Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 42, Issue 9, pp 1473–1492 | Cite as

Emotional and Behavioral Problems Among Adolescent Students: The Role of Immigrant, Racial/Ethnic Congruence and Belongingness in Schools

  • Katholiki GeorgiadesEmail author
  • Michael H. Boyle
  • Kelly A. Fife
Empirical Research


As levels of immigration and ethnic diversity continue to rise in most Western societies, the social demography of schools is changing rapidly. Although schools represent a prominent developmental context, relatively little is known about the extent to which the racial/ethnic composition of schools influences mental health outcomes in students. The objective of the present study is to examine the association between immigrant and racial/ethnic congruence in school—the numerical representation of a student’s immigrant generational status and race/ethnicity in the student body—and levels of emotional and behavioral problems. This study also examines the extent to which the association between congruence and emotional-behavioral problems differs across racial/ethnic immigrant sub-groups and is accounted for by individual perceptions of school belonging. Data come from the in-school survey of the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) conducted in the United States. The sample is nationally representative, and includes 128 schools and 77,150 adolescents in grades 7–12 (50 % female, M age = 14.9 years, SD = 1.78). After controlling for school and family socio-demographic characteristics, immigrant and racial/ethnic congruence in school exhibited a negative association with emotional and behavioral problems for most sub-groups examined. School belonging was associated negatively with emotional and behavioral problems, and partially accounted for the effects linked to congruence in schools. The immigrant and racial/ethnic composition of schools and perceptions of belonging have strong links with emotional and behavioral problems and may represent important targets for intervention.


Immigrant and racial/ethnic congruence School belonging Behavioral problems Emotional problems Schools Adolescence 



This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. Katholiki Georgiades is supported by a New Investigator Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Michael H. Boyle is supported by a Canada Research Chair in the Social Determinants of Child Health. We would like to thank John Fox, Kristopher J. Preacher and Craig Enders for their helpful suggestions regarding data analyses.

KG conceived the study, conducted the statistical analyses and interpretation of results and drafted the manuscript. MB and KF contributed to the interpretation of the results and to revising the manuscript. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katholiki Georgiades
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael H. Boyle
    • 2
  • Kelly A. Fife
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Offord Centre for Child StudiesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Offord Centre for Child StudiesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Offord Centre for Child StudiesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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