Differences in attachment security between African-American and white children: Ethnicity or socio-economic status?

Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg*, Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, Pieter M. Kroonenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The NICHD Early Childcare Research Network data set was used to examine differences in attachment security between African-American children (n = 142) and white children (n = 1002). African-American children's mean score on the Attachment Q-sort (AQS) [Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 60 (1995) 234] was substantially lower (.20) than that of white children's (.30). The pattern of covariation between attachment security and predictor variables was similar in the African-American and white subgroups. In both groups, maternal sensitivity was the strongest predictor of attachment security. A mediational model explaining the difference in attachment security included income and sensitivity: African-American ethnicity was related to low income which through (in-)sensitivity affected the quality of the infant-mother attachment relationship (family stress model). Our findings on African-American mother-infant dyads support one of the basic tenets of attachment theory: the association between maternal sensitivity and attachment security. Children of African-American and white families in the USA may be exposed to culturally specific experiences, but these do not alter the relation between attachment security and pertinent predictor variables. Poverty may, however, seriously hamper maternal sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-433
Number of pages17
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • African-American
  • Attachment
  • Attachment Q-sort
  • Cross-cultural
  • Ethnicity
  • Socio-economic status


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