Connecting Models of Family Stress to Inequality: Parental Arrest and Family Life

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ObjectiveWe expand upon family stress models, highlighting how stressors are structured by broader contexts of social inequality, to understand how criminal justice contact is associated with family functioning. Background We draw attention to two stages of existing family stress models. First, exposure to family stressors is differential, based on status positions within the social structure. Second, stressors influence families via two types of stress proliferation—from one individual to the family unit and from primary to secondary stressors—that are both shaped by social inequality. Method To empirically illustrate this framework, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 4,074) to provide the first systematic examination of the relationship between one commonly experienced stressor, parental arrest, and family life. Results The findings document the differential social patterning of mothers' and fathers' arrest for families. Mothers' recent arrest (but not fathers' recent arrest) is a primary familial stressor, with these associations concentrated among partnerships that were residential (rather than nonresidential) prior to arrest. Mothers' arrest engenders the secondary stressor of material hardship, and together the primary and secondary stressors are associated with increased relationship dissolution, decreased relationship quality, and decreased coparenting. Conclusions By highlighting unequal exposure to stressors and differential consequences of stressors, we suggest that the family stress model can explain inequality between families.

Turney, Kristin, and Naomi F. Sugie. 2021. “Connecting Models of Family Stress to Inequality: Parental Arrest and Family Life.” Journal of Marriage and Family 83:102–118.