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Kin support in Black and White: Structure, culture, and extended family ties

Natalia A Sarkisian, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation addresses two central debates in the scholarship on Black families: the disorganization versus superorganization debate seeking to characterize the racial differences in family organization, and the culture versus structure debate seeking to specify the causes of those differences. In combination, these debates produce four main approaches—cultural deficiency, cultural resiliency, structural resiliency, and structural destruction. Focusing on giving, receiving, and exchanging kin support as measures of family integration and using the second wave of the National Survey of Families and Households, this dissertation empirically examines these four approaches and in the process challenges the assumptions entailed in these debates. First, it suggests that neither the superorganization nor the disorganization theorists accurately capture racial distinctions in kin support. Black and White families differ in the type of support rather than in its overall prevalence. Blacks are more involved in instrumental and child care help; Whites report greater involvement in financial and emotional support. Further, gender is crucial for understanding racial differences: Black and White men are very much alike, while there are many differences among women. Racial differences also vary by kin type: Whites are more involved in intergenerational support; Blacks are more involved in support transfers with siblings and other relatives. Second, this dissertation suggests that both structure and culture are important in understanding racial differences and similarities in kin support, although structure is more important for the creation of racial differences. Blacks' structural disadvantage reduces their support involvement, producing a lower prevalence of financial and emotional support. This clearly supports the structural destruction theory. The data, however, also offer partial support for the structural resiliency approach: The lower SES of Blacks increases their instrumental help through its effects on family structure. In terms of culture, this study found that cultural values of Blacks boost their kin support, which supports the cultural resiliency approach. In contrast, the data offer no support for the cultural deficiency approach. Based on these findings, this dissertation argues that the general either/or terms of these debates are problematic and emphasizes the need for synthetic rather than dichotomous approaches to discussing Black families.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|African Americans

Recommended Citation

Sarkisian, Natalia A, "Kin support in Black and White: Structure, culture, and extended family ties" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179922.