Mexican-origin youth are at heightened risk of experiencing worse mental health and attaining less formal education when compared to youth of most other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Youth mental health and school success, critical predictors of adolescent and adult health, also tend to decline as immigrant families reside longer in the US. Many speculate that children of immigrant parents fare less well due to parent-youth conflicts arising when youth adopt US cultural orientations more rapidly than their Mexican-born parents. It is important to identify how and why parent and youth acculturation (adjustments in behaviors and values resulting from intergroup cultural contacts) shapes youth mental health and school attainment in order to address the health needs of Mexican-origin adolescents, one of the fastest growing ethnic minority youth populations in the US.
An important limitation of extant acculturation-effects research is the use of overly simplistic markers (e.g., language use, nativity) for a complex process of adapting to life in the US. Guided by selective assimilation theory (suggesting benefits of bicultural orientations for immigrant youth adjustment), our study uniquely examines parent and youth bicultural orientations within multiple acculturation dimensions. Drawing from the work of Szapocznik and colleagues, we also consider that parent-youth conflicts may arise when children acquire more US cultural orientations than their parents. These conflicts, in turn, are expected to affect youth depressive symptoms, self-esteem, and school attainment adversely. Our study aims are to: 1) Assess effects of youth acculturation on adolescent mental health and school attainment; and 2) Explain how and why acculturation affects adolescent health by examining the intervening role of parent-youth conflict.
We address aims using prospective data from the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study, which includes a representative sample of 749 8th and 9th graders who spent most of all of their lives living in the US and have at least one Mexican-born parent. Youth were interviewed in 1992 (T1; mean age 14); 1995 (T2; mean age 17; 82% response rate); and 2002 (T3; mean age 24; 84% response rate). At T2, investigators selected and interviewed parents using a probability sample of 50% of students (the restricted sample was used due to the complex nature of locating and interviewing non-English speakers). Acculturation measures were based on youth and parent report and tap into the three critical dimensions of acculturation - language, behaviors, and values/beliefs. Youth and parents also reported on parent-youth conflict. Adolescent depressive symptoms and self-esteem were assessed by T1 and T2 youth surveys, and educational attainment was reported by youth at T3.
We compare and contrast two different measurement approaches to assess acculturation effects. In one approach, we examine independent acculturation dimensions measured as latent constructs using structural equation modeling (SEM) techniques. Dimensions may include English and Spanish language use; an emphasis on interdependence; and having a high proportion of Mexican-origin friends. In another, we examine acculturation typologies determined through Latent Profile Analysis. Typologies classify individuals into groups and may include "integrated" (oriented to US and Mexican culture),"assimilated" (US orientation), and "separated" (Mexican orientation) groups. When compared to classical approaches (e.g., ANOVA, regression), SEM techniques have the advantage of accounting for measurement error in independent variables. Subsequent to examining measurement models for each construct, we will use structural models to test hypotheses about direct and indirect paths from acculturation to parent-youth conflict to adolescent outcomes (in addition to interactions between parent and youth acculturation).
Modeling development for Mexican-origin children of immigrants over three time points in adolescence and young adulthood will advance knowledge about acculturation effects on critical indicators of health. As noted by Yasui and Dishion, knowledge of cultural and ethnic influences on developmental processes are needed to inform "intervention practices that are sensitive and effective for ethnically diverse children and families." In this way, the proposed study addresses MCHB Strategic Plan Research Issues #2 and #4, including foci on health disparities and the healthy development of MCH populations. Specifically, the results from this study may provide insight into cultural, linguistic, gender, and developmental barriers to the health of early adolescents for a population of mostly underserved, low-income, urban Mexican American families.
Listed is descending order by year published.
Roche KM, Ghazarian SR, Fernandez-Esquer ME. Unpacking acculturation: cultural orientations and educational attainment among Mexican-origin youth. J Youth Adolesc. 2012 Jul;41(7):920-31.
Acculturation, Depression, Mental Health & Wellbeing, School Outcomes & Services, Parent-Child Relationship, Parenting, Immigrant Populations, Cultural Competence