Single Black Mothers' Role Strain and Adaptation across the Life Course

Ruby Mendenhall, Phillip J. Bowman, Libin Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines how Black single mothers maintain resiliency, despite having family provider role strain (e. g., low income, joblessness, and underemployment). Guided by a strengths-based role strain and adaptation approach that addresses how ethnic-specific strengths facilitate resiliency across the life course, we extend Bowman and Sanders (Journal of Comparative Family Studies 29:39-56, 1998) work on Black unmarried fathers. We focus on the role of strong religious beliefs and extended family closeness in protecting psychological functioning, despite having family provider role difficulties. Multivariate analyses were conducted on a sub-sample of 617 single Black mothers using the National Survey of Black Americans, a national probability sample survey which includes data from 2,107 face-to-face interviews. The early postindustrial era of the late 1970s and 1980s created critical and unprecedented provider role challenges because both Black men and women faced the highest levels of joblessness and economic marginality since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As hypothesized, strong religious beliefs and extended family closeness operated as significant protective factors promoting more resilient outcomes-a sense of personal efficacy, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. These theory-driven findings can also guide future policy-relevant research on more complex provider role strain-adaptation processes among Black mothers facing chronic poverty during the 2007 Great Recession and beyond.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-98
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of African American Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Black mothers
  • Life course
  • Resiliency
  • Role strain and adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


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