Skip to main content

Examining Multiracial Youth in Context: Ethnic Identity Development and Mental Health Outcomes

Abstract

Although multiracial individuals are the fastest growing population in the United States, research on the identity development of multiracial adolescents remains scant. This study explores the relationship between ethnic identity, its components (affirmation, exploration), and mental health outcomes (anxiety, depressive symptoms) within the contexts of schools for multiracial adolescents. The participants were multiracial and monoracial minority and majority high school students (n = 4,766; 54.6 % female). Among the participants, 88.1 % were Caucasian, 7.4 % were African American, and 4.5 % were multiracial. The research questions examined the relationship between ethnic identity exploration and affirmation on mental health outcomes and explored the role school context plays in this relationship. The findings suggested that multiracial youth experience more exploration and less affirmation than African Americans, but more than Caucasians. In addition, multiracial youth were found to have higher levels of mental health issues than their monoracial minority and majority peers. Specifically, multiracial youth had higher levels of depressive symptoms than their African American and Caucasian counterparts. Multiracial and Caucasian youth had similar levels of anxiety but these levels were significantly higher than African Americans. School diversity did not influence mental health outcomes for multiracial youth. These findings provide insight into the experiences of multiracial youth and underscore the importance of further investigating factors that contribute to their mental health outcomes.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  • Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bentler, P. M. (1989). EQS 6 structural equations program manual (pp. 86–102). Los Angeles: BMDP Statistic Software.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bracey, J. R., Bámaca, M. Y., & Umana-Taylor, A. J. (2004). Examining ethnic identity and self-esteem among biracial and monoracial adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 33(2), 123–132. doi:10.1023/B:JOYO.0000013424.93635.68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brewer, M. B. (1991). The social self: On being the same and different at the same time. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 475–482.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brittian, A. S., Umaña-Taylor, A. J., & Derlan, C. L. (2013). An examination of biracial college youths’ family ethnic socialization, ethnic identity, and adjustment: Do self-identification labels and university context matter? Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 19(2), 177–189. doi:10.1037/a0029438.

    PubMed  Article  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Brown, P. M. (1990). Biracial identity and social marginality. Child and Adolescent Social Work, 7, 319–337. doi:10.1007/BF00757029.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown, M. C. (2001). Collegiate desegregation and the public Black college: A new policy mandate. Journal of Higher Education, 72(1), 46–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, M. E., & Eggerling-Boeck, J. (2006). “What about the children?” The psychological and social well-being of multiracial adolescents. The Sociological Quarterly, 47(1), 147–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Census Bureau (2012). US Census shows multiple-race population grew faster than single race population. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/race/cb12-182.html.

  • Cheng, S., & Lively, K. J. (2009). Multiracial self-identification and adolescent outcomes: A social psychological approach to the marginal man theory. Social Forces, 88(1), 61–98.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coleman, V. H., & Carter, M. M. (2007). Biracial self-identification: Impact on trait anxiety, social anxiety, and depression. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 7, 103–114. doi:10.1080/15283480701326018.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cooney, T. M., & Radina, M. E. (2000). Adjustment problems in adolescence: Are multiracial children at risk? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70(4), 433–444.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Erickson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York, NY: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fernandez, C. A. (1996). Government classification of multiracial/multiethnic people. In M. P. Root (Ed.), The multiracial experience: Racial borders as the new frontier (pp. 15–36). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Herman, M. (2004). Forced to choose: Some determinants of racial identification in multiracial adolescents. Child Development, 75(3), 730–748. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00703.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herman, M. R. (2008). Racial identification among multiracial youth: Implications for adjustment. In S. Quintana, & C. McKown (Eds.), Handbook of race, racism, and the developing child (pp. 203–225). New york: Wiley and Sons.

