The Effect of Demographic Variables on Ethnic Experience
KAMALA S. THO MAS^ WAYNE A. BARDWELL San Diego State University
and University of California, San Diego
Department of Psychiatty University of California, San Diego
VANESSA MALCARNE JOEL E. DIMSDALE San Diego State University Department of Psychiatry
University of California, San Diego
Research on ethnicity and health has increased recently, but there is still comparatively little known about the nuances of ethnicity and how they might influence health and health behaviors. Using the Scale of Ethnic Experience, this study revealed ethnic differences on perceived discrimination, ethnic identity, and mainstream comfort. Within the African American sample, socioeconomic status (SES), age, and gender influenced these factors. However, Caucasian Americans reported less perceived discrimination and ethnic identity than did African Americans regardless of age, gender, or SES. They also perceived more control over their ability to succeed in mainstream society than did African Americans. These findings suggest that ethnicity consists of multiple components, which may be influenced by demographic factors in African Americans. It is possible that each aspect of ethnicity differentially relates to health outcomes.
In the last decade, considerable research has been conducted in an effort to understand ethnic disparities in health. In spite of these efforts, there is still comparatively little known about the nuances of ethnicity that may influence mental and physical health. Although factors such as perceived discrimination and ethnic identity may be related to differential health outcomes in ethnic minorities, it is not clear whether age, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES) influence these factors. This study examined ethnic differences in ethnic identity, social functioning, and perceived discrimination. It also investigated how demo- graphic variables are related to these factors.
'Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to KaMala Thomas, SDSUIUCSD, Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, UCSD Mail Code 0804,9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0804.
Journal of Appfied Biobehavioral Research, 2004, 9, 2, pp. 65-79. Copyright 0 2004 by Bellwether Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved.
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Ethnic discrimination is a common experience for African Americans (Broman, Mavaddat, & Hsu, 2000; Dressler, Bindon, & Neggers, 1998; Fisher & Hartmann, 1995; Gary, 1995; Landrine & Klonoff, 1996; Nelson, 2003; Schulz et al., 2000; Sigelman & Welch, 1991; Thompson, 1996; Weitzer & Tuch, 1999). Recent reports from the Institute of Medicine reveal that African Americans and other ethnic minorities receive lower quality healthcare than do Caucasian Americans (Nelson, 2003). Furthermore, African Americans have higher unem- ployment rates and a longer mean duration of unemployment than do Caucasian Americans (Darity, 2003). Perceptions of racism may be a risk factor for poor health in African Americans (Harrell, Hall, & Taliaferro, 2003). Recent findings indicate that such perceptions may partially explain the high prevalence of hyper- tension (Dressler et al., 1998; Guyll, Matthews, & Bromberger, 2001; Harrell et al., 2003; Krieger & Sidney, 1996; Williams & Neighbors, 2001) in African Americans and may be related to depression in this group (Simons et al., 2002).
A variable closely related to perceived discrimination is the perception of ones position in mainstream society. In a study examining perceptions of ethnic relations in America, individuals were asked to rank their ethnic groups position in the economic and social structures of America (Barlow, Taylor, & Lambert, 2000). African Americans perceived themselves as being economically and socially excluded from mainstream society more often than did Caucasian Americans and Cubans, This may be due to the history of mistreatment of African Americans in America. It is possible that previous exposure to discrimi- nation leads to a lowered sense of mastery and control over the economic and social outcomes in life (Branscornbe, Schmitt, & Harvey, 1999).
African Americans who report a strong sense of ethnic identity have more positive self-esteem than do those who hold anti-African American attitudes (Collins & Lightsey, 2001; Goldstein & Ponterotto, 1997; Nelville & Lily, 2000; Phelps, Taylor, & Gerard, 2001; Thornton, Tran, & Taylor, 1997; Wilson & Constantine, 1999). Ethnic identity refers to the extent to which an individual feels connected to a social category based on ethnicity, skin color, or a common history of oppression because of skin color (Phinney, 1996; Thompson, 1996). Several studies have found that, for marginalized groups who perceive that they are the victims of prejudice and discrimination, having a strong sense of ethnic identity enhances psychological well being (Branscombe et al., 1999; Mossakowski, 2003; Noh & Kaspar, 2003). It is also possible that individuals with a strong sense of ethnic identity are more likely to perceive discrimination. Being more connected to ones ethnic group may contribute to individuals being more sensitive to racism.
