Acculturation Gaps in Diaspora Immigrant Adolescent–Mother Dyads: The Case for a Domain‐, Group‐ and Context‐Specific View on Family Adaptation

Background

Generations in immigrant families do not always adapt to the new society at the same pace, which results in intergenerational adaptation differences, also termed acculturation gaps. However, the frequent presumption that adolescents are better adapted to the host and less adapted to the ethnic culture than their parents is increasingly questioned in modern multicultural societies. This comparative study investigated mother–adolescent acculturation gaps of two diaspora immigrant samples, who had lived in the former Soviet Union for generations. We compared whether acculturation gaps differ in size and direction across two receiving societies (German repatriates in Germany vs. Russian Jews in Israel), across two dimensions (ethnic vs. host), and across two domains of adaptation (behavioural: language vs. cognitive: identity). In addition, we investigated whether these acculturation gaps are detrimental or beneficial for mother–adolescent communication.

Method

The sample comprised 342 participants: 80 German repatriate mother–adolescent dyads in Germany (adolescents’ mean age: 16.9 years, 48.8% female) and 91 Russian Jewish mother–adolescent dyads in Israel (adolescents’ mean age: 15.8 years, 51.6% female) who were interviewed in person at their homes. Intergenerational acculturation gaps were assessed in behavioural (host and ethnic language) and cognitive (host and ethnic identity) domains of mothers’ and adolescents’ adaptation and operationalised as interaction terms.

Results

In line with earlier assumptions, our results revealed expected acculturation gaps in the behavioural domains of host and ethnic language: Adolescents scored higher in host and lower in ethnic language competence than their mothers. In the cognitive domains of host and ethnic identity, however, some of our results contradict previous models. For instance, adolescents in Germany scored higher on ethnic identity than their mothers. Since no such difference was found in Israel, this finding reveals country‐ or group‐specific effects. Further, analyses revealed a negative impact of acculturation gaps on family communication: Ethnic language gaps predicted lower levels of adolescent‐mother communication only in Germany, whereas ethnic identity gaps predicted lower levels of adolescent‐mother communication in both samples. In addition, results indicated diaspora‐specific effects in ethnic identity, with adolescents identifying more closely with their ethnic culture than their mothers.

Conclusion

Our results support a domain‐, group‐ and context‐specific view on immigrant family adaptation and, hence, a more differentiated view on intergenerational acculturation gaps. In addition, the study highlights that acculturation gaps can undermine parent–child‐communication across both contexts, with some similar and some context-specific processes across both samples. With our results in mind, we would also argue that the consideration of diaspora‐specific aspects in acculturation research seems promising, because diaspora- and return-migration is increasing in numbers worldwide. The implications for research are also obvious: Research should focus on the specific situation of immigrant groups, elaborate on the domain‐ and dimension‐specificity of acculturation processes, and take into account the context of adaptation.

Contact: aumann@psychologie.uni-hannover.de

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