2012. Vol.3, No.4, 370-377
Published Online April 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Ethnic Identity and Ethnicity-Related Stress in Accompanied and
Unaccompanied Adolescent Immigrants: Does the Family Work
as Social Capital for Adolescent Immigrants?
Lars-Eric Petersen1, Ulrike Dünnbier1, Olaf Morgenroth2
1Department of Psychology, University of Halle-Wittenberg, Halle (Saale), Germany
2Medical School Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
Received February 20th, 2012; revised March 18th, 2012; accepted April 3rd, 2012
This study assesses the ethnic identity and ethnicity-related stress for adolescent immigrants accompanied
by their families, for unaccompanied adolescent immigrants and for native (German) adolescents. Seventy
adolescents completed the Ethnic Group Membership Questionnaire and the Perceived Ethnic Discrimi-
nation Questionnaire. Results show that unaccompanied adolescent immigrants (n = 20) report more
negative private feelings about their own ethnic identity, lower beliefs about the public’s regard for their
ethnic group and more ethnicity-related stress in the dimensions “perceived ethnic discrimination”,
“stereotype confirmation concern” and “own-group conformity pressure” than accompanied adolescent
immigrants (n = 25) and German adolescents (n = 25). Accompanied adolescent immigrants revealed
higher scores than German adolescents only in the dimension “perceived ethnic discrimination”. Results
support the hypothesis derived from the theory of social capital that for the accompanied adolescent im-
migrants, the family works as social capital, reduces ethnicity-related stress, and promotes the develop-
ment of a positive ethnic identity.
Keywords: Ethnic Identity; Ethnicity-Related Stress; Social Capital; Adolescent Immigrants
The experience of social stress and social discrimination is
part of daily life for immigrants in the Western industrialized
nations (Zick, Pettigrew, & Wagner, 2008). While the search
for the reasons of this discrimination has a long tradition in psy-
chological research (Sassenberg et al., 2007), the study of the
effects of the repeated experience of stress and discriminatory
behavior on the stigmatized person, however, has moved into
the center of consideration only in more recent research (Con-
trada et al., 2001; Jasinskaja-Lahtl, Liebkind, & Perhoniemi,
2006; Skrobanek, 2009). This study builds on this work and
focuses on the experience of ethnicity-related stress and the
development of an ethnic identity as part of the personal iden-
tity in young immigrants. In particular, the aim of the study is
to differentiate between accompanied and unaccompanied ado-
lescent immigrants and to focus on the family as a protective
factor against stressors and social discrimination. While both
groups may experience discrimination because of their social
status as immigrants in a similar way, the burdens of young
immigrants are different depending on whether they live with
or without their parents in Germany. Young people who live
with their parents in Germany may suffer under the social status
as immigrants or the loss of the economic autonomy of the
family. They often get into adult-oriented situations, for exam-
ple as interpreters, because they have better language skills than
their parents. However, the extra burdens of unaccompanied
refugees are the loss of their families and relatives and the feel-
ing of isolation, which cannot be compensated by friendships
(Klingelhöfer & Rieker, 2004).
Below we first present the concept of ethnicity by Phinney
(1990, 1996a, 1996b), followed by the concepts of ethnic iden-
tity and ethnicity-related stress by Contrada et al. (2001). These
approaches will help explain the specific situation of ethnic
minorities. Thereafter we discuss the concept of social capital
by Coleman (1988) and Portes (1998) and focus on the impact
of the family on the development of ethnic identity and the
experience of ethnicity-related stress by adolescents.
