As immigration grows in the US, the many immigrants would experience the process of acculturation, the changes during adaptation to the new culture1. However, it may not be an easy process, especially with the issue of the immigrant paradox, where immigrants may face worse health outcomes the more they acculturate1. Compared to the first generation, later generation immigrants have more mental health issues, showing the worsening effects of acculturation. If acculturation is bad for immigrants, is it better to not go through the process?
Studies have examined the immigrant paradox and suggested how worse outcomes are more associated with later generation immigrants who are more acculturated2,3,4. Children of immigrants often lose positive attributes such as optimism and determination that their parents had when they came to the US2,3. Furthermore, immigrant parents had more protective processes while their children are more exposed to risks2. Thus, immigrant children may be more likely to have worse outcomes than their parents. Compared to their parents, they also have more negative educational attitudes and are more influenced by negative peer culture3. These explain the children’s worse educational outcomes. In addition, children may face hardships during their transitional period into adults as they try to be integrated into society4. This process, called liminality, is incredibly lengthy and difficult for immigrant youths due to their immigration status4. It has negative developmental implications and causes these children to have poor senses of belonging and identity4. It is not getting any better for immigrant children, as stricter regulations further threaten their chances of attaining proper citizenship. Overall, evidence suggests that immigrant children, who are more acculturated than their parents, face worse outcomes as they acculturate.
With the consequences of acculturating in the US, is it better for immigrants to refrain from acculturation? The long and harsh process of acculturation may not even be worthwhile. For example, learning English as part of acculturation, though is important, is challenging and take a very long time to be proficient in5. On the other hand, retaining one’s own language and becoming bilingual may be the better option, since scores on a bilingual test have been found to be better than an English-only test5. Being bilingual can also give intellectual and mental benefits. Thus, it may be better for immigrants then to learn enough English to be bilingual. Would refraining from acculturation also apply in other aspects? Previous studies have shown immigrant parents, who are less acculturated, to have more positive health and educational outcomes compared to their children2,3. If the children decide to acculturate less, they may have more protective processes and less risk factors like their parents. Immigrant youths overall also have more positive outcomes than native students3, giving less incentive to become more like natives.
The consequences of the immigrant paradox limit immigrants’ abilities to acculturate. This may discourage immigrants from acculturating at all. However, it is still necessary for immigrants to adapt into the US culture. For instance, despite the hardships of liminality, immigrants still need to go through the process to attain proper status in the country. Learning English is also still vital for success in the US5. It may be important to understand the methods in acculturating to take the proper course of action. An acculturation model has suggested how one could selectively retain aspects of the heritage culture and receive aspects of the receiving culture1. With this, an immigrant could determine what practices, values, and identifications to keep and what not to keep from both cultures, based on what benefits them the most. The model has suggested biculturalism, the endorsement of both heritage and receiving cultures, to be the best method of acculturation, as it has been found to be the most facilitative of health outcomes1. Biculturalism also provides advantages for social connections, intellect, and career. This may be the recommended approach to resolve the immigrant paradox.
- Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L., & Szapocznik, J. (2010). Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65(4), 237–251. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0019330
- Marks, A. K., Ejesi, K., & García Coll, C. (2014). Understanding the U.S. immigrant paradox in childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 8(2), 59–64. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12071
- Greenman, E. (2013). Educational attitudes, school peer context, and the “immigrant paradox” in education. Social Science Research, 42(3), 698–714. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.12.014
- Suárez-Orozco, C., Yoshikawa, H., Teranishi, R. T., & Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (2011). Growing up in the shadows: The developmental implications of unauthorized status. Harvard Educational Review, 81(3), 438–472.
- Suárez-Orozco, C., Suárez-Orozco, M. M., & Todorova, I. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA, US: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press. (The Challenge of Language Acquisition)