Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)

Marina Room (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)

Gender, Gender Identity, and Risk Behaviors of Youth from Mexican Immigrant Families

Stephen S. Kulis, PhD, Arizona State University, Ashley Crossman, Arizona State University, and Tanya Nieri, MA, Arizona State University.

Gender identity—the fundamental sense of being masculine or feminine—has been connected to a variety of problem behaviors among U.S. youth, including substance use, violence, risky sex, and mental health difficulties.

This study examines these connections in a sample of adolescents (14-18 years old) from families who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. Gender identity is conceived through the lens of machismo and marianismo in Mexican culture. These cultural constructs represent both desirable and undesirable personal orientations, e.g.: honor, protectiveness, and integrity (positive masculinity); aggressiveness and domination (negative masculinity); nurturance and empathy (positive femininity); and submissiveness and dependency (negative femininity). We analyze how well measures of gender identity predict substance use, other risk behaviors, and mental health outcomes; whether gender identity relates to these outcomes in the same way for females and males; and whether the role of gender identity in these outcomes varies by acculturation. Data are drawn from in-home interviews conducted in 2005 with 147 adolescents (44% Mexican born and 56% U.S. born) who were living with at least one of Mexican-born parent in a large city of the southwest U.S.

Correlational and regression analyses showed that a scale measuring negative masculinity predicted undesirable outcomes on nearly all the substance use and other risk behaviors that were examined. Positive femininity predicted more desirable outcomes and negative femininity predicted less desirable outcomes on mental health subscales from the Child Behavior Checklist (CBC), but not the substance use and other risk behaviors. Positive masculinity was less clearly related to the outcomes. Tests for gender interaction effects showed that the undesirable effects of negative masculinity were stronger for females than for males, and that the beneficial effects of positive femininity were stronger for males than for females, findings that challenge gender stereotypes about youth in general and about Mexican heritage youth in particular.