Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Associations of Acculturation with Family and Individual Well-Being in Serbian Refugee Young Adults in the United States

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Associations of Acculturation with Family and Individual Well-Being in Serbian Refugee Young Adults in the United States

Article excerpt

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Refugees who flee adversity in their homeland face increased risk of adjustment difficulties in the new countries where they settle, a process studied in countries such as Australia (Schweitzer, Melville, Steel, & Lâcherez, 2006), Canada (Costigan & Dokis, 2006; Sabatier & Berry, 2008), Israel (Walsh, Harel-Fisch, Fogel-Greenwald, 2010), and France (Sabatier & Berry, 2008). Refugee individuals and families are increasingly common in the United States. Between December 2006 and December 2007, for example, the United States became home to 151,200 refugees (World Refugee Survey, 2008). Most have come to North America because of political, ethnic, or religious conflicts in their home countries. Unlike non-refugee immigrants who usually have more control over their migration process, refugees, including those from the former Yugoslavia, are usually forced to leave their homes (Berry, 2006). Serbian refugees from the former Yugoslavia sought the United States to flee the violence and economic deprivation caused by the five-year long ethnic war. Starting over in a new country is bound to present challenges. The new culture and the home culture usually have some differences in norms, beliefs, values, and customs, and refugees have to find a balance between the two cultures to ensure optimal functioning. These differences are often played out in the relationships between family members, especially between refugee parents and their young adult children. Parents may be rooted in their native culture, while young adults may be more eager to immerse themselves in and acculturate to the host society. As a result, young adults have to negotiate relationships with parents while at the same time seeking independence and defining their own path in life.

The purpose of this internet-based survey study is to understand the relationships between young adults' and their parents' acculturation in Serbian refugee families in the U.S., and the associations of acculturation with young adults' family well-being (operationalized as self reports of family atmosphere and quality of time spent with parents) and individual wellbeing (self-reported depression and satisfaction with life). In contrast to prior research, the study investigates youth-parent acculturation discrepancies taking the direction of discrepancy into account. In addition, few previous studies have examined acculturation in refugee immigrants, or in young adulthood, which is recognized increasingly as an important developmental period.


Acculturation, the change that occurs when two or more cultures come in contact (Berry, 2001; Gibson, 2001; Williams and Berry, 1991), often results in shifts in the cultural patterns of one or both groups. For the incoming group, it is important to understand not only their acculturation to the new culture, but in addition the degree to which they retain the patterns of their native culture, given that individuals can be highly acculturated (or have low acculturation) both to the host culture and to their native culture. Acculturation has been operationalized in terms of behavior and values, with the former receiving more attention. Research has shown that incoming individuals who show positive attitudes toward both their culture of origin and the host culture (i.e., integrate) tend to show the most positive adjustment (Birman, Trickett, & Vinokurov, 2002; Kovacev & Shute, 2004). In addition, individuals whose culture of origin is more different than the host culture often have a harder time acculturating to that host culture than those who come from cultures which are more similar to the new culture (Berry, 1980). Other factors, such as discrimination (Berry, Phinney, Sam,

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