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Study Reaches Questionable Conclusions

teenagerAnd draws on the same old stereotype of mixed families.

A new University of Michigan study has come to some pretty questionable conclusions after reviewing data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which included responses from nearly 9,000 12- to 17-year-olds.

Teens and preteens were first sampled in 1997 and assessed annually in several areas such as education, drug use, mental health and family relationships/events until 2008.

The youth assessed the quality of mother-adolescent and father-adolescent relationships, as well as parental monitoring, support and control.

U-M researcher Elma Lorenzo-Blanco and colleagues compared parenting and family-related experiences between multi-ethnic/mixed-race youth and those from one racial/ethnic background.

The university concluded that mixed-race youth had the lowest mean score and white youth the highest for mother-adolescent relationships and maternal support, the study showed. For father-adolescent relationships, African-American youth had the lowest score, while whites had the highest.

The researchers also found that mixed-race youth also indicated their parents exerted less control than other ethnic groups surveyed and reported the lowest score for daily family routines.

The headline for the article about the research which appeared on the University of Michigan News Service read: Multi-ethnic and mixed-race youth feel less satisfied with their moms but more independent compared to other youth, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Lorenzo-Blanco said 'Altogether, these findings may indicate that mixed-race/multi-ethnic youth may generally experience less cohesion with and support from their mothers (but not fathers)'.

The study's other researchers included Cristina Bares, assistant professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Jorge Delva, professor and associate dean of research at the U-M School of Social Work

Intermix Director of Research Chamion Caballero adds:
There is always a danger that brief summaries of academic research misrepresent or omit important details or more nuanced implications of the actual findings. In this case, however, the full report also echoes the article and reports that mixed-race American youth in the study had less cohesion with their mothers (though, interestingly, not with their fathers) which may, the authors argue, explain why mixed-race youth are ‘more at risk for mental, physical and health problems’.

What the article doesn’t highlight, however, is the overwhelming number of limitations about the findings that the authors themselves are forced to acknowledge about their study: the closed nature of questions to assess parental supportiveness; the exclusion of older youth from certain questions; the possibility that children set higher standards for mothers; the lack of differentiation between different types of mixed racial families, including whether there was any difference between whether the youth had ‘white’ or minority ethnic mothers; the absence of analysis according to influential social identifiers and factors affecting family patterns and experiences such as socio-economic status, geographic location; religion, native language, re- partnering, family size, etc.; and, critically, the small number of mixed-race youth in the sample compared to those from other racial backgrounds. The researchers themselves note in the article that ‘although we used data from a nationally representative sample, we worked with a relatively small sample of MR/ME youth, which considerably reduced the statistical power to detect significant differences if these existed and some of the questions were only asked of younger adolescents. This limited our ability to conduct more complex analyses and restricted the generalizability of the findings’

The question is, why then generalise ?! Certainly, for those of us who have conducted extensive work conducting more complex analyses of mixed racial and ethnic families – whether in the UK or US – the conclusions of this research are indeed both surprising and confusing. The majority of in-depth research with members of mixed race families – not only children but also fathers, mothers and extended family members – indicate that, like families generally, mixed-race families are both diverse and complex, not only in their backgrounds but also in their daily and familial experiences. While some families may face problems and need support around their ‘mixedness’, many others certainly do not. The restrictive nature of surveys with closed or leading questions cannot fully capture the subtlety and complexity of the experience and patterns common to mixed racial and ethnic families, many of whom face problems in their daily lives and their relationships with others that are external to their mixedness, rather than inherently caused by it. It is a shame to see how even such an openly acknowledged limited study as this one is ignoring the flaws in its own design and perpetuating the continual stereotype of the ‘mixed up’ mixed racial and ethnic family. Luckily, there is a whole host of solidly constructed research out there which argues otherwise.

Well said Chamion!

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