The Concept of Ethnic Identity
The terms ethnic identity and race are often used inter-
changeably to mean the same thing, but the term ethnic identity
is distinct from race. Markus (2008) points out that both offer
the possibility of grouping people according to physical, social
or religious characteristics. However, the division into races is
done preferably by others on the basis of perceived differences
in appearance or behavior. However, the concept of ethnicity,
Markus argues, allow people to identify with other people or
groups or to be identified, based on assumed commonalties
such as language, history, nationality, and region of origin,
religion or physical appearance. According to this, Phinney
(1996a: p. 922) defines ethnic identity as “an enduring, funda-
mental aspect of the self that includes a sense of membership in
an ethnic group and the attitudes and feelings associated with
that membership”. Phinney (1996a) assumes that individuals
differ in how strongly they identify with their ascribed ethnic
group and how important the group identity is for their personal
identity. Phinney (2000) considers the ethnic identity not as a
fixed category, but as changeable by time, age and circum-
The assumptions of Phinney (1996b) build on the theory of
social identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). According to this the-
ory, the self-concept of individuals consists of a personal and a
social identity. Social identity refers to a person’s knowledge of
membership in various social (e.g., religious, political or ethnic)
groups, and the value and emotional significance the person
places on social group memberships. The theory further postu-
lates that individuals strive to achieve a positive social identity
through the positive assessment of the groups to which a person
belongs. Based on this assumption, Luhtanen and Crocker
(1992) present the construct of collective self-esteem. Collec-
tive self-esteem is achieved through positive social comparison
processes or by positive feedback from others (Luhtanen &
Crocker, 1992). Contrada et al. (2001) build on the work of
Luhtanen and Crocker (1992) and propose three dimensions of
ethnic identity: 1) Private feelings about one’s ethnicity; 2)
beliefs about the public’s regard for one’s ethnic group, and 3)
the importance or centrality of ethnicity to identity.
In the present study, we examined our adolescent participants
in a phase which Phinney (1996a) calls “ethnic identity search”.
At this time the adolescents have the desire to learn more about
their ethnic identity (Barn, 2010). Social experiences play a
major role. In this phase adolescent immigrants have more
contact with people who have a different ethnic background
than themselves. They are therefore also increasingly exposed
to social discrimination. Hemmati et al. (1999) show that dis-
criminatory behavior towards immigrants in Germany is a
widespread phenomenon. This includes subtle acts such as
avoiding contact and the omission of common forms of polite-
ness, as well as open forms such as verbal attacks and insults
and violent attacks. The consequence is that young immigrants
in general should develop more negative feelings about their
own ethnic identity and about the public image of their own
ethnic group than the control group of German adolescents.
Other results, however, can be expected for the dimension
“importance or centrality of ethnicity to identity”. The confron-
tation with majority members and their way of living should
increase the reflections minority members have about their own
identity and should make them more relevant. On the other
hand, majority members have little reason to reflect about their
ethnicity in everyday life.
Hypotheses 1a-c: Accompanied and unaccompanied adoles-
cent immigrants should have more negative feelings about their
own ethnicity (H1a) and more negative beliefs about the public
regard for their own ethnic group (H1b) but a higher impor-
tance or centrality of ethnicity to identity than native German
adolescents (H1c).
Studies on ethnic identity usually compare members of dif-
ferent ethnic groups (e.g. Contrada et al., 2001). The aim of this
study is not only to compare the ethnic identity of native Ger-
man adolescents and immigrant adolescents but to analyze the
influence of the life situation of the immigrants. Some young
people come with their parents as refugees to Germany. They
usually live together with their families in shared accommoda-
tion in a confined space, but schooling and social contacts can
be established with the support of the family. For these adoles-
cent immigrants, their families can be supportive as well as
problematic in the process of developing a separate identity
(Raynolds, 2006; Zontini, 2010). A different situation arises for
adolescent immigrants who come as unaccompanied refugees
to Germany. They usually grow up in youth welfare institutions
or in special facilities for unaccompanied minor refugees. In the
case of them being 16 or older, placement in a shared accom-
modation is also possible. For these youths, the family is not
available for them to acquire information about their own eth-
nic identity. Information about their own ethnic group will be
acquired in the form of—often negative—social reactions by
the majority. This should lead to more negative feelings and the
perception of more negative beliefs about their ethnic group by
the public. Some studies already expressed concerns about
potential risk factors which may lead unaccompanied adoles-
cent immigrants to internalize racism and be ill-equipped to
develop a positive ethnic identity (Barn, 2010; Robinson, 2000).
