The emergence of a social problem: Single-parent families in U.S. popular magazines and social science journals, 1900-1998

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Abstract

Abundant research investigates the content of public discourse about social problems. Far less is known about the quantity of social problems discourse. This article employs original data to address this gap by examining the emergence of single-parent families as a social problem within U.S. popular magazines and social science journals. I trace the growth of discourse about single-parent families in magazines indexed by the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (N = 3050) and social science journals indexed by JSTOR (N = 1376) between 1900 and 1998 and explore factors associated with this growth. The results indicate that contemporary issues functioned as rival social problems and depressed single-parent family discourse within magazines but not within journals. Increases in the prevalence of single-parent families were associated with increases in related discourse in both arenas, but discourse increased earlier in journals. Growing popular concern about single-parent family formation in the 1960s was associated with a reduction in the quantity of single-parent family discourse within journals but not within magazines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-96
Number of pages23
JournalSociological Inquiry
Volume78
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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