American Sociological Association

Caring for Them Like Family: How Structure and Culture Simultaneously Influence Contemporary African American Middle- and Upper-Middle-Class Mothers Kin and Community Child Care Choices

Scholars examining kin and community care have often sought to identify the relative importance of structural and cultural factors on the use and availability of these networks, but research has yielded unclear results in the case of child care. Cultural theories focus on how values, beliefs, and practices lead to differences in kin and community care; structural theories focus on how educational attainment, income, inherited power or inequality, and family structure lead to such differences. Using interviews with 60 African American middle- and upper-middle-class mothers, the author examines their preferences for kin and community members’ assistance in caring for their children. Although participants often had the resources to hire child care providers from the market, they also had access to, and preferred, kin and community networks of care. By examining participants’ accounts of their child care choices, the author identified four factors that influenced their orientations to kin: (1) participants’ experiences growing up with kin and community networks, (2) the current availability of these networks, (3) concerns about racial bias among market-based child care providers, and (4) the cost and benefits that came from using these networks. Although using kin and community care is often associated with structural factors, these data reveal a more complicated relationship between structure and culture.


Dow, D. M.





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