Methods: Campbell Collaboration and PRISMA systematic review methods and guidelines were used to comprehensively search and select existing studies of transracial adoptees. Eighteen databases and grey literature were searched between February and August 2018. For qualitative studies, study findings were entered into NVivo software and analyzed using thematic synthesis techniques. For quantitative studies, ethnic identity scores, as measured by the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM), were extracted from included studies. Meta-analytic techniques were employed to synthesize mean scores across studies. Moderator analyses examined differences in ethnic identity by participant’s gender, age at interview, and age at adoption. The Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal tools were used to assess methodological quality of included studies (Lockwood, Munn, & Porritt, 2015; Moola et al., 2017).
Results: A total of 63 studies met inclusion criteria: 46 qualitative and 17 quantitative studies. Meta-analysis of quantitative studies found mean ethnic identity scores, as measured by the MEIM, to be 2.96 (95% CI=2.90-3.01). None of the moderator variables were found to be significant. Ethnic identity had a small, positive correlation with positive affect (r = 0.17). From qualitative studies, the following main themes emerged: (1) ethnic socialization and ethnic identity development are shaped by parents, experiences with other adoptees, and travel to birth countries; (2) ethnic identity is intertwined with both adoptee identity and experiences of racism, discrimination, and microaggressions; (3) life events serve as catalysts for transformation (i.e. becoming a parent); and (4) sense of belonging impacts both adoptive and ethnic identity.
Implications: Study findings contribute to the understanding of ethnic identity development over the life course for transracial adoptees. Adult transracial adoptees’ mean ethnic identity scores were similar to previous research utilizing general populations (Phinney,1992; Ponterotto et al., 2003; Choi et al., 2017), suggesting that by adulthood, transracial adoptees catch-up to non-adopted peers on ethnic identity achievement. Findings indicate ethnic identity is impacted by family and personal experiences and intertwined with adoptive identity, racism, and microaggressions. Future research to understand the buffering effect of ethnic identity on mental health in this population are warranted.