts of distress may also affect families in the same way. That is, when stress and challenge are high for parents, they generally have an increase in emotional and behavioral problems, which in turn affect family functioning and increase risks for children.

The model, which is consistent with findings from numerous studies (Conger et al., 2010; Conger and Conger, 2008; Conger and Donnellan, 2007), is illustrated in Figure 5-1. Some interventions based on this model have focused on improving families’ economic circumstances. However, although the downward spiral can occur very quickly, such interven-

1

Conger noted that family income is not a reliable measure of hardship because even families with high incomes may face severe economic challenges, for example, if a medical calamity occurs in a family with inadequate health insurance. Thus, researchers consider other factors, such as negative financial events, sudden economic demands, or sudden changes in income.



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