  • Hitlin, S., Scott Brown, J., & Elder, G. H. (2006). Racial self-categorization in adolescence: Multiracial development and social pathways. Child Development, 77(5), 1298–1308.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hu, L. T., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 6(1), 1–55. doi:10.1080/10705519909540118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jones, H. L., Cross, W. E., & DeFour, D. C. (2007). Race-related stress, racial identity attitudes, and mental health among Black women. Journal of Black Psychology, 33, 208–231. doi:10.1177/0095798407299517.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jöreskog, K. G., & Goldberger, A. S. (1975). Estimation of a model with multiple indicators and multiple causes of a single latent variable. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 70(351a), 631–639. doi:10.1080/01621459.1975.10482485.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jöreskog, K. G., & Sörbom, D. (1986). LISREL VI, analysis of linear structural relationships by maximum likelihood, instrumental variables, and least squares methods. University of Uppsala, Department of Statistics.

  • Juvonen, J., Nishina, A., & Graham, S. (2006). Ethnic diversity and perceptions of safety in urban middle schools. Psychological Science, 17, 393–400. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01718.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kato, S. L. (2000). Coats of many colors: Serving the multiracial child and adolescent. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences: From Research to Practice, 92(5), 37–40.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kiang, L., Yip, T., Gonzales-Backen, M., Witkow, M., & Fuligni, A. J. (2006). Ethnic identity and the daily psychological well-being of adolescents from Mexican and Chinese backgrounds. Child Development, 77, 1338–1350. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00938.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Linville, P. W. (1985). Self-complexity and affective extremity: Don’t put all your eggs in one cognitive basket. Social Cognition, 3, 94–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lusk, E. M., Taylor, M. J., Nanney, J. T., & Austin, C. C. (2010). Biracial identity and its relations to self-esteem and depression in mixed Black/White biracial individuals. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 19, 109–126. doi:10.1080/15313201003771783.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McDonald, R. P., & Ho, M. H. R. (2002). Principles and practice in reporting structural equation analyses. Psychological Methods, 7(1), 64. doi:10.1037/1082-989X.7.1.64.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Milan, S., & Keiley, M. K. (2000). Biracial youth and families in therapy: Issues and interventions. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 26(3), 305–315. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.2000.tb00300.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Muthén, B. O. (1989). Latent variable modeling in heterogeneous populations. Psychometrika, 54(4), 557–585. doi:10.1007/BF02296397.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Phinney, J. S. (1989). Stages of ethnic identity development in minority group adolescents. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 9, 34–49. doi:10.1177/0272431689091004.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Phinney, J. S. (1992). The multigroup ethnic identity measure a new scale for use with diverse groups. Journal of Adolescent Research, 7(2), 156–176. doi:10.1177/074355489272003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Phinney, J. S., & Ong, A. D. (2007). Conceptualization and measurement of ethnic identity: Current status and future directions. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54(3), 271.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pinderhughes, E. (1995). Biracial identity—asset or handicap? In W. W. Harris, H. C. Blue, & E. E. H. Griffiths (Eds.), Racial and ethnic identity: Psychological development and creative expression (pp. 73–93). New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Renn, K. A. (2008). Research on biracial and multiracial identity development: Overview and synthesis. New Directions for Student Services, 123, 13–21. doi:10.1002/ss.282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roberts, R. E., Phinney, J. S., Masse, L. C., Chen, Y. R., Roberts, C. R., & Romero, A. (1999). The structure of ethnic identity of young adolescents from diverse ethnocultural groups. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 19(3), 301–322. doi:10.1177/0272431699019003001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rockquemore, K. A., Brunsma, D. L., & Delgado, D. J. (2009). Racing to theory or retheorizing race? Understanding the struggle to build a multiracial identity theory. Journal of Social Issues, 65(1), 13–34. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2008.01585.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Root, M. P. P. (1992). Within, between, and beyond race. In M. P. P. Root (Ed.), Racially mixed people in America (pp. 3–11). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmitt, M. T., & Branscombe, N. R. (2002). The meaning and consequences of perceived discrimination in disadvantaged and privileged social groups. European Review of Social Psychology, 12(1), 167–199.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schwartz, S. (2009). Adolescent mental health in the United States. Retrieved July 21, 2014, from http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_878.html#5. 1 June 2009.

