Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work and Social Research


Low-income families experience economic pressures that may adversely affect their members. The Family Stress Model of Economic Hardship (Conger & Elder, 1994) is a prominent conceptual model of the adverse effects of economic hardship on child and adolescent outcomes. Research on varying family stress models suggest robust links between economic insecurity, caregiver distress, the degree to which caregiving is supportive, nurturing, and responsive, and children’s social-emotional competence. Yet, no study has woven the findings of various family stress models into one model. Further, no study has modeled the mediated pathway between parenting and children’s socialemotional competence suggested by attachment theory. This study focuses on a new family stress model to link family economic vulnerability to children’s social-emotional competence, with the goal of developing comprehensive model that better reflects the realities of economic hardship. This study’s data is from the 1999 and 2001 waves of the Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three- City Study (TCS). Stata 14 was used to test the structural equation model. I tested the comprehensive model on five overlapping samples in which missing data and data nonnormality is treated in different ways, using sensitivity analyses to assess the robustness of the findings across the samples. Interestingly, the comprehensive model did not hold. In testing this model with the TCS data, there were a number of conceptual and technical issues that affected its integrity. In addressing these limitations through subsequent models, important findings were revealed. For instance, removing low-reliability indicators related to parenting and the parent-child relationship helped to clarify the relationship between caregiver distress

and parenting. In addition, a very strong relationship between parenting and children’s social-emotional competence was also revealed. Removing these variables, however, limited the comprehensiveness of the model. This study’s findings suggest that the relationship between economic vulnerability and children’s well-being is more complex than previously understood, lending to direct implications for social work practice and family policy. While further study is needed of the interconnected processes of family stress at the individual level, social workers attention may be better-spent addressing factors that lead to family stress at the structural level.