Ethnic identity and psychological adjustment in multiethnic college students

Brenda Marie Sparrold, Fordham University


An increasing amount of attention is being paid to the growing multiethnic (also known as interracial or biracial) population of the United States, and social scientists have been exploring the psychological functioning of multiethnic people. Recent studies vary widely, showing that multiethnic people may have psychological functioning that is inferior, equal, or superior to their monoethnic peers. Ethnic identity has emerged as an important correlate to psychological functioning. In this study ethnic identity and psychological functioning were studied in a population of very young adults, aged 18 to 20 with a mean age of 18.92 years. A multiethnic person was defined as someone who self-labeled their parents as having come from at least two different major ethnic groups (based largely on the Census 2000 categories, African-American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Native American, and white [European-American]). Sixty multiethnic college students from urban areas, mostly from the same New York City area campus, were compared to sixty monoethnic majority (white) students and forty-one monoethnic minority students. They completed five questionnaires; a demographic questionnaire, a national background checklist, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965), the Brief Symptom Inventory (Derogatis & Melisaratos, 1983), and the Multi-group Ethnic Identity Measure (Phinney, 1992). General linear model analyses showed that multiethnic subjects did not differ significantly from monoethnic subjects on either self-esteem, psychopathology, or on their acceptance of other groups. Multiple regression analyses showed that while self-esteem in multiethnic subjects was not significantly predicted by demographic factors, psychopathology could be significantly predicted by ethnic identity, socioeconomic status, ethnic group affiliation, and parents' marital status. Psychopathology was best predicted, however, by ethnic identity, acceptance of other groups, socioeconomic status, and self-esteem. A subgroup of multiethnic subjects was identified that reported high levels of psychopathology. They also reported a higher level of stressful family events than was the average for their group. The wide variance in current studies' findings of multiethnic versus monoethnic psychological functioning may be explained by a greater incidence of stressful life events in multiethnic groups. The importance of ethnic identity to the emotional health of multiethnic people is highlighted.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Personality|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Sparrold, Brenda Marie, "Ethnic identity and psychological adjustment in multiethnic college students" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3077260.