  • Sellers, R. M., Caldwell, C. H., Schmeelk-Cone, K. H., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2003). Racial identity, racial discrimination, perceived stress, and psychological distress among African American young adults. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 302–317. doi:10.2307/1519781.

  • Shih, M., & Sanchez, D. T. (2005). Perspectives and research on the positive and negative implications of having multiple racial identities. Psychological Bulletin, 131(4), 569–591. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.4.569.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Simpson, E. H. (1949). Measurement of diversity. Nature, 163, 688. doi:10.1038/163688a0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spencer, M. S., Icard, L. D., Harachi, T. W., Catalano, R. F., & Oxford, M. (2000). Ethnic identity among monoracial and multiracial early adolescents. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 20(4), 365–387.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steiger, J. H., & Lind, J. C. (1980). Statistically based tests for the number of common factors. In Annual meeting of the psychometric society, Iowa City, IA, vol. 758.

  • Steinberg, L., Dahl, R., Keating, D., Kupfer, D. J., Masten, A. S., & Pine, D. S. (2006). The study of developmental psychopathology in adolescence: Integrating affective neuroscience with the study of context. In D. Cicchetti & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology (2nd ed., pp. 710–741). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tajfel, H. (1974). Social identity and intergroup behaviour. Social Science Information. doi:10.1177/053901847401300204.

  • Tajfel, H. (1981). Human groups and social categories: Studies in social psychology. CUP Archive.

  • Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In S. Worschel & W. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 7–24). Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Udry, J. R., Li, R. M., & Hendrickson-Smith, J. (2003). Health and behavior risks of adolescents with mixed-race identity. Journal Information, 93(11), 1865–1870. doi:10.2105/AJPH.93.11.1865.

    Google Scholar 

  • Umaña-Taylor, A. J., Alfaro, E. C., Bámaca, M. Y., & Guimond, A. B. (2009). The central role of familial ethnic socialization in Latino adolescents’ cultural orientation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 46–60. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2008.00579.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Umana-Taylor, A. J., Yazedjian, A., & Bámaca-Gomez, M. (2004). Developing the ethnic identity scale using Eriksonian and social identity perspectives. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 4(1), 9–38. doi:10.1207/S1532706XID0401_2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams, T. K., & Thornton, M. C. (1998). Social construction of ethnicity versus personal experience: The case of Afro-Amerasians. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 29(2), 255–267.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yip, T., Seaton, E. K., & Sellers, R. M. (2006). African American racial identity across the lifespan: Identity status, identity content, and depressive symptoms. Child Development, 77(5), 1504–1517. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00950.x.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yip, T., Seaton, E. K., & Sellers, R. M. (2010). Interracial and intraracial contact, school-level diversity, and change in racial identity status among African American adolescents. Child Development, 81(5), 1431–1444. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01483.x.

    PubMed  Article  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors do not have any interests or activities that might be interpreted as influencing the research submitted, and this study was conducted in accordance with APA ethical standards. This research has not been presented at a conference and is not under consideration for publication with any other journals.

Conflict of interest

There are no conflicts of interests involved in the conduct of this research.

Ethical Standards

Data collected for this study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board/ethnics committee at Michigan State University and the research has been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.

Author contributions

The contribution of each author is as follows: SF conceived of the study, participated in the design, coordinated the written document, and helped draft the document; JR contributed to the intellectual content of the written document and helped draft the document; WWH participated in the design, performed the statistical analysis, and helped draft the document; JB contributed to the design, and coordination of the study and contributed intellectually to the ideas; KT contributed intellectually to the study and helped draft the document. All authors have given final approval of the version to be published.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sycarah Fisher.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fisher, S., Reynolds, J.L., Hsu, WW. et al. Examining Multiracial Youth in Context: Ethnic Identity Development and Mental Health Outcomes. J Youth Adolescence 43, 1688–1699 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0163-2

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0163-2

Keywords

  • Ethnic identity
  • Multiracial adolescents
  • Anxiety
  • Depressive symptoms