Abstract: The Effect of Social Cohesion on Psychological Distress Among Low-Income Immigrant Adolescents (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

The Effect of Social Cohesion on Psychological Distress Among Low-Income Immigrant Adolescents

Friday, January 14, 2022
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Guijin Lee, PhD, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Seungjong Cho, PhD, Assistant Professor, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX
Viktor Burlaka, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Work, Wayne State University, MI

The U.S. has always been a multi-ethnic and multi-racial society. Currently, intense public and political debate about ethnic diversity, immigration, acculturation, and social cohesion has occurred (Cheong et al., 2007). Also, psychological distress is an emerging issue among immigrant adolescents (Huang et al., 2012) since they face difficulties adjusting to a new culture. Even though the prevalence of psychological distress among immigrant adolescents is significant, relatively few studies have explored the influence of social cohesion, social inclusion, and perceived neighborhood and school safety on psychological distress. Furthermore, individual’s lower income has been associated with their higher psychological distress (Mirowsky & Ross, 2003). Therefore, this study explored the effect of social cohesion on psychological distress exclusively among low-income immigrant adolescents.


The data analyzed in this study was collected as part of the 2014 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) with foreign-born immigrant adolescents aged 12-17. Study participants had a 200% lower income than the federal poverty level (N = 386). Three independent variables were included: social cohesion scale, social inclusion latent variable (e.g., cares deeply about issues in community), and perceived safety latent variable (e.g., feel safe in neighborhood). To measure the psychological distress, an outcome latent variable, the “received psychological/emotional counseling” and “needed help for emotional problem” were utilized. Adolescents’ race, health status, age, gender, parent’s marital status, and residence were used as control variables. A structural equation modeling (SEM) was conducted in Mplus to examine the relationship between social cohesion, social inclusion, perceived safety, and psychological distress.


Descriptive analysis shows about 10 to 20% of immigrant adolescents had experienced psychological distress (10.6%); needed help for emotional problem in past 12 months health (20.5%). Among the sample, 48.2% adolescents were in under 200% federal poverty level. Through the SEM analysis, the results indicate that low-income immigrant adolescents who reported higher social cohesion (B = .115, p = .007) were likely to have the lower level of psychological distress with good model fit (χ2(24) = 95.499, p < .001; RMSEA = .088 (90% CI = [0.070, 0.107]); CFI = .996; TLI = .994; Kenny et al., 2014). However, there is no significant relationship between social inclusion and perceived neighborhood and school safety on psychological distress.


Taken together, the findings suggest that intervention strategies focusing on increasing social cohesion might be useful to prevent and alleviate psychological distress among low-income immigrant adolescents. Future studies should focus on the role of various aspects of social support that may increase a sense of social cohesion, such as, academic pressure (e.g., Zadeh et al., 2008), healthy attachment patterns, family (e.g., Davidson et al., 2011) and peer relationships (e.g., Celeste et al., 2016), mental health (e.g., Kim et al., 2009), and language proficiency (Portes & Hao, 2002).