Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Have You Set Your Life Priorities Straight?: Intergenerational Differences in Life Goals among European and East Asian Americans College Students and Their Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Have You Set Your Life Priorities Straight?: Intergenerational Differences in Life Goals among European and East Asian Americans College Students and Their Mothers

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Life goals are used by individuals to direct their own development (Heckhausen, 1999; Nurmi, 1991). Studies of college students and their life goals have found that the most frequently articulated goals are related to their education, future work, and personal relationships (Cantor, Norem, Niedenthal, Langston, & Bower, 1987; Meegan and Berg, 2001; Salmela-Aro, Aunóla, & Nurmi, 2007). The relative importance (or priority) of various life goals has been found to vary among college youth, which in turn has predicted the timing of adult role assumptions (Salmela-Aro et ah, 2007) and work outcomes (Haase, Heckhausen, & Koller, 2008; Heckhausen and Tomasik, 2002). Given the increasing complexity and length of the transition to adulthood, the college years may be a critical time during which parents can help their youth prioritize life goals.

Prospective longitudinal studies of parent-child relations have documented increasing affection between parents and children throughout the transition to young adulthood (Aquilino, 1997; Thornton, Orbuch, & Axinn, 1995) as well as a substantial degree of congruence in attitudes between parents and young adults (Vollebergh, Iedema, & Raaijmakers, 2001). These observations are consistent with Bengston and Black's (1973) intergenerational solidarity hypothesis, which proposes that as grown children transition into adulthood, their experiences become more similar to their parents' experiences and the increasing similarities of life experiences strengthen their relationship. However, most of these studies have been based on samples of European American families. As the U.S. population becomes more diversified through immigration, there is a growing need to understand how traditional values and life goals are prioritized among immigrant families who negotiate between their ethnic heritage culture and the mainstream society. Moreover, we need to understand the potential consequences of parent-child differences in life goal priorities on psychosocial adjustment of the individual and family.

Ethnic differences in the experiences of immigrant family members during youth's transition into adulthood can be expected. Asian immigrant parents have been found to expect higher levels of academic performance and educational attainment from their youth compared to European Americans (Glick and White, 2004; Yamamoto and Holloway, 2010) as well as high levels of family obligations from their child (Fuligni, 2007; Tseng, 2004). These factors are expected to lead to ethnic differences in parental goals for children in the domains of achievement and the family. However, even though East Asian American youth typically feel a greater sense of family obligations and have higher educational aspirations than their European American counterparts (e.g., Chang, Heckhausen, Greenberger, & Chen, 2010; Fuligni, Tseng, & Lam, 1999), immigrant children tend to acculturate to the host culture faster than do their parents (Szapocznik and Kurtines, 1993). Consequently, intergenerational conflicts about values and life priorities often arise. For example, a study comparing the responses between Chinese immigrant parents and their young-adult child found that parents reported greater preference for traditional mate preferences than did their youth (Hynie, Lalonde, & Lee, 2006). Traditional mate preferences refer to characteristics such as having similar cultural and religious backgrounds, but also a preference towards potential mates that their parents approve of and/or come from a family with a good reputation. These issues may be particularly polarizing within immigrant families (Hynie et al., 2006; Kwak, 2003), which can have negative consequences for individual well-being and the quality of family relationships (e.g., Dennis, Basañez, & Farahmand, 2010).

The Current Study

This study tested ethnic differences in intergenerational similarity between college students and their mothers in life goals. …

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