Gendered Pathways from Acculturation to Substance Use: A Study of Mexican-Origin Youth
Tanya Nieri, MA, Arizona State University, Flavio F. Marsiglia, PhD, Arizona State University, Stephen S. Kulis, PhD, Arizona State University, and Syed K. Hussaini, MA, Arizona State University.
Some research suggests that, for youth from immigrant families, traditional gender norms and family structures operate as especially protective factors against substance use for females. Less is known about how females and males compare as they navigate through the acculturation process. This study tested for gender differences in the impact of linguistic acculturation on substance use outcomes among Mexican heritage youth in a large metropolitan area in the Southwest U.S. We conducted secondary data analysis with baseline survey data provided by 2487 Mexican or Mexican American middle school students who were part of a larger, multiethnic randomized trial of a drug abuse prevention program. Linguistic acculturation was measured by the respondent's relative use of English versus Spanish with family and friends. A multigroup structural equation model (SEM) analysis examined the effects of acculturation on pro-drug norms, future intentions to use substances, and actual substance use. There were separate models predicting substance use intentions and recent use of specific substances. All models included pro-drug norms as mediators of the effects of linguistic acculturation. Degree of linguistic acculturation was positively related to adherence to pro-drug norms and intentions to use substances. Mediated through pro-drug norms, linguistic acculturation was also related to higher lifetime and recent alcohol use, but not to cigarette or marijuana use. While higher degrees of linguistic acculturation promoted adoption of pro-drug norms for both genders, the effects were significantly stronger for girls than for boys. Although the direct effects of linguistic acculturation on substance use intentions and alcohol use did not differ by gender, the total effectsómediated through pro-drug normsówere also stronger for girls than for boys, even controlling for age, academic performance, and socioeconomic status. The temporary sheltering effect of lesser degrees of linguistic acculturation appears to prepare girls less effectively than boys to resist drug offers once they begin using English regularly. Explanations for these findings include the possibility that girls undergo more disruptive acculturation changes than boys do as English language acquisition enables both genders to access the broader community, such as dramatically increasing girls' risk of encountering pro-drug peers and opportunities to use substances. Acculturation may also erode family communication and protective ties more for girls than for boys as the power of traditional gender norms fades, or may induce value conflicts with the culture of origin that are more difficult for girls to resolve or manage.