Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Marina Room (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)

Acculturation and Family Adaptation: How Cultural Involvement Influences Cohesion, Adaptability, and Familism in Latino Families

Paul R. Smokowski, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Roderick A. Rose, MS, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Acculturation conflicts, especially those between parents and adolescents, are thought to precipitate stress in Latino families (Hernandez & McGoldrick, 1999; Szapocznik & Kurtines, 1980; Szapocznik, Santisteban, Kurtines, Perez-Vidal, & Hervis, 1984; 1989). Normative conflicts between parents and adolescents can be exacerbated by acculturation stress, creating intercultural as well as intergenerational difficulties (Szapocznik & Williams, 2000). Children commonly become involved in the U.S. culture faster than adults, creating an “acculturation gap” between generations that is thought to foster parent-adolescent conflict. This cultural gap can result in alienation between parents and adolescents and may fuel adolescent rebellion (Szapocznik, Scopetta & King, 1978; Szapocznik & Williams, 2000). While the “acculturation gap – parent-adolescent conflict – family dysfunction” hypothesis has been discussed since the 1980's, few attempts have been made, beyond clinical reports and anecdotes, to empirically test it (Vega, et al., 1995). In this study, we examined how critical family characteristics (cohesion, adaptability, and familism) were related to culture-of-origin and U.S. cultural involvement and acculturation stressors, such as experiencing discrimination and having acculturation gaps between parents and adolescents.


We used hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to regress cohesion, adaptability and familism on a two level model with subjects (parents and adolescents) at level one and families at level two. Each model contained a set of subject demographic variables and family socioeconomic variables, and variables representing measured characteristic of each subject (culture-of-origin and U.S. cultural involvement, biculturalism, psychological acculturation, conflict behavior and discrimination). A between-families measure of acculturation gap (adolescent minus parent cultural involvement) was included. Other confounding effects related to data collection were also controlled for. The analysis included 831 subjects from 428 families; approximately 120 subjects were not used due to missing data.


Intraclass correlations, measuring the proportion of variation at the family level, were sufficiently high to warrant using HLM. The ICC for cohesion is .28, for adaptability .20, and for familism .16. Cohesion was associated with time living in U.S., Latino cultural involvement, and parent-adolescent conflict. Adaptability was associated with age, time living in U.S., Latino and non-Latino cultural involvement, psychological acculturation and parent-adolescent conflict. Familism was associated with Latino cultural involvement and parent-adolescent conflict behavior. When biculturalism replaced Latino/non-Latino cultural involvement, it was significant; psychological acculturation also became significant and model fit improved for adaptability and cohesion.

Implications for Practice

Latino families who have been in the U.S. longer report lower cohesion and adaptability. Parent-adolescent conflict also places Latino families at risk for dysfunction manifested in low levels of cohesion, adaptability, and familism. Prevention programs should be put in place to support fragile Latino families by working to decrease parent-adolescent conflict while buttressing concomitant cultural assets, such as culture-of-origin involvement and biculturalism. These findings support the further development and dissemination of bicultural family skills training approaches (Bacallao & Smokowski, 2005).