Does Culture Affect Perceived Family Dynamics?: A Comparison of Arab and Jewish Adolescents in Israel

Article excerpt

In today's continuously changing world, societal norms and demands concerning the family's roles and functions are in a process of rapid transformation. Nevertheless, the family unit still constitutes the main framework in which the individual grows and develops (Duvall and Miller, 1985). Since the family is an integral component of society, it can be expected to show much variation across cultures (Segall et al., 1990). Although Anthropologists have drawn attention to the cross-cultural diversity of family types and relationships, it seems that Psychologists tend to underrate the importance of variety in family patterns (Kagitcibasi, 1990). Nonetheless, one may observe a growing interest in the understanding of the impact of ethnicity and culture upon family dynamics, particularly during challenging developmental stages such as adolescence (e.g. Offer et al., 1988).

In a recent review of family systems in adolescence, Preto (1989) illustrates some of the differences in family dynamics between ethnic groups in the U.S.A. as follows. British-Americans tend to promote the early separation of adolescents and their transition into adulthood (McGill and Pearce, 1982). As opposed to Italian, Hispanic, and Jewish families, they do not strive to keep their adolescents close to home. In contrast, Portuguese families, while also expecting adolescents to make an early transition into adulthood, still prompt them to find employment and to contribute to the home financially, like adults. However, socially and emotionally they are expected to stay loyal and under the guidance of their parents (Moitoza, 1982). Note that although these American groups differ in their ethnic origin, there are many important dimensions on which some of these groups may be similar (e.g. religion and urban residence).

The basic premise of the present study is that in order to achieve greater understanding of cultural and ethnic influences upon family dynamics, one should compare families on a number of theoretically important cultural dimensions. It has been assumed in the past that with modernization, industrialization, and Westernization, the different family patterns exhibited will be modified from the traditional form, to resemble the Western family. In other words, a unidirectional change is expected towards the Western model (Kagitcibasi, 1990, p.125-126). This is also the thesis of Modernization theory (Inkeles, 1969). More recently, theory and research have pointed to the multidimensional nature of cultural diversity, allowing for a more refined explanation of cultural differences in family dynamics.

Triandis (1990) provided a comprehensive analysis of some important cross-cultural dimensions as follows. First, cultures are characterized by degree of complexity, which reflects the degree to which people in a given culture pay attention to time and time utilization, and the degree of "diffusion" versus "specificity" of social roles. The more specific a culture the more well defined the social roles an individual may have. In less complex cultures there is a diffusion of roles. In other words, while in "specific" cultures people relate to each other mainly on the basis of well defined and directly relevant roles, in "diffuse" cultures almost any personal attribute (e.g. religion) is seen as pertaining to the relationship, irrespective of the social situation. Triandis (1990, p.38) claims that "while most Western cultures are specific, many middle Eastern cultures are diffuse".

A second important dimension is the degree of collectivist versus individualist cultural orientation. Individualism stresses values of industrial civilization such as personal achievement, competition, and concern with self and self-improvement. Collectivism involves being concerned with others, considering the implications for others of one's decisions, and concerns for family security (Segall et al., 1990, p.218). Collectivists stress hierarchy: in the family the father is usually the boss and men are superordinate to women. …