Relationship of Ethnic Identity, Acculturation, and Psychological Well-Being among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans

By Chae, Mark H.; Foley, Pamela E. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Relationship of Ethnic Identity, Acculturation, and Psychological Well-Being among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans


Chae, Mark H., Foley, Pamela E., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Asian Americans constitute one of the fastest growing ethnic minority groups in the United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2002). From 1980 to 1990, the number of Asian Americans almost doubled in size (Tewari & Alvarez, 2009). It is anticipated that the Asian American population will exceed 40 million by the year 2050, a number that is estimated to be about 10% of the American population (C. L. Lee & Zane, 1998). As ethnic minorities in the United States, Asian Americans are faced with difficult challenges related to adjusting to a new culture. Research has indicated that approximately 60% of Asian Americans were born in countries outside of the United States (D. W. Sue & Sue, 2008). Hence, many Asian Americans are faced with the challenge of negotiating their identity as Asians with their identity as Americans. Two important psychological constructs have emerged in the psychological literature that examines the cultural adjustment process for Asian Americans: ethnic identity and acculturation. Although research on the relationship of ethnic identity, acculturation, and psychological well-being has appeared in the psychological literature, the majority of this work depicts Asian Americans as a homogenous group (Alvarez, 2002). This is problematic because some researchers have asserted that the differences between the many Asian ethnic subgroups may be as great as the differences between Asians and other ethnic minority groups (Alvarez, 2002; Tsai, Chentsova-Dutton, & Wong, 2002). Indeed, there are approximately 40 ethnic groups that fall under the rubric of Asian (D. W. Sue & Sue, 2008). The tendency among researchers to view this group as homogenous may perpetuate the stereotype that Asian Americans are all alike (Alvarez, 2002; Liu, Iwamoto, & Chae, 2010).

In addition, although a number of studies have examined the relationship of ethnic identity, acculturation, and psychological well-being among Asian Americans, few studies have explored these constructs together in the same study. These constructs often have been used interchangeably in the psychological literature; however, they have different meanings and theoretical underpinnings (C. L. Lee & Zane, 1998). In general, previous research has shown that a strong ethnic identity, which involves a high degree of ethnic group affiliation and involvement, is correlated with low levels of acculturation, meaning that individuals may maintain their culture of origin and reject the idea of assimilation (Uba, 1994). However, emerging research arid theory have shown that an individual can be highly acculturated while still maintaining a strong ethnic identity (e.g., Lieber, Chin, Nihira, & Mink, 2001). In light of this research, it seems appropriate that researchers continue to examine the constructs of acculturation and ethnic identity together as they relate to psychological well-being, especially with diverse Asian ethnic groups.

Another problem that has emerged in current studies with Asian Americans is that participants have largely been recruited from college populations (Okazaki & Sue, 2003). Although accessing college samples is an attractive and convenient means to obtain participants, they often are not representative of the larger population because of such variables as age range, education level, and socioeconomic status. Hence, it is more desirable, although more difficult, to obtain a community sample.

To address these limitations, the present study sought to examine the relationship of ethnic identity, acculturation, and psychological well-being among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean American participants in a community-based sample.

* Acculturation Process and Outcome

Acculturation refers to the complex process of adapting to a new cultural milieu and developing ways to function in this new environment. The term acculturation, as used herein, refers to "how ethnic minority individuals adapt to the dominant culture and the associated changes in their beliefs, values, and behavior that result from contact with the new culture" (Farver, Narang, & Bhadha, 2002, p. …

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