Depressed Latinas who have poor self-images and grew up in abusive households are more likely to choose misogynist men to father their children, according to a USC study in the current issue of Journal of Counseling Psychology.
However, the more cultural pride a Latina has, the more likely she will land in a healthy relationship.
Taking a sample of nearly 500 pregnant teen-agers in Los Angeles County, the researchers found that childhood conditions and personality characteristics greatly influenced how Latinas picked their boyfriends and husbands, said Rod Goodyear, a professor of counseling psychology in the USC Rossier School of Education.
Goodyear found that depressed Latinas with poor self-images are more likely to wind up with abusive mates. Importantly, though, cultural pride seemed to mitigate the effects of childhood neglect and depression.
“We discovered an almost perfect link between levels of the young women’s depressive symptoms and their selection of partners who demonstrated misogynist attitudes toward women,” Goodyear said, who chairs the school’s division of counseling psychology.
“Depressed Latinas select men whose behavior will confirm and help maintain their depression and bad feelings about themselves,” said Goodyear.
In addition, Latinas raised in emotionally or physically abusive households are more likely to gravitate toward drugs and choose men who use drugs, Goodyear said.
“We found that the more parental abuse a Latina experienced growing up, the more likely she turned to turn to drugs and to abusive guys, who may also use drugs,” Goodyear said.
Goodyear used two mate-selection models in his study. The first was a similarity model – the “birds of a feather” notion that we are drawn to people who are like us in important ways. For example, a young woman’s participation in antisocial behaviors, such as thefts, confrontational acts and property destruction predicted their involvement with young men who did the same, Goodyear said.
The other model was the “self-verification” model – people choose friends and mates who will confirm views they have of themselves. This model was consistent with Goodyear’s main finding that the lower her self-esteem, the greater the likelihood that the young woman would partner with an abusive person.
“This is the first study to look at the psychological and developmental aspects of how Latina teens selected their mates and what that says about their self-image,” Goodyear said.
“Up until now most research on Latina pregnancy has focused on statistical issues – how often pregnancies occur and the social impact of teen pregnancies, such as dropping out of school and having fewer career opportunities,” Goodyear said. ” Examining the many reasons why women choose their mates is an important first step in helping us find ways to reduce the teen pregnancy rate within this group.”
Pregnant Latina teens who were either depressed or engaged in destructive activity were drawn to boyfriends and husbands with personality problems ranging from abusive to controlling.
Pregnant girls in abusive relationships reported that their partners called them names, swore at them, accused them of having sex with another man, made money decisions without consulting them and monitored their time and whereabouts. Some said their partner interfered in their relationships with other family members.
Some of the Latinas said their partners pressured them to have sex.
“Given our findings, it is not unreasonable to speculate that depressed young women are especially likely to partner with a man who may force sexual behaviors. Given the context of this study – teen-age pregnancies – this is especially disturbing,” Goodyear said.
The girls who participated in the study were pregnant or had been pregnant in the previous three months. They had a mean age of 16.8 years. Their partners’ mean age was 19.9. Seventeen percent were married to their mates, and 53 percent planned to marry their mate.
While teen pregnancy is decreasing among most ethnic groups, it remains high among Latinas.
Helping teens to develop cultural pride may be key to reducing teen pregnancy, said Goodyear. Latinas in the healthiest relationships were raised in nurturing households and had a strong ethnic identity.
“The more cultural pride the girls had, the less psychological suffering they had,” he said. “An appreciation for their cultural heritage seemed to help protect them from bad relationships.”
Identifying at-risk-depressed girls in high school before they become pregnant is also key, Goodyear said.
“We should also be teaching relationship negotiation skills,” Goodyear said. “On some level, abusive guys are attractive to them. We need to find out why and help them find out why.”