Christina Rowley has received a two-year Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for her proposal “Understanding Stress and Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities in Multiethnoracial Families.” Rowley’s award is classified as a Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research, which will enable her to receive mentored research training from outstanding faculty sponsors, enhance her understanding of health-related sciences, and develop into an independent research scientist.
The percentage of families with parents from different racial or ethnic backgrounds has risen dramatically in the U.S., and is projected to triple by 2060. These multiethnoracial (MER) couples (i.e., dyads with partners from different races and/or ethnicities) face higher levels of distress and depression, and lower marital satisfaction than those in MoER couples, possibly contributing to their increased rates of separation and divorce.
The early years of MER couple marriage may heighten stress levels as couples attempt to merge the values, behaviors, and beliefs of two unique racial or ethnic groups into one family system. Racial/ethnic cultural differences, perceived discrimination, and lower access to social supports are all factors that can contribute to stress.
Social support such as emotional (i.e., feelings of trust, care, empathy, and esteem), informational (i.e., providing information or advice), and/or instrumental support (i.e., providing financial support or other tangible resources such as housing or food) specifically provided by family members has been shown to lessen the effects of the stress of new parenthood on marital and coparenting conflict, and bring about positive adjustment to this stress.
Rowley will undertake novel research that seeks to identify unique, and potentially modifiable, sources of stress during early parenthood for MER families compared to MoER families. Additional aims include determining if social support received by couples will influence stress levels or alter sources of parenting conflict. Her research will also pinpoint unique challenges MER families face and what mechanisms they use to cope with their difficulties.
The results of this project will identify factors that influence new parents’ resilience and susceptibility to stress which will inform the development of preventive interventions that can reduce health disparities among MER couples and their children.