The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

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

An Exploratory Analysis of Acculturation, Neighborhood, and Delinquency Among Children of Southeast Asian Immigrants

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 10:00 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Christina Tam, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Purpose: Southeast Asians (SEAs) are among newer immigrant groups that settled in the United States, and they re-located in disadvantaged neighborhoods characterized by poverty. Multidisciplinary research on neighborhoods suggests that disadvantage is associated with delinquency, yet these data are inclusive of divergent immigration histories, socioeconomic statuses, and cultural associations. This makes discerning disparities difficult. On the other hand, disaggregated data indicate that SEA youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. The literature suggests there to be a relationship between delinquency and acculturation for SEA youth, but no research to date has tested the relationship between neighborhood characteristics and delinquency among SEAs. Predicated upon segmented assimilation theory, this study seeks to explore whether neighborhood characteristics are associated with delinquency among an at-risk sample of SEAs.

Method: Study participants (N=153) were recruited as part of a larger research study focused on Southeast Asian drug use. The majority of respondents were Cambodian (39.2%) and Laotian (51%). Respondents from the San Francisco Bay Area were recruited by a combination of agency referrals and network sampling and were confidentially screened for recent drug use.  Data were collected through in-person, semi-structured interviews.  The mean age was 18.63 and 58.8% of the sample was male. 

Exploratory factor analysis from estimated Census data was used to derive neighborhood constructs, concentrated disadvantage and foreign-born population. Individual-level variables included acculturation (i.e., language use), socioeconomic status (i.e., family insurance status), school dropout, age, and gender. A series of logistic regression models were estimated for arrest, gang association, and violence using individual-level variables only, neighborhood variables only, and combined individual and neighborhood variables. 

Results: In the individual-level only model, acculturation was negatively associated with gang association (OR = .47, p < .05) and males were more likely than females to become arrested (OR = 4.20, p < .001) and to perpetrate violence (OR = 2.08, p < .05). Age was negatively associated with violence perpetration (OR = .85, p < .05). Neighborhood predictors had no significant effects on outcome variables. In the combined model, males were about six times more likely than females to become arrested (p < .001) and age was inversely related to perpetrating violence (OR = .84, < .05).

Implications: These findings suggest that neighborhood characteristics are not related to delinquency in SEA youth, particularly for those that are already engaged in at-risk (e.g., drug use) behaviors. Because of the sample of at-risk participants, there may not have been enough variation to achieve discernible effects (e.g., in acculturation). These youth may be coping in their environments through their drug use, but there are protective factors in these neighborhoods that have not been captured. Though the results in this study were not as expected, they provide implications for larger scale research studies to confirm or refute findings regarding neighborhood effects for SEA groups. It is important to continue to encourage usage of disaggregated ethnic data in research and policy because different ethnic groups reflect varied cultural backgrounds and migration histories that may require culturally competent programming and interventions.