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September 25, 2013

Development of Ethnic Identity

by Angel Pumila

Development of Ethnic Identity

“Ethnic identity is a sense of ethnic group membership and attitudes and feelings associated with that membership” (Berk, 2012, p. 607).  This set of beliefs is a large part of the identity search that occurs in adolescence.  A main contribution to the explanations of adolescent identity development comes from Erik Erikson (1968).  He found that the search for identity as it relates to ethnicity could lead to identity confusion.  “Youth after youth, bewildered by the incapacity to assume a role forced on him by the inexorable standardization of American adolescence, runs away in one form or another, dropping out of school, leaving jobs, staying out all night, or withdrawing into bizarre and inaccessible moods” (Erikson, 1968, p. 307).  According to Erikson, delinquency in adolescence stems from the internal turmoil caused by finding oneself.  With minorities, this situation is compounded by the struggle to incorporate their ethnic culture with the culture of American adolescence.

Researchers have examined the effect that this process has on development into adulthood.  They found that native minorities exhibited more mental health problems than that of their migrant counterparts (van Oort, 2007, p. 182). These differences can lead to risk factors in other areas such as education, social skills, and employment that affect the developmental trajectory into young adulthood.  Other studies suggest that positive, early ethnic identification provides “the most stable esteem over time” (French, 2006, p. 9).

In summary, the level of cultural assimilation in ethnic minority adolescents can serve as a predictor for developmental problems into adulthood.  The more the minority culture integrates into that of the majority, the better the chances are for acceptance, positive self-esteem, and normal development.





Berk, L. E. (2012). Infants, children, and adolescents (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Erikson, E. (1968). Identity, youth and crisis.  New York: W.W. Norton Company.

French, S., Seidman, E., Allen, L., & Aber, J. (2006). The development of ethnic identity during adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 42(1), 1-10. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.42.1.1

van Oort, F. A., Joung, I. A., Mackenbach, J. P., Verhulst, F. C., Bengi-Arslan, L., Crijnen, A. M., & van der Ende, J. (2007). Development of ethnic disparities in internalizing and externalizing problems from adolescence into young adulthood. Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry, 48(2), 176-184. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2006.01706.x


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