Moreover, beliefs about one’s ethnicity should not be so de-
tailed and extensive in contrast to the beliefs of unaccompanied
adolescent immigrants, for whom social reactions by the major-
ity should lead to a lesser importance of their own ethnicity for
their own identity.
Hypotheses 2a-c: Accompanied adolescent immigrants should
have more positive feelings about their own ethnicity (H2a),
more positive beliefs about the public regard for their own eth-
nic group (H2b), and a higher importance or centrality of eth-
nicity to identity than unaccompanied adolescent immigrants
Ethnicity-Related Stress
Another aspect of ethnicity is the experiences that are made
in connection with the status as a minority. These were exam-
ined in the form of ethnicity-related stress by Contrada et al.
(2001). They define ethnicity-related stress as “the outcome of
a person-situation interaction in which perception of features of
the social environment, in the light of knowledge of one’s eth-
nicity, leads either to the anticipation of psychological or physical
harm, or to the belief that such harm has already occurred”
(Contrada et al., 2001: p. 1777). Three forms of ethnicityrelated
stress were proposed: 1) ethnic discrimination; 2) stereotype
confirmation concern and 3) own-group conformity pressure.
Contrada et al. (2001) defined ethnic discrimination as an
unfair treatment attributed to one’s ethnicity. Ethnic discrimi-
nation has been studied most often as a discrimination that
emanates from members of a (usually white) majority against
minorities. Most research was conducted in the United States.
Various methods, such as interviews, surveys, content analyses,
and standardized questionnaires were used (e.g. Feagin & Sikes,
1994; Lykes, 1983; Landrine & Klonoff, 1996). The results
have shown that discrimination is a common occurrence in the
United States and that African Americans are particularly af-
fected (Landrine & Klonoff, 1996; McNeilly et al., 1996). Af-
rican Americans reported both very aggressive forms, such as
physical assaults and threats, as well as subtle forms of dis-
crimination, such as the avoidance of contact. Instruments to
measure perceived discrimination, such as the Schedule of
Racist Events (SRE; Landrine & Klonoff, 1996) and the Per-
ceived Racism Scale (PRS; McNeilly et al., 1996), assess the
frequency of racist experiences. However, these have been
developed specifically for African American people. Contrada
et al. (2001) developed a questionnaire which measures differ-
ent types of ethnic discrimination and is appropriate for use
with all ethnic groups.
The concept of stereotype confirmation concern is based on
findings that indicate that individuals of stigmatized groups are
aware of the stereotypes about their group and fear being
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 371
evaluated according to these stereotypes or to confirm them by
their own behavior. Steele and Aronson (1995) describe this
apprehension as stereotype threat. They assume that stereotype
threat is an acute social psychological state or event, and pri-
marily study the effects of direct confrontation with stereotypes
(Aronson, Quinn, & Spencer, 1998). Contrada et al. (2001)
conceptualize stereotype confirmation concern as a relatively
enduring or recurring experience of stereotype threat. It is
therefore a persistent experience of uncertainty and apprehend-
sion about confirming a stereotype about the group to which
one belongs. In addition, Contrada et al. (2001) assume that all
ethnic groups have these fears. Stereotypes of ethnic groups are
multifaceted. Therefore, it is possible that many people fear
confirming multiple stereotypes. These assumptions were taken
into account by Contrada et al. (2001) in the construction of the
scale to measure stereotype confirmation. The scale contains
items that refer to several behavioral areas potentially relevant
to various ethnic stereotypes.
