Children from a single race family easily identify themselves as members of their parent's race, but that identification is more problematic for mixed race children. Jennifer Bratter is a sociology professor at the University of Houston and Holly Heard holds a similar position at Rice University. Bratter studies multi-racial families and she says Heard is interested in father involvement in families.
"We were starting to think about how might father involvement, which is related to several outcomes of social well being, how might it be related to this process of identity formation."
Bratter says one thing that marks an inter-racial family, especially one with children, is the development of a multi-racial identity.
"And that identity could come in many forms, either adopting a single race label, or a label that embraces several races, or a label that throws off race altogether and is not, sort of specific to any particular race or ethnic origin."
Bratter and Heard analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health done in 1995. Within that study is information on 886 mixed race families. Bratter says no one had looked at how parental involvement, and more specifically father involvement, played a role in fostering an adolescent's racial identity. Bratter says there are two interesting findings.
"There seems to be evidence that for children who are living in multi ethnic circumstances with an African American father, that they're very likely to, sort of, adopt that label themselves relative to children in multi ethnic circumstances with other races of parents."
Secondly when the data was analyzed for father-child activity it found that the more interaction the greater likelihood that the child will identify with his father's race or included it if the child identifies as multi-racial. Bratter says the study adds another piece to the puzzle of how fathers affect families, how racial demographics increase or decline, and she says it comes to play in how children from multi ethnic backgrounds receive counseling.
"Understanding the relationships with their parents is an important issue generally, but certainly for the multi racial child is a particularly important component to this in understanding the nuance of their identity and how this identity becomes formed."
Next for Bratter and Heard is a similar study centering on mothers and a comparison of the influence of both parents.