The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Acculturation and Stress Experiences Among Mexican-Heritage Adolescents and Parents Living in Poverty

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 8:30 AM
Seabreeze 1 and 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Elizabeth K. Anthony, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Jaime Booth, MSW, Doctoral Student, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Background and Purpose:

Mexican-heritage adolescents living in the U.S. Southwest represent a range of immigration and acculturation experiences.  Among this diverse group, a high percentage of adolescents report discrimination, with national estimates of approximately 50% for adolescents aged 18-24 (Perez, Fortuna, & Alegria, 2008).  Urbanism and urban poverty are specific cultural experiences (Wilson, 1990) that overlap with immigration experiences.  Some research suggests the increased risk among Mexican-heritage adolescents living in poverty for a number of mental health and academic problems may be a by-product of discrimination experiences (Coker et al., 2009).  At the same time, some Mexican-heritage adolescents living in poverty successfully navigate stressful experiences, suggesting protective factors that may stem from culturally embedded values or attitudes (Berkel et al., 2010; Gonzales, Knight, Birman, & Sirolli, 2004; Smokowski & Bacallao, 2007).  The added stress of living in an environment of overt racial discrimination and covert racial micro aggressions is not particularly well understood as it intersects with poverty-related stressors. Consequently, the current study examined the stress experiences, available resources, and level of acculturation among Mexican-heritage early adolescent and parent pairs living in public housing neighborhoods in a large urban area in the Southwest.


Risk and resilience factors were measured across individual, peer, school, family, and neighborhood levels among 162 early adolescents in grades 6-8 (Mage=12, 52% female) and parent pairs in five different urban public housing sites. Participants were recruited from local public housing authority lists and were ethnically diverse (80% Latino; 6% Black; 8% multiple ethnicities; and 6% Asian/Pacific Islander, White, Native American or other).  The early adolescent measure consisted of multiple standardized scales of risk and protective factors based on an ecological-transactional perspective.  The parent measure consisted of a standardized measure of anxiety and the level of hassles and availability of resources to raise children within the neighborhood.


OLS regression models, controlling for sibling effects, were used to examine the relationship between adult anxiety levels, adult perceptions of hassles and resources, acculturation levels, youth experiences of stress and hassles, and an overall adolescent risk and resilience index. Results of the analysis suggest a significant relationship between acculturation level and stress experiences for both adults and early adolescents. Adult perceptions of availability of resources and support for raising healthy children and adult experiences of stress and hassles were positively associated with youth indices of risk and resilience.

Conclusions and Implications:

The ability to understand the intersection between experiences of stress associated with poverty and stress associated with racial discrimination is crucial for more effectively intervening with this vulnerable adolescent population.  Such information further unpacks the complex resilient development process among many young people living in poverty.  Preventive interventions to promote resilient development among these early adolescents should take into account the often-overlooked and cumulative impact of the daily stress and hassled experiences reported by study participants.  Research investigating the impact of such stressors on Mexican-heritage families living in poverty has implications for the ongoing immigration policy discussion, particularly in the US Southwest.  These issues will be discussed.