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Family Acculturation

Beyond cultural groups and individuals, acculturation processes and outcomes also take place in families, often with evidence of differences between spouses and between parents and children, in both their preferred ways of acculturating and in the adaptations that are achieved.

Acculturation constitutes a double transition for married immigrants in that both the individuals and the marriage need to adapt to the new culture. In this context, marital adaptation relates to the mutual accommodation of spouses when each is faced with a new culture, new forms of behavior, and different ways of acculturating. Marital and acculturation problems may be closely linked with each other. Marital problems constitute a major source of stress leading to disagreement between spouses. These problems can make life more difficult in the new culture, or conversely, a happy marriage can lead to a successful adaptation. Marital strain was found to have an impact on both the marital distress and the depressive and psychosomatic symptoms of Indo-Canadian women (Dyal, Rybensky, and Somers 1988). Josephine Naidoo (1985) found that South Asian women in Canada who had supportive husbands experienced fewer feelings of stress. Among Muslim Moroccan immigrants in Montreal, those who were more satisfied in their marriages had less psychological stress (El Haïli and Lasry 1997).

Research suggests that marital conflict does not necessarily increase due to immigration. Immigrant Jewish couples in Israel were found not to experience more marital tension than Israeli-born couples. In fact, couples who stayed in their native land expressed more conflict than immigrant couples in domains such as whether the wife should work outside the home and the division of labor in the home; the two groups did not differ in terms of decision making in the home (Hartman and Hartman 1986). Hispanic American couples also did not differ from European American couples in the frequency of major marital conflict (Lindahl and Malik 1999).

In a study on the acculturation and adaptation of married Turkish immigrants in Toronto, Canada, Bilge Ataca (1998) introduced marital adaptation as a separate facet of the overall adaptation of immigrants. The findings showed that the marital relationship did not experience more difficulty due to the problems of living in a new culture. Immigrant couples were not found to be different from Turkish couples in Turkey and European Canadian couples in terms of marital adaptation. Hence, it seems as if immigration increases solidarity between spouses by leaving them to resolve problems on their own, thereby, improving the marital relationship (Hartman and Hartman 1986).

Overall, Turkish immigrant couples strongly adopted the separation strategy more than other acculturation strategies. They placed high value on maintaining their cultural identity and characteristics, and resisted relations with the larger society. Couples of high and low socioeconomic status (SES), however, showed different preferences. Those of high SES preferred integration and assimilation to a greater, and separation to a lesser extent than those of low SES (Ataca 1998).

When marital adaptation was examined in light of acculturation attitudes, marginalization showed a significant impact on psychological and marital adaptation (Ataca and Berry under review). Marginalization brought about not only negative psychological outcomes, but also impeded the couple's adaptation. When alienated from both the culture of origin and the culture of settlement, individuals may develop a marginal state of mind in which it is cumbersome to accommodate the spouse. However, the established link in the literature between marginalization and psychological difficulty held true only for those of lower SES. Adopting the marginalization strategy (as defined above), only when coupled with low levels of education, produced a negative effect on psychological and marital well-being. The feelings of not belonging to either culture, loss, isolation, and loneliness, coupled with few resources such as low proficiency in English, low wages, and few appropriate skills in the new cultural context, may trigger feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and thereby lead to the most adverse effects. This state of mind may also promote more marital discord.

Ataca's (1998) study also revealed a major effect of SES on the marital relationship. Immigrant couples of low SES had better marital adaptation than those of high SES (Ataca and Berry 2002). Because most high SES women are employed outside the home, they can be more independent and enjoy greater autonomy and freedom than their counterparts in the low SES group. This may cause conflicts between spouses in the high SES group because it weakens the husband's traditional authority. In contrast, the traditional roles are the norm and, therefore, are more prevalent in the low SES group. Most women are not employed outside the home; they are dependent on and submissive to their husbands. They do not challenge the husbands' authority; this prevents tension in the marital relationship. In general, with networks of friends and relatives less available, the spouses depend more on each other for support as they become acculturated. Marital support and adaptation in this context were also related to acculturation attitudes. The stronger the bond between spouses with greater support and satisfaction in marriage, the more they chose to cherish the culture of origin and resist relations with the larger society (Ataca 1998).

Intergenerational conflicts and acculturation preferences of parents and children have also attracted attention in the area of family acculturation. One study found that young Cuban Americans adopted the values of the larger American society more than their parents, whereas the parents remained more attached to their heritage cultures. These differences in acculturation led to greater intergenerational conflicts; parents lost control over their adolescents who strived for autonomy and rejected the traditional Cuban ways (see Szapocznik and Kurtines 1993). Jean S. Phinney, Anthony Ong, and Tanya Madden (2000) studied intergenerational value discrepancies in family obligations among both immigrant and nonimmigrant families in the United States. In the Armenian and Vietnamese families, the intergenerational discrepancy was greater in families who had longer residence and a U.S.-born adolescent, while Mexican families did not show such a difference. The Vietnamese had the largest discrepancy compared to the other immigrant groups. Such discrepancies, however, were not found to be greater in immigrant families; European and African American families did not differ from Armenian and Mexican American families. Phinney and colleagues (2000) concluded that value discrepancies between parents and adolescents are not necessarily related to immigration, but may reflect a universal tendency in which parents strive to maintain the existing norms, and adolescents question their obligations.

Andrew J. Fuligni and colleagues studied attitudes toward authority, autonomy, family obligations, and perceptions of family conflict and cohesion among American adolescents with Filipino, Chinese, Mexican, Central and South American, and European backgrounds (Fuligni 1998; Fuligni, Tseng, and Lam 1999). Asian and Latin American adolescents had stronger beliefs and greater expectations about their obligation to assist, respect, and support their families than did European American adolescents. This finding was consistent across the adolescents' generation; the same ethnic differences held true for the third-generation adolescents (Fuligni et al. 1999). However, in terms of beliefs and expectations about parental authority and autonomy, Fuligni (1998) found that only Chinese, Filipino, and Mexican American adolescents who come from immigrant families followed traditional norms of agreeing with parents and placing less emphasis on behavioral autonomy. Adolescents from native-born families were similar to European American adolescents in their beliefs and expectations. Hence, over generations, Asian and Latin American adolescents displayed influences of both their culture of origin by the endorsement of family obligations and of the American culture by the desire for greater autonomy (Fuligni et al. 1999).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage TraditionsAcculturation - Contemporary Issues, Family Acculturation, Conclusion