You are here

Unequal in Opportunity, Equal in Process: Parental Sensitivity Promotes Positive Child Development in Ethnic Minority Families

While low-income, ethnic-minority families displayed less sensitivity overall to their children, positive father involvement and close mother-father relationships were especially beneficial in the case of maternal risk.

[popup title="Sample, Objective, Study Design" format= "Default hover" text='


  • N: 39 publications, 34 individual studies
  • Locations:
    • United States, 27 studies;
    • Netherlands, six studies;
    • Canada, one study
  • Search Method: Web of Science database Search conducted on January 12, 2011, using search terms: (cultur* OR ethnic* OR race OR racial OR minority OR minorities OR migrant OR immigrant OR Hispanic OR Latino OR Mexican OR African-American OR Chinese-American OR Asian OR Native American) AND (sensitiv* OR responsive* OR contingen* OR synchron* OR warmth OR ‘‘positive parenting’’ OR ‘‘maternal behavior’’) AND (parent* OR mother OR maternal OR father OR paternal) AND (child* OR toddler OR preschool* OR infant OR baby)
  • Inclusion Criteria: The sample includes at least one ethnic  minority group; the study targeted children zero to five years of age; sensitivity is measured through standardized observations: the sensitivity construct includes at least a measure of appropriate responsiveness; the article reports results on at least one of the following topics: a) comparison of sensitivity means between majority and minority groups; b) association between sensitivity and child outcomes separately for minorities.


  1. Systematic review of the literature on parental sensitivity and its outcomes in ethnic minority families to discern whether these assumptions are empirically valid

Design—Systematic literature review



  1. Ethnic minority parents display significantly lower levels of sensitivity to their young children than do majority families.
  2. The evidence points toward a central role of social and economic stress in sensitivity differences between majority and minority groups.
  3. There is clear evidence for substantial covariation between minority status and low (socioeconomic status) SES in predicting lower parental sensitivity.
  4. When controlled for SES, the link between minority status and sensitivity disappears.
  5. Paternal sensitivity is related to positive social outcomes in ethnic minorities.
  6. There is evidence that positive involvement by fathers and high mother-father relationship quality may buffer against the negative effects of maternal risk.