The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Demographic, Psychological, and Social Correlates of Ethnic Identity in Rural Youth

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 10:30 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Caroline Robertson, MSW, Pre-Doctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Paul R. Smokowski, PhD, Professor and Director, North Carolina Academic Center for Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Katie Cotter, MSW, Pre-Doctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background/Purpose: A central goal of adolescence is identity formation, which includes the shaping of self-concept. Ethnic identity is often a salient part of this process. A strong ethnic identity is a protective factor that is associated with positive psychological functioning, high academic achievement, and high self-esteem. Understanding the unique factors associated with rural youths’ ethnic identity is critically important because this identity might mitigate risk factors affecting this vulnerable population. In the literature, the relationship between ethnic identity and discrimination experiences is unclear and varies between races and social contexts. The literature does suggest that self-esteem, social support, religious orientation, future optimism, and school satisfaction are associated with increased ethnic identity. However, it is unclear if these associations hold true for rural youth. Using ecological theory as a guiding framework, the current study aims to test the following hypothesis: 1) Salient microsystems (i.e., religious orientation, school satisfaction) will display strong, positive links with ethnic identity; 2) Positive proximal processes (i.e., parent-child future orientation as well as friend, parent, teacher, and neighbor support) will be associated with higher ethnic identity; 3) Negative proximal processes (i.e., perceived discrimination) will be related to lower ethnic identity.

Methods: Data were obtained from the Rural Adaptation Project (RAP), one of the largest studies of rural youth to date, using the School Success Profile Plus survey. This study uses hierarchical multiple regression analysis (HMR) to investigate the demographic, psychological, and social correlates of ethnic identity in a large sample (N=3,418) of rural students in Grades six through eight. Eight blocks of independent variables were regressed onto ethnic identity yielding eight models. Each block of independent variables was chosen based on predictors of ethnic identity reported in the literature. By examining differences in adjusted R2 statistics, HMR allows assessment of the relative influence of each set of predictors.

Results: Results showed that sources of social support (i.e., friends, parents, teachers, neighbors) were important predictors of high ethnic identity. Strong religious beliefs mediated the relationship of self-esteem with ethnic identity and were associated with increased ethnic identity. High levels of school satisfaction and a positive future orientation were positively associated with ethnic identity. Contrary to hypotheses, discrimination experiences were associated with an increase in ethnic identity.

Conclusion/Implications: A strong ethnic identity was related to many positive, prosocial factors, including social support, religion, optimism, and school satisfaction. These sources of support are protective factors that can lower psychological distress, even in the face of stress. Rural environments, especially low-income communities, often have unique stressors absent from urban environments. As such, increasing adolescent ethnic identity might buffer the additional stress inherent in rural communities. As a protective factor, ethnic identity cuts across racial groups, gender, and socio-economic backgrounds. These results can be used to create interventions to bolster ethnic identity in rural youth.