Largest-ever international study finds immigrant youth benefit from ties to
Ethnic identity acts as 'buffer' against discrimination
Kingston, Ont. -- Immigrant youth are better able to handle discrimination,
have fewer emotional problems, and get along better in school and in the
community when they remain strongly attached to their own ethnic culture
rather than try to melt into a national culture, a Queen's University-based
international psychological study has found. They do even better when they
have a double attachment to both the national society and to their heritage
Encompassing more than 5,000 interviews with immigrant youth in 13
countries, the study is the world's most exhaustive examination of how the
children of first-generation immigrants adapt in a new culture. Immigrant
Youth In Cultural Transition: Acculturation, Identity and Adaptation Across
National Contexts, will be published early next year by Lawrence Erlbaum
Amongst its comprehensive findings, the study concludes that a strong ethnic
identity may have a "buffering effect" against discrimination – "Adolescents
who are confident in their own ethnicity and proud of their ethnic group may
be better able to deal constructively with discrimination, for example, by
regarding it as the problem of the perpetrator or by taking proactive steps
to combat it."
An unexpected finding is that immigrant youth who try to blend in actually
have more problems.
"The big surprise here is that youth don't do as well either psychologically
or socially if they try to assimilate," says Dr. John Berry.
The Queen's psychology professor emeritus is the lead author of the 10-year
study which looks at the psychological, social and academic success of
participants while considering a plethora of variables including: perceived
discrimination, length of residence, religion, gender, age, language
proficiency, neighbourhood composition, actual diversity in the country of
settlement, and diversity policy in that country.
The result is the broadest view to date of how immigrant youth adapt to and
succeed in the home countries chosen by their parents. The study also
Immigrant youth are as well adapted as the resident youth of each country.
The largest group of immigrant youth eventually adapt by becoming
bi-cultural, rather than assimilated – 36 per cent of immigrant youth were
comfortable and involved in both their ethnic and national cultures.
23 per cent are primarily oriented toward their ethnic culture. While
adolescents with this profile adapt well psychologically, they view
themselves as separate from the national culture and are less involved in
the larger society.
Participants who try to assimilate have poorer self-esteem, do not do as
well in school and exhibit more anti-social behaviour than those who
integrate. Nineteen per cent of the youth fit this profile, indicating that
immigrant adolescents generally reject total assimilation as a strategy for
Immigrant youth fare better in countries that have a strategy of promoting
diversity than they do in countries that do not specifically support
The study urges governments to abandon public policies that stress
assimilation and adopt those which actively promote diversity and an
acceptance of ethnic cultures.
"Countries can help their new immigrants adapt by actively supporting
diversity in health care, broadcasting, education – in all facets of
society," says Dr. Berry who notes that Canada is a world leader in
Participants came from the three kinds of countries that receive immigrants:
settler countries (Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and the U.S.),
formerly colonizing countries (France, Germany, Netherlands and the U.K.),
and countries that have more recently been receiving immigrants (Norway,
Sweden, Finland and Portugal).
David D. Preiss Ph.D.
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
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