Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

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Exploring the Relationship between Linguistic Acculturation and Self-Esteem?

Rose Perez, MA, University of Chicago.

Purpose: According to the National Research Council's Institute of Medicine, adolescents living in the US for longer periods of time (more acculturated) exhibit behaviors that are riskier and less healthy than those of their non-immigrant peer. This analysis examines how the effect of linguistic acculturation, defined by race/ethnicity, first language learned, and second language learned, on self-esteem varies by context, controlling for the type of activity participants were engaged in at the time they were surveyed. Contexts include times when in school/work, with parents, with friends, alone, or elsewhere.

Methods: Data are obtained from the 1993 Sloan Study of Youth and Social Development. The method employed is the Experience Sampling Method (Csikszentmihalyi and Schneider 2000) which is rich in data and allows for a rather unique type of ecologically-sound analysis. With this method adolescent participants respond to the same questionnaire up to eight times a day during the course of one week for a total of 23,721 complete cases across 872 individuals in the contexts that they normally function in, as opposed to on recall as most surveys do. Self-esteem consists of the average of “living up to the expectations of others,” “living up to your own expectations,” “feeling good about self,” “succeeding at present activity,” and “feeling in control”. Data are analyzed using a Fixed Effects model to control for unobserved individual characteristics such as personality differences. Selection bias is also attenuated by virtue of the model's ability to have each person's base response serve as a control against which his other responses are compared.

Results: Differences in self-esteem are shown to vary by the context in which youth spend time and the activities they engage in. However, findings regarding the relationship between acculturation and self-esteem are less conclusive, with the exception of participants who report to speak multiple languages at birth and during adolescence. Relatively higher self-esteem when in the context of family, school/work, alone, or elsewhere were found among participants who learned multiple languages at birth and who continued to speak multiple languages in adolescence as compared to times when with friends.

Implications for practice: Findings point to the importance controlling for context and type of activity one is engaged in when studying self-esteem and more importantly of the importance of encouraging young people to learn and / or retain multiple languages. It is recommended that educational institutions encourage native language retention and the acquisition of secondary languages. Suggestions for social and educational interventions are made. Implications for social work research using Experience Sampling Method data and analysis using fixed effects models are also discussed. The benefits of using a Fixed Effects model in lieu of ordinary least squares regression model are discussed.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. and B. Schneider, Eds. (2000). Becoming adult. New York, Basic Books.