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Individualism, Collectivism and Ethnic Identity: Cultural Assumptions in Accounting for Caregiving Behaviour in Britain

Abstract

Britain is experiencing the ageing of a large number of minority ethnic groups for the first time in its history, due to the post-war migration of people from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent. Stereotypes about a high level of provision of informal caregiving among minority ethnic groups are common in Britain, as in the US, despite quantitative studies refuting this assumption. This paper reports on a qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with older people from five different ethnic groups about their conceptualisation of their ethnic identity, and their attributions of motivations of caregiving within their own ethnic group and in other groups. It is argued that ethnic identity becomes salient after migration and becoming a part of an ethnic minority group in the new country. Therefore, White British people who have never migrated do not have a great sense of ethnic identity. Further, a strong sense of ethnic identity is linked with identifying with the collective rather than the individual, which explains why the White British participants gave an individualist account of their motivations for informal care, whereas the minority ethnic participants gave a collectivist account of their motivations of care. Crucially, members of all ethnic groups were providing or receiving informal care, so it was the attribution and not the behaviour which differed.

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Acknowledgements

Thank you to the 19 participants who kindly gave their time to be interviewed for this study. The author would like to gratefully acknowledge the funding of the King’s College London Graduate School, the British Federation for Women Graduates and the Gilchrist Educational Trust. The author also thanks Dr Karen Glaser and Dr Debora Price at King’s College London for supervising the doctoral work this paper is based on.

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Correspondence to Rosalind Willis.

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Willis, R. Individualism, Collectivism and Ethnic Identity: Cultural Assumptions in Accounting for Caregiving Behaviour in Britain. J Cross Cult Gerontol 27, 201–216 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10823-012-9175-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10823-012-9175-0

Keywords

  • Collectivism
  • Culture
  • Ethnic identity
  • Ethnicity
  • Individualism
  • Informal care