Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Albert Farrell


The effect of family structure on youth adjustment has received increasing attention as historical trends in single parenting, divorce, remarriage, and cohabitation with partners and extended family members have produced a diverse constellation of structures. African American youth are less likely than Caucasian youth to live in an “intact” family. Links between family structure and a variety of indices of youth adjustment have been established, although a relatively understudied outcome is that of substance initiation, despite its association with dependence and other negative sequelae. The dynamic effect of transitions has additionally been less studied than the static effect of structure. Differences in family structure and transitions may influence outcomes via parental socialization (monitoring and attachment) as well as strain (residential mobility and changes in income). These mechanisms may operate differently for Caucasian and African American youth, and may partially explain differences in adjustment. Relations between youth adjustment and transitions may be reciprocal in nature, a less often studied premise. This project made use of a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 adolescents aged 12 to 13 in 1997 assessed across 3 waves. Regression analyses were employed to examine the associations among family structure and transitions, parenting, income, residential mobility, and substance initiation over time. This study found that living in non- two-parent family structures was consistently associated with higher concurrent levels of substance initiation, lower parental monitoring and relationship quality, lower income, and higher residential mobility. The effects of transitions on substance initiation and parenting were less robust than hypothesized, but reinforced the notion that consistently living outside a two-parent family, or consistently living in a single-parent family, is negatively associated with parenting, income, and residential stability over time. Evidence for mediated effects via changes in parenting, residential mobility, and income were significant but small in magnitude, and varied by race, such that they were significant for Caucasian but not African American youth . Partial evidence for reciprocal causality was found. Alcohol initiation at the first wave predicted separations, but marijuana initiation did not. These findings have important implications for parents, clinicians, and policy makers.


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Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2011