Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Gender Differences in Language Acculturation Predict Marital Satisfaction: A Dyadic Analysis of Russian-Speaking Immigrant Couples in the United States*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Gender Differences in Language Acculturation Predict Marital Satisfaction: A Dyadic Analysis of Russian-Speaking Immigrant Couples in the United States*

Article excerpt


It is estimated that over one million people currently immigrate to the United States of America every year, a number close to the high levels that occurred at the turn of the 20* century (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Statistics, 2009). Foreign-born individuals now comprise over 10% of the country's population, with rates more than double that in larger states (e.g., New York and California). Over half (58%) of all legal immigrants are married, and family-based immigration accounts for almost 2/3 of all legal immigrants to this country (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Statistics, 2009). Although families provide important sources of social support during the immigration process, immigration is also hard on marriages. The strain of immigration and the accompanying acculturation process can lead to changes in the relationship between husbands and wives, and these changes can bring about marital discord and divorce (Chun and Akutsu, 2003; Darvishpour, 2002; Min, 2001).

Acculturation is a complex, multidimensional process, with language acculturation being a primary task. Low language acculturation can result in an immigrant's inability to find suitable employment (Aycan and Berry, 1996; Baker, 1988; Jackman, 1995) and to negotiate the host culture's health, education, social service, and.justice system on their own behalf (Thomas, 1995; Zemore, Mulia, Ye, Borges, and Greenfield, 2009). Differences in acculturation rates within family members can also create stress, resulting in the break-down of parent-child communications (Birman, 2006, Farver, Narang, and Bhadha, 2002; Sluzki, 1979) and in marital discord (Chun and Akutsu, 2003; Darvishpour, 2002). In interviews with 20 Russian-speaking Jewish married couples in Israel, Ben-David and Lavee (1994) found that when husbands were slower to learn the language and gain employment than their wives, their marriages experienced disruption (see also, Remennick, 1 999, 2007). Min (200 1 ) reported a similar finding with a sample of Korean immigrants. Changing gender roles are thought to underlie this effect. Wives who have acculturated faster than their husbands are more likely to enter the job market, take over responsibilities once reserved for their husband, and assume a greater role in family decision making. These changes may be threatening for many husbands, particularly those who come from a culture with traditional gender roles.

In this article, we build on previous research in this area in four important ways. First, instead of using qualitative assessment techniques (e.g., interviews, participant observation), we use a quantitative approach to test the hypothesis that gender differences in acculturation predict marital satisfaction. Second, we adhere to current views of acculturation by assessing acculturation to the dominant culture and to one's culture of origin (Marin, Balls Organista, and Chun, 2002). Third, we emphasize the importance of one particular form of acculturation: language acculturation. Finally, we studied Russian-speaking immigrants, an often understudied immigrant population.' In the sections that follow, we discuss our rationale for these aspects of our research, beginning with the importance of adopting a broader view of acculturation.

Understanding Acculturation

Acculturation has been studied for almost a century by anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists. For a long time, acculturation was considered a unidimensional, unidirectional and nonreversible process "eventually resulting in full assimilation" (Trimble, 2003, p. 7). In 1980, Berry, a pioneer-theorist in the field of psychological acculturation, proposed that acculturation is a dynamic process that occurs along many different dimensions and may result in various types of outcomes, namely assimilation, separation, integration, and marginalization. We endorse the definition of acculturation as a complex and multidimensional process (Marin et al. …

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