The Philadelphia Inner-City Project

Description of the Study and Data Collection

This study currently has two waves of data: one in 1991, and one in 2001. Interview data in Wave I were collected on 487 families — mother, adolescent (ages 11-14 in 1991), and a near older sibling). Over half of the sample is made up of African-American families. The neighborhoods of these families (65 census tracts) vary on level of poverty from 10 to over 40 percent. Measures of adolescent behavior tapped academic competence or success, emotional health, activity involvement, and problem behavior. Parent behavior in the household was indexed by effective discipline, autonomy support, positive family climate, and shared activity. Four measures assessed parent behavior outside the family: the parent’s social and institutional ties; the placement of children in private schools; restrictiveness (such as confining children to the household after school); and preventive (warnings about dangers, etc.) and promotive strategies outside the household, such as facilitating activities in community organizations.

Research Program

Within the framework of the Philadelphia project, Elder collaborated with Jacque Eccles and Monika Ardelt (1995) on sources of effective and maladaptive parenting in high-risk neighborhoods. This research began well before the project had completed its measurements and thus focused on a delimited aspect of parent behavior — specifically, a sense of parental efficacy in managing risk and opportunities and its relation to family management strategies, both in and out of the household.

The first line of analysis centered on race, gender, and family structure (intact, single-parent) as sources of variation in parent behavior on efficacy and family management strategies. This work reveals different effects of family structure on parent behavior by race. From strong marriages to the single parent, the risk of ineffective parents increases significantly among white families, but not in the black sample. Single black parents are more competent as parents than their white counterparts. In addition, the analysis shows that black parents are more engaged in family management strategies and especially in relation to sons, when compared to white parents. This difference stands out in particular on out-of-household strategies.

The second line of analysis focused on the impact of economic hardship on parent behavior within high-risk neighborhoods. This type of study parallels analyses in the Iowa study. In both black and white families, economic hardship (lower income, unstable income and work) sharply increased the likelihood of parental reports of economic pressure, an outcome that led to a diminished sense of parental efficacy, thereby reducing the use of protective and developmental strategies. The adverse effect is greatest among single-parent households and largely disappears in families with a strong marital bond.


Based on the 1991 interview survey:

One of the myths about families in inner-city neighborhoods is that they are characterized by poor parenting. Sociologist Frank Furstenberg and his colleagues explore this and other misconceptions about success, parenting, and socioeconomic advantage in Managing to Make It. Based on nearly 500 interviews and qualitative case studies of families in inner-city Philadelphia, Managing to Make It reveals how parents and their teenage children managed different levels of resources and dangers in low-income neighborhoods and how families and communities contributed to the development of children. The survey results and qualitative analyses lay out in great detail the creative means parents use to manage the risks and opportunities in their communities and the strategies they develop to steer their children away from risk and toward resources that foster development and lead to success.

Challenging misconceptions about life in the inner city, Managing to Make It shows that poor parenting is not necessarily more common in disadvantaged neighborhoods and explains why neighborhood advantage is not invariably linked to success. At the same time, the study offers a wealth of information about programs, services, and policy decisions that will be indispensable to policy makers, sociologists, educators, and anyone concerned with the fate of the urban poor.


With the second wave of Philadelphia data, we will address questions that have eluded us with a cross-sectional data set. In particular, we will be able to identify adolescents who are doing better (socially, academically, psychologically) than would be expected in terms of their disadvantaged background (Crosnoe et al., 2002). Drawing upon the first wave of data on neighborhood, family, and individual attributes, we can use logistic regression models to determine factors that predict success in the black and white subsamples, in below average and above average neighborhoods, and in higher and lower income households.

This analysis will involve different ways of assessing adolescent success, from the successful avoidance of negative or antisocial behavior (such as lack of antisocial history, never pregnant, evidence of behavioral change toward more prosocial accomplishments, etc.) to various indicators of success such as academic performance, prosocial behavior and competence, psychological health.

Selected Citations

Elder, Glen H., Jr., Jacquelynne S. Eccles, Monika Ardelt, and Sarah Lord. 1995. “Inner-city Parents under Economic Pressure: Perspectives on the Strategies of Parenting.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57(August): 771-784.

Furstenberg, Frank F., Jr., Thomas D. Cook, Jacquelynne Eccles, Glen H. Elder, Jr., and Arnold Sameroff. 1999. Managing to Make It: Urban Families and Adolescent Success. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Crosnoe, Robert, Rashmita S. Mistry, and Glen H. Elder, Jr. 2002. “Economic Disadvantage, Family Dynamics, and Adolescent Enrollment in Higher Education.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 64(3:August): 690-702.