Another variable that may be associated with ethnic differences in health relates to the preference for developing close relationships with members of ones ethnic group. Although research in this area is relatively new, studies suggest that the tendency to associate with individuals who have the same ethnic
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background and to rely on them for social support is common among African Americans (Allen & Bagozzi, 2001; Fisher & Hartmann, 1995; Stephan & Stephan, 1989). Thus, social affiliation preferences may be a component of eth- nicity that has an impact on psychological well being and health.
Perceived discrimination and ethnic identity may be influenced by demo- graphic factors (Broman et al., 2000; Dressler et al., 1998; Gary, 1995; Weitzer & Tuch, 1999). Several studies have found differences in the report of ethnic identity and perceived discrimination among African Americans based on age, gender, and education level (Broman et al., 2000; Gary, 1995; Thornton et al., 1997). The results of these studies suggest that African Americans who are younger, male, and have more education are more likely to perceive discrimination and to have a stronger sense of ethnic identity (Broman et al., 2000; Gary, 1995; Thomton et al., 1997; Weitzer & Tuch, 1999). Variables assessing the extent to which individuals feel as if they are a part of mainstream society and prefer to develop close relationships with their own ethnic group have only recently been recognized as possible indicators of health outcomes. Consequently, no studies have been con- ducted examining how these variables relate to demographic factors.
Malcarne, Chavira, Fernandez, and Liu (2003) recently developed the Scale of Ethnic Experience (SEE), which is a measure that examines four separate con- structs related to the experience of ethnicity: perceived discrimination, ethnic identity, mainstream comfort, and social affiliation. These constructs have been conceptualized as being relatively independent because each construct assesses unique dimensions related to an individuals perception of how his or her ethnic- ity influences his or her social functioning in society. The constructs have been combined into a single multidimensional scale to provide a more complete depic- tion of this functioning. This scale was designed to be used across all ethnic groups, and it enables researchers to conduct ethnic-group comparisons of sub- scale scores. Using this measure, we examined ethnic differences on social- affiliation preferences, ethnic identity, and discrimination. We expected that African Americans would report more perceived discrimination and ethnic identity and that they would have a greater preference for associating with their own ethnic group. We also expected that African Americans would report less mainstream comfort than would Caucasian Americans.
A primary objective of this study was to examine whether demographic fac- tors influence the report of ethnic identity and discrimination. We expected that there would be an interaction between ethnicity and gender on SEE subscales and that social class would predict subscale scores. To examine age differences in the report of ethnic identity and discrimination, we compared data collected from our sample of middle-aged African Americans and Caucasian Americans with normative data from a younger, college sample of African Americans and Caucasian Americans. Based on findings from existing literature (Broman et al., 2000; Dressler et al., 1998; Gary, 1995; Weitzer & Tuch, 1999), we expected that
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younger African Americans, and to a lesser degree Caucasian Americans, would report more perceived discrimination, ethnic identity, and social affiliation than their older counterparts. It was also expected that younger individuals would report less mainstream comfort than would their older counterparts.
Participants for the current study consisted of 85 individuals recruited from San Diego and surrounding communities. Of these, 37 (45.1%) were African American (20 men and 17 women) and 45 (54.9%) were Caucasian American (31 men and 14 women). Participants were between 25 and 52 years old. The mean age of the African Americans was 39.5 (SEM = 1.14), and the mean age of the Caucasian Americans was 36.24 @EM= 1.24). Participants were recruited to partake in a study of stress, blood pressure, and ethnicity through word of mouth referrals and through public advertisements. Prior to participation, informed con- sent was obtained in accordance with an institutional review board protocol that was approved by the University of California, San Diego, Institutional Review Board.
Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale. The Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (MC; Crowne & Marlowe, 1960) is a self-report scale com- posed of 33 True/False items representing behaviors that are considered to be socially desirable but that also have a low probability of occurrence in the general population. A high score on this measure is interpreted as reflecting a respondents attempt to present himself or herself in a socially desirable light. The MC has been found to have good psychometric properties, with internal con- sistency coefficients above .80.
Scale of Ethnic Experience. The Scale of Ethnic Experience (SEE; Malcarne et al., 2003) is a 32-item, 5-point Likert-type self-report questionnaire that mea- sures the experience of ethnicity across several dimensions. Its four subscales assess ethnic identity, social affiliation/intimacy, mainstream comfort, and per- ceived discrimination. High scores on each subscale indicate greater endorsement of the construct being assessed. Ethnic identity assesses an individuals sense of belonging to an ethnic group and the value attached to ones ethnicity. A sample item is, I have a strong sense of myself as a member of my ethnic group. Social affiliatiodintimacy assesses an individuals preference for associating with mem- bers of his or her own ethnic group. A sample item is, I feel most comfortable talking about personal things with people from my own ethnic group. Main- stream comfort assesses whether an individual feels as if he or she is a part of
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mainstream society. A sample item is, I understand how to get along well in mainstream America. Perceived discrimination assesses whether an individual believes that members of his or her ethnic group have been discriminated against in society. A sample item is, In my life, I have experienced prejudice because of my ethnicity. The SEE was initially validated on a college sample from diverse ethnic groups and has been found to have sound psychometric properties, with internal consistency coefficients ranging from .82 to .89 for the subscales. It also has been found to have concurrent validity, which is demonstrated through corre- lations with existing group-specific instruments in predicted directions.
Two Factor Index of Social Position. The Two Factor Index of Social Position (Hollingshead, 1958) measures an individuals social status. The two factors that determine social position are Occupation and Education. Each factor has a 1 to 7 range, with lower scores representing a higher social status. Scores on the Educa- tion and Occupation factors can be combined to obtain an index of social class. Social Class is scaled in five categories, with lower scores representing a higher social class.
A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted to examine differences between African Americans and Caucasian Americans and to exam- ine the interaction between ethnicity and gender on SEE subscales. Ethnicity and gender were both entered as independent variables, and SEE subscales were entered as outcome variables. To determine whether social desirability influences subscale scores, a multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was con- ducted with social desirability entered as the covariate. To examine the relation of social class to SEE subscale scores, we conducted regression analyses with education and occupation entered as predictors and SEE subscales entered as out- come variables. Finally, to examine age differences in SEE subscale scores, we conducted an unpaired t test comparing data from our sample with normative data from a younger sample of college students. The mean age of the validation sample was 20.1 years (SD = 4.35). There were 209 African Americans and 867 Caucasian Americans in the student validation sample.
Most of the participants had at least a partial college education (78%) and were in the middle-class bracket (59%). All participants were between 90% and 130% of ideal body weight based on Metropolitan standards. There were no significant differences between African Americans and Caucasian Americans on age, education, or social class (see Table 1 for sample characteristics).
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African Caucasian Americans Americans
( n = 37) (n=48) p
Education Bachelor of Arts and above Partial college High school Less than high school
Upper class Middle class Lower class
Age ( M + SEM)
Social desirability ( M + SEM)
10 (27.0%) 19 (51.4%) 5 (13.5%) 3 (8.1%)
5 (13.5%) 17 (47.2%) 15 (41.7%)
39.50 2 1.14
19.73 2 1.09
21 (46.7%) 14 (29.2%) 9 (18.8%) 1 (2.1%) .18
9 (20.0%) 16 (35.6%) 20 (44.4%) .70
6 (12.5%) .029
36.24 2 1.24 .057 15.50 2 0.84 .002
class categories based on Hollingshead criteria: Upper class = Groups I and 11; Middle class = Group 111; Lower class = Groups IV and V.
As the following paragrap...