Why do Youth Support their Families? A Person-Oriented Approach in Migrant and Native Families


Immigrant and minority youth have been found repeatedly to provide high levels of support to their families – more than native adolescents do. However, although the diversity (ethnic background, SES) of migrating youth is increasing, most research addresses collectivist, low SES groups (mostly in the US), and it remains uncertain whether the results are explained by migration, culture, or context. Further, most studies on family dynamics are limited to negative correlates of family support, so that potential positive implications for the psychosocial development of adolescents may be underestimated. This study addressed this research gap by investigating family support in individualistic, high SES immigrant families in Switzerland compared to two native comparison samples, to assess immigrant-specific and general (immigration-unspecific) factors of family support as well as positive and negative implications for adolescents’ development.


The sample comprised three samples of adolescents in two countries: 136 German migrant (Mage = 15.3 years, 64.7% female) and 165 native Swiss adolescents (Mage = 15.9 years, 60.6% female) in Switzerland and 187 native German adolescents in Germany (Mage = 15.3 years, 54.8% female). Adolescents’ family support was assessed by two quantitative components and one qualitative component: instrumental and emotional family support, and unfairness of family responsibility assignment. As potential predictors of family support, we investigated context characteristics (i.e. parental job engagement), migration-specific variables (i.e. culture brokering), and variables describing adolescents’ developmental context (i.e. family characteristics). With regard to correlates of family support for adolescents’ psychosocial development, we focused on self-efficacy and exhaustion.


A person-oriented multi-group latent-class analysis identified three family support subgroups (low, medium, and high family support subgroup) that differed primarily in the level of emotional and instrumental support. These three subgroups were found across all ethnic groups, with immigrants only being overrepresented in the medium but not high family support subgroup. The strongest predictor for membership in the high family support subgroup was living in a single-parent household. The context Switzerland was associated with a higher likelihood of membership in the medium and high family support subgroup (independent of migration background). Furthermore, analyses revealed that family support has the potential to foster positive youth development, as the high family support subgroup reported the highest level of self-efficacy.


The results strongly highlight the importance of contexts in which adolescents develop – independent of ethnic group membership. Working conditions on a national level and the situation in the family (i.e. divorce of parents or context conditions that require a lot of parental effort) seem to significantly affect the role adolescents play in their families. The good news is that such family responsibilities can also strengthen adolescents’ developmental outcomes. Future research may profit from addressing the interplay of person and environment and from the disentangling of culture, contextual conditions, and migration-related experiences to avoid oversimplifications and misguided attributions of observed behaviors in immigrant families. Given the rapidly increasing migratory flows around the globe, a group-, culture- and context-specific understanding will be decisive in creating developmental opportunities for migrant youth.


Contact: aumann@psychologie.uni-hannover.de

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