Coping with family conflict and economic strain: The adolescent perspective

Martha E. Wadsworth, Bruce E. Compas

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283 Scopus citations


This study tested two models of family economic problems and adolescent psychological adjustment. Using adolescents' survey data and information regarding school lunch program enrollment, the associations among family SES, perceived economic strain, family conflict, and coping responses were examined in a sample of 364 adolescents from rural New England. Two theoretical models were tested using structural equation modeling-one tested coping as a mediator of the stress-psychopathology relation and the other tested coping as a moderator. Results revealed that family economic hardship was related to aggression and anxiety/depression primarily through two proximal stressors: perceived economic strain and conflict among family members. Family conflict partially mediated the relation between economic strain and adolescent adjustment, and coping further mediated the relation between family conflict and adjustment. These analyses identified two types of coping that were associated with fewer anxiety/depression and aggression problems in the face of these stressors - primary and secondary control coping. Although primary and secondary control coping were associated with fewer adjustment problems, youth who were experiencing higher amounts of stress tended to use less of these potentially helpful coping strategies and used more of the potentially detrimental disengagement coping. The models did not differ according to the age or gender of the adolescents, nor whether they lived with two parents or fewer. No support was found for coping as a moderator of stress. Implications of these findings and suggestions for future research involving coping with economic stressors are reviewed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-274
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Research on Adolescence
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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