Demographic Approach to the Study of Child Health and Development in the Mexican American Population  (2002)

Researcher(s):

Project Categories

Principal Investigator:
Yolanda Padilla, Ph.D.

Co-Investigators:
Robert Hummer, Department of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
Nancy Reichman, Ctr. for Research on Child Wellbeing, Princeton University

Duration: 2000 – 2002

The objective of this study was to conduct a longitudinal analysis of the child health and development trajectory of Mexican American children in a comparative context with black, white, and Puerto Rican children, with an emphasis on the effects of social and economic conditions. Thus, the general purpose of the proposed research is an extensive and rigorous study of the effects of birth outcomes, immigrant status, social and economic factors, and parental health behaviors on the health and developmental outcomes of Mexican American children.

The specific aims of the project are:

(1) to model the association between race/ethnicity (Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, non-Hispanic blacks, non-Hispanic whites) and several measures of child health and development, focusing especially on Mexican American disparities with the other groups;

(2) to build into the explanatory model health at birth (e.g., birth weight), and social, health care, behavioral, and government assistance risk factors all which the literature suggest may be important for child health and development outcomes; and

(3) to analyze how the health and development trajectory of Mexican American children is specifically influenced by the biological, social, economic, and behavioral risk factors.

Research activities have focused on analyses of data from the Fragile Families national longitudinal survey to model the association between race/ethnicity (Mexican Americans, non-Hispanic blacks, non-Hispanic whites) and several measures of child health and development, focusing especially on Mexican American disparities with the other groups. This project resulted in three published articles in peer-reviewed journals and one currently under review, a very promising new interdisciplinary project (a grant submission of over $800,000 to NICHD), and numerous papers. The following two sub-sections list these accomplishments, while the third section of this report summarizes the key research findings of these papers.

PUBLISHED WORK SUPPORTED BY THE PROJECT

Boardman, J.D., D.A. Powers, Y.C. Padilla, and R.A. Hummer. 2002. Low Birth Weight, Social Factors, and Developmental Outcomes among Children in the United States. Demography 39(2): 353-368.

Padilla, Y.C. 2002. The Social Ecology of Child Development in the Mexican American Population: Current Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 5 (3/4): 9-29.

Padilla, Y.C., J.D. Boardman, R.A. Hummer, and M. Espitia. 2002. Is the Mexican American Epidemiologic Paradox Advantage at Birth Maintained Through Early Childhood? Social Forces 80(3): 1101-1123.

NEW PROJECTS STIMULATED BY THIS GRANT

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01). Mexican American Child Health: Birth to Early Childhood. PI: Y. Padilla; Co-Pis: R. Hummer, W.P. Frisbie, A. Huston, N. Reichman, and D. Powers. *This project aims to analyze, in a longitudinal fashion, the health and development of Mexican American children in relation to their non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white counterparts. The project will utilize data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, which follows a cohort of approximately 4,800 newborns for the first five years of their life.

Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. Seed money award to prepare an R0-1 grant application to the National Institutes of Health on Mexican American Child Health: Birth to Early Childhood. PI: Y. Padilla

PAPERS SUPPORTED BY THE PROJECT

Kim, E., Y.C. Padilla, and S. Song. Work Schedule Problems and Parenting Stress among Unmarried Welfare Mothers with Very Young Children. Poster prepared for the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 1-3, 2003.

Kim, E. and Y.C. Padilla. Immigrant Status and Mexican American Infant Health. Paper prepared for the Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Work and Research, Washington, DC, January 16-19, 2003.

Kim, E. and Y.C. Padilla. Low-wage Maternal Employment and Parenting Stress among Unmarried Mothers with Infants. Paper prepared for the Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Work and Research, Washington, DC, January 16-19, 2003.

S. Song and Y.C. Padilla. Birth Outcomes among Unmarried Mothers: The Joint Effect of Socioeconomic Status and Traditional Gender Roles. Paper prepared for the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Chicago, Illinois, August 16-19, 2002.

Hummer, R.A., Y.C. Padilla, S. Echevarria, and E. Kim. Maternal Religious Involvement, Pregnancy Related Behavior, and Infant Birth Weight. Paper prepared for the Annual meeting of the Southern Demographic Association. October 11-13, 2001.

Padilla, Y.C. The Role of Social Support from Fathers in Low Birth Rate Among Unwed Mothers. Paper prepared for the Population Research Center Brown Bag Series, University of Texas at Austin, Fall 2001. October 12, 2001.

Padilla, Y.C. The Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study. Paper prepared for the Human Ecology, Human Development, and Family Sciences Speaker Series, University of Texas at Austin, February 18, 2001.

Hummer, R.A., Y.C. Padilla, S. Echevarria, and E. Kim. Does Parental Religious Involvement Impact the Birth Outcomes and Health Status of Young Children? Paper prepared for the Annual meeting of the Population Association of America. May, 2002.

SUMMARY OF PROJECT RESULTS

Published Work on Child Health and Development Outcomes

Published papers from the project focused on child health and development outcomes among Mexican Americans in the United States. The first was a conceptual paper that explored the context of child development in the Mexican American population. The contextual structure of child development is conceptualized as a complex system of environments, beginning at the broadest level with the sociodemographic environment, the social service environment, the academic environment, and the parental home environment. Based on an extensive review of the current theoretical and empirical literature, we find that the disadvantaged social position of Mexican American children has detrimental implications for all other aspects of their environment, thus hindering their development. In addition, although Mexican American parents are highly competent in providing a nurturing and culturally-rich environment, there is a often a discontinuity between the home environment and both the academic and the social service environments. This paper was published in the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.

The second paper included an investigation of the race/ethnic differences in two aspects of child development: math and reading test scores. More specifically, this paper examined the effect of birth weight and social factors on the long-term developmental outcomes of Mexican American, white, and black children aged 6-14 using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth Child Data. Our analysis demonstrated large race/ethnic disparities in developmental outcomes such that black and Mexican American children scored below non-Hispanic white children on both the math and reading tests. These disparities persisted with age when comparing Mexican American and non-Hispanic white children; however, the gap between non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white children was larger among older children in comparison to younger children. This paper is published in Demography.

The third paper investigated whether birth weight has a differential effect for language developmental outcomes in early childhood for Mexican American children in comparison to their black and non-Hispanic white counterparts. Special emphasis was given to the question of whether the healthy birth outcomes of Mexican American infants, widely known as the epidemologic paradox, also translate into healthy developmental outcomes in early childhood. The results suggest that the relative similarity between rates of low birth weight between the white and Mexican American populations are not reflected in their development scores at young ages. The average score for Mexican American children is much closer to that of black children than to white children. In addition, multivariate analyses of the total sample and separate models for Mexican American, white, and black children show that although birth weight is not a powerful predictor of language development, it has a statistically significant effect. More importantly, however, children who have a history of living in poverty, children whose parents are immigrants, and children who have had less contact with primary health care have the lowest language development scores. This paper is published in Social Forces.

Sponsor:
Interdisciplinary Research Initiative Award 
The University of Texas at Austin

Keywords: child welfare, families, children, youth