This paper is a critical review of the journal The emergence of a social problem: Single-parent families in U.S. popular magazines and social science journals, 1900 – 1998 that was authored by Margaret Usdansky. The sponsor of the research was partly supported by the National Science Foundation grant.
The study was based on five hypotheses. The first hypothesis talks of newsworthy contemporary issues being inversely proportional to the quantity of discourse regarding single parent families (Usdansky, 2008). The second hypothesis touches on the nonexistent relationship between social science journal discourse and contemporary issues that are newsworthy. The third hypothesis talks of an early increase in single-parent families particularly for social science journals as opposed to magazines. The fourth hypothesis talks of a positive relationship between the increased prevalence of single parent formation and the single-parent family discourse (Usdansky, 2008). Lastly, the fifth hypothesis talks of an increase of single-parent family discourse particularly in magazines after the 1960s but will later on decline in social science discourse (Usdansky, 2008).
The results obtained supported hypotheses 1. It was found that social problems were constantly competing for attention in the magazine discourse. For example, the quantity of discourse concerning unemployment was inversely associated with the discourse concerning single-parent families. A 2% decrease in magazine discourse corresponded to a 1% rise in rates of unemployment (Usdansky, 2008). Hypothesis 2 was also supported by the fact that the coefficient for relative military size and the coefficient for unemployment was not significant hence showing that there was no relationship between them and the amount of discourse. The third hypothesis was proven to be true by data that showed that the high number of children found in single-parent families coincided with an increase in the Journal discourse of social sciences particularly after 1920. In addition both hypothesis 4 and 5 were proven to be true.
The study did not involve the use of participants but rather the discourse concerning single-parent families in magazines (N=3050) that were indexed by the Readers Guide and social science journals (N=1376) that were indexed by JSTOR from 1900 through 1998 (Usdansky, 2008). There was no experimental group neither was there a control group.
The research was a correlational study as it analyzed the relationship between the discourse concerning single parent family formation and other social problems. Analyzing how the rise in one corresponded to the rise or drop off the other in social science journals and magazine.
It can be said that the age ranges in the study were approximately 98 years as it involved the analysis of journals and magazines from 1900 t0 1998. This allowed for the study of a large number of magazines and journals hence making the results statistically significant. Gender did not play any role in the in the study results as the study involved the analysis of certain discourse in magazines and journals.
The measurements involved the use of keyword searches and subject headings so as to tentatively analyze the articles and journals regarding single-parent families. A textual analysis was then done on the representative samples of social science journals and magazines. This was used to determine irrelevant articles within the samples which in turn allowed for the making of necessary adjustments. By creating two sets of data the researcher was able to tentatively analyze discourse pertaining single-parent families with ease. These two data sets included magazine data and social science journal data. The dependent variable was the single parent family discourse while the independent variables were social problem discourse that had the potential to compete with the single parent family discourse and they included unemployment, presidential elections, and the size of the number of military personnel in active duty in comparison to the total population of the United States.
These issues were measured using unemployment rates, the number of people active in the military per 1000 Americans and presidential election year. There was the use of a dichotomous coded variable when it came to the presidential election year, which was coded 1 for every year when the election was held (Usdansky, 2008). According to the results, the three independent variables had no influence on the single-parenting discourse which was the dependent variable. The coefficient for a presidential election year, size of the military and unemployment were all found to be insignificant, showing that they had no relation to the amount of discourse pertaining to single-parenthood.
Two limitations were identified by the author. First, the data collected did not factor in the two separate discourses that of a single-parent families including nonmarital childbearing and those that are formed by marital dissolution. The separate analysis would have led to different results since the discourse in both trends is not identical, and social scientists have different views concerning the two. Second, the data collected covers only two significant domains for public discourse namely social science journals and magazines. The article does not speak about discourse in other domains such as newspapers, congressional debates and scholarly monographs, which may have presented different views concerning single-parent families.
I think that the limitation of the study is that it did not incorporate discourse from other social problems. It only focused on three, which I think is very low considering the magnitude of the subject matter involved. The study could be improved by incorporating other social problems particularly those touching on changes in culture and new trends such as same-sex marriages as these garner attention and to some extent directly affect the subject matter. I do not think there are confounding variables that may have impacted on the research.
The results of this study contribute significantly to the pull of literature in the field of psychology. It establishes previously unknown trends in single-parent families. It provides the basis for further research regarding this matter so that the causes, as well as the effects of this kind of parenting, are identified based on psychological literature.
Usdansky, M. L. (2008). The emergence of a social problem: Single-parent families in U.S. popular magazines and social science journals, 1900-1998. Sociological Inquiry, 78(1), 74–96.