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Experiences of Racism, Racial/Ethnic Attitudes, Motivated Fairness and Mental Health Outcomes Among Primary and Secondary School Students

Abstract

While studies investigating the health effects of racial discrimination for children and youth have examined a range of effect modifiers, to date, relationships between experiences of racial discrimination, student attitudes, and health outcomes remain unexplored. This study uniquely demonstrates the moderating effects of vicarious racism and motivated fairness on the association between direct experiences of racism and mental health outcomes, specifically depressive symptoms and loneliness, among primary and secondary school students. Across seven schools, 263 students (54.4 % female), ranging from 8 to 17 years old (M = 11.2, SD = 2.2) reported attitudes about other racial/ethnic groups and experiences of racism. Students from minority ethnic groups (determined by country of birth) reported higher levels of loneliness and more racist experiences relative to the majority group students. Students from the majority racial/ethnic group reported higher levels of loneliness and depressive symptoms if they had more friends from different racial/ethnic groups, whereas the number of friends from different groups had no effect on minority students’ loneliness or depressive symptoms. Direct experiences of racism were robustly related to higher loneliness and depressive symptoms in multivariate regression models. However, the association with depressive symptoms was reduced to marginal significance when students reported low motivated fairness. Elaborating on the negative health effects of racism in primary and secondary school students provides an impetus for future research and the development of appropriate interventions.

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Acknowledgments

The LEAD program is funded by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) through its Diverse Australia program and beyondblue, Australia’s peak body for mental health issues. The current research was carried out as part of the LEAD program. The authors are part of the LEAD evaluation team. Naomi Priest was supported by an NHRMC post-doctoral fellowship and by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.

Author contributions

NP conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination of data collection, assisted with statistical analysis and drafted the manuscript; RP participated in the design, performed the statistical analysis and helped draft the manuscript; AF participated in the design and data collection coordination; YP participated in conceiving the study and its design and advised on statistical analysis; MK participated in conceiving the study and its design and advised on statistical analysis. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Naomi Priest.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 5.

Table 5 Item content and factor loadings (from the polychoric correlation matrix) for student attitudes and experiences using maximum likelihood factor analysis with oblique (geomin) rotation

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Priest, N., Perry, R., Ferdinand, A. et al. Experiences of Racism, Racial/Ethnic Attitudes, Motivated Fairness and Mental Health Outcomes Among Primary and Secondary School Students. J Youth Adolescence 43, 1672–1687 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0140-9

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Keywords

  • Racism
  • Racial/ethnic attitudes
  • Motivated fairness
  • Mental health
  • Children
  • School