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

Ethnic Identity and Psychological Adjustment Comparisons in Biracial Asian-White, Monoracial Asian, and Monoracial White Students

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Andrew Subica, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Southern California, Waco, TX
Purpose: This study partially addresses the substantial literature deficit regarding ethnic identity and psychological adjustment in biracial Asian-White persons. Ethnic identification, self-esteem, trait anxiety, and depression differences among biracial Asian-White, Asian, and White persons were examined in this study. Contrasting theories positing predictive relationships between ethnic identification and adjustment were also tested within the biracial Asian-White sample. The first theory, based on prior research with biracial Black-Whites, speculated that Asian and White identification would influence biracial Asian-White psychological adjustment. An alternative theory, based on evidence of high ethnic identity fluidity in biracial Asian-Whites, postulated that Asian and White identification would not influence adjustment. This study sought to determine which theory best described the interaction between biracial Asian-White ethnic identity and adjustment.

Methods: The sample consisted of 326 college students (μ=21.56±5.42 years; 42% men, 58% women) from Hawai‘i. Participants were of biracial Asian-White (23%), Asian (53%) and White (24%) heritage. Self-report measures quantified levels of Asian and White identification, self-esteem, trait anxiety, and depression. Diverging from the standard forced-choice approach to studying biracial identity (i.e., participants categorize themselves as high Asian-high White affiliated, high Asian-low White affiliated, etc.), biracial participants were asked to rate their level of affiliation to both Asian and White culture on two identity measures: Personal Dimensions of Difference scale (PDD) and Multiethnic Identity Measure (MEIM). This permitted the author to conduct the first dimensional analyses of biracial identity. Racial group differences were analyzed via analysis of variance tests and Bonferroni post-hoc corrections. Pearson’s correlations examined study variable relationships and linear regressions evaluated moderating effects of White identity on Asian identity-adjustment relationships within the biracial sample.

Results: Post-hoc comparisons indicated that biracial participants reported significantly lower levels of Asian identification than Asian participants (d=0.42, p<0.006) and lower White identification than White participants (d=0.45, p<0.006). Biracial participants reported equivalent self-esteem, trait anxiety, and depression as monoracial participants. Among biracial participants, no associations were found between White and Asian identification with self-esteem, trait anxiety, or depression. Regressions using both PDD and MEIM data revealed that White identity did not moderate Asian identity’s relationships with self-esteem, trait anxiety, and depression.

Discussion: The current study extends our knowledge of biracial Asian-White ethnic identity and adjustment, indicating that biracial Asian-Whites in Hawai‘i possess comparable levels of self-esteem, anxiety, and depression as their monoracial peers. By quantifying Asian and White identity separately, it was revealed that biracial participants felt lower affiliation with their component races than their monoracial counterparts; a previously unreported and surprising finding potentially influenced by the multicultural setting of the study. Refuting extant findings in the biracial literature that ethnic identification influences psychological adjustment, the absence of Asian and White identity interaction effects in relation to biracial Asian-White self-esteem, trait anxiety, and depression suggests that identification with or rejection of Asian and White culture has negligible impact on the adjustment of biracial Asian-White persons. Thus, social workers may wish to reconsider addressing issues relating to ethnic identification when counseling biracial Asian-White clients presenting with comorbid self-esteem, anxiety, and/or depression concerns.