The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Fall
2009

Boys (and Girls) from Brazil


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


Commentators often dismiss concerns about family disintegration as a peculiar obsession of America’s religious conservatives. But the consequences of family breakdown are attracting ever more attention from scholars around the world. Indeed, those consequences received scrutiny from scholars from the University of São Paulo and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In a study, this international team of researchers identifies family failure as a prime cause of psychological distress among Brazilian children and adolescents—and they suggest that this pattern of causation holds global significance.

The authors of the study seek to identify the antecedents of poor mental health by parsing cross-sectional data collected from 1,112 Brazilian children, ages 7 to 14. In their multivariate analysis, “living in a nontraditional family” emerges as a strong statistical predictor of both “overall psychopathology” and of the “specific psychopathology” evident in behavioral problems. When the researchers then compared the mental health problems showing up in single-parent households with those appearing in stepfamilies, they found “no evidence that different types of nontraditional families differed in their association with child mental health.”

Though the data for this study comes from Brazil, the researchers view their findings as “broadly in line with previous findings elsewhere.” In particular, the researchers stress that “the importance of living in a nontraditional family as a risk factor for poor child mental health, and its particular association with behavioral problems, replicates the findings from” the British-Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys of 1999 and 2004.

When family disintegration threatens the mental health of children in São Paulo and Surrey, in Rio de Janeiro and Renfew, surely children in Seattle and Richmond have reason to worry as well.

(Anna Goodman et al., “Child, Family, School and Community Risk Factors for Poor Mental Health in Brazilian Schoolchildren,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 46 [2007]: 448–56.)

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