Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Language Acculturation, Acculturation-Related Stress, and Marital Quality in Chinese American Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Language Acculturation, Acculturation-Related Stress, and Marital Quality in Chinese American Couples

Article excerpt

Culturally informed ecological perspectives for understanding marital outcomes among ethnic minorities underscore the importance of considering the broader cultural contexts in which couples reside. Specifically, these perspectives argue that ethnic minorities' experiences with acculturation (i.e., the process and extent of adopting the language and cultural values of the majority culture) should have significant implications for their marital well-being (Helms, Supple, & Proulx, 2011). However, to date only a few empirical studies have investigated the association between acculturation experiences and marital quality. This work, which has focused primarily on Latino families, has demonstrated that levels of acculturation and the stress of cultural adaption often predicts poor marital quality (Flores, Tschann, VanOss Marin, & Pantoja, 2004; L. Garcia, Hurwitz, & Kraus, 2005; Helms et al., 2014). However, acculturation-related stressors may not always be harmful for marriage; growing research suggests that stressful experiences can have both positive and negative implications for marital quality through different mechanisms or under different conditions (Randall & Bodenmann, 2009; Story & Bradbury, 2004). Therefore, further research is needed not only to examine the generalizability of prior results to other minority groups but also to examine the potential for acculturation-related stressors to have dual effects on marital quality.

To this end, the current study investigates the longitudinal pathways linking acculturation experiences and marital quality in an understudied population, Chinese American couples. Chinese Americans represent the largest ethnic group of Asian Americans (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Asian Americans are the fastest growing ethnic minority group in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013) and comprise 25% of all first-generation immigrants in the United States (Pew Research Center, 2013). Specifically, we examine whether language acculturation level (i.e., English proficiency) indirectly relates to later marital quality through acculturation-related stress and depressive symptoms. We particularly focus on one salient yet understudied source of acculturation-related stress for Asian Americans: experiences of perpetual foreigner stereotype. Asian Americans are often perceived as perpetual foreigners regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens, given their distinct physical appearance, culture, and language relative to European and Black Americans, who are considered "real" Americans (Armenta et al., 2013; Ong, Burrow, Fuller-Rowell, Ja, & Sue, 2013; Sue, Bucceri, Lin, Nadal, & Torino, 2009). Stress over being stereotyped as a perpetual foreigner, which we refer to as foreigner stress, can have significant effects on individual and family adjustment, such as increasing psychological distress and family conflicts (Armenta et al., 2013; Hou, Kim, & Wang, 2016; Ong et al., 2013). To take into account the interdependence of the marital system (Cox & Paley, 2003), the current study examines how individuals' acculturation experiences influence not only their own but also their partners' marital behaviors. Finally, we also explore whether the effects of individuals' foreigner stress on their own marital quality depends on their partners' experiences with foreigner stress.

Background

Acculturation Experiences and Marital Quality

Acculturation refers to both the process of adapting to the new culture and the level of endorsement of the new culture; acculturation involves multiple domains, such as learning the dominant cultural values and practices as well as acquiring mainstream language (Kang, 2006). Experiences related to acculturation are perhaps one of the most important contexts for marriage in ethnic minority families. In fact, a few prior studies have demonstrated that higher levels of acculturation (e.g., more oriented to American culture) predict greater marital distress, conflict, and reported violence. …

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