The previously described components of ethnicity-related
stress refer to phenomena that arise from the relationship be-
tween majority and minority. The third facet of ethnicity-re-
lated stress, however, has its origins within the group. Based on
the observation of Fordham and Ogbu (1986) that some African
Americans accuse other African American students of “acting
white” when they apply themselves to academic work, Con-
trada et al. (2001) developed the concept of own-group confor-
mity pressure. They define this type of ethnicity-related stress
as “the experience of feeling pressured or constrained by ex-
pectations from members of one’s own ethnic group that spec-
ify what is considered appropriate or inappropriate behavior for
that group” (Contrada et al., 2001: p. 1779). Responsible for
this experience are either characteristics of the person or the
social environment. The personal aspects include their own eth-
nicity and factors influencing the perception of group norms
and expectations. Among the social aspects, overt sanctions for
violating ethnic group norms and more subtle reminders of how
to behave are important.
The Family as a Buffer for Ethnicity-Related Stress
Good family relationships have a positive effect on coping
with stressors (DeGarmo & Martinez, 2006; Fuligni & Yoshi-
kawa, 2003). Slonim-Nevo, Mirsky, Rubinstein, & Nauck (2009)
showed that family relations were significantly related to ad-
justment to the host country in migrants in Israel and Germany.
The authors report that functioning relationships within the
family have a positive impact on the prevention of stress and
the development of self-esteem.
Slonim et al. (2009) employ the theory of social capital
(Coleman, 1988; Portes, 1998) to explain their results. Coleman
(1988) describes social capital as a resource for action. Unlike
financial capital or human capital, social capital is not tied to a
person but to the structure of relationships between people. The
family constitutes a crucial aspect of social capital. Furthermore,
Coleman defines social capital functionally: “It is not a single
entity but a variety of different entities, with two elements in
common: they all consist of some aspect of social structures,
and they facilitate certain action of actors—whether persons or
corporate actors—within the structure. Like other forms of ca-
pital, social capital is productive, making possible the achievement
of certain ends that in its absence would not be possible” (Co-
leman, 1988, p. 98). In this sense capital is anything that facili-
tates individual or collective action, generated by networks of
Portes (1998) defines social capital as “the ability of actors to
secure benefits by virtue of membership in social networks or
other social structures” (p. 6). He also identifies three main
functions that need to be distinguished. Social capital is a
source of social control, family support and benefits, which
result from extended family networks. The social capital of the
family is seen in the relationship between children and parents.
There is a growing interest in social capital and young people
(Barn, 2010; Weller, 2010), especially in immigrant families
(Zontini, 2010). DeGarmo and Martinez (2006) find in a study
with Latino youth that social support buffered effects of dis-
crimination on academic well-being, and parental support was
most predictive of greater academic well-being. Therefore, good
family relations should help to reduce fears and uncertainties,
such as the fear of confirming stereotypes through their own
behavior. This means that accompanied adolescent immigrants
should feel less ethnicity-related stress and should be less afraid
to confirm stereotypes than unaccompanied adolescent immi-
grants. Further, accompanied adolescent immigrants should in
ambigious situations interpret actions and statements of other
people less likely as discriminating than accompanied adoles-
cent immigrants. However, due to the previously reported find-
ings of everyday discrimination of immigrants in Germany
(Hemmati et al., 1999), both groups should perceive more eth-
nic discrimination and should have more fear of confirming to
stereotypes than the adolescents of the control group.
Hypothesis 3: Accompanied and unaccompanied adolescent
immigrants should perceive more ethnic discrimination than
native German adolescents.
Hypothesis 4: Unaccompanied adolescent immigrants should
perceive more ethnic discrimination than accompanied adoles-
cent immigrants.
Hypothesis 5: Accompanied and unaccompanied adolescent
immigrants should have more stereotype confirmation concern
than native German adolescents.
Hypothesis 6: Unaccompanied adolescent immigrants should
have more stereotype confirmation concern than accompanied
adolescent immigrants.
Portes (1998), however, has also pointed to the negative
consequences that are associated with social capital. He empha-
sizes here a stressor, which Contrada et al. (2001) also includes
in their concept of ethnicity-related stress: the own-group con-
formity pressure. It could be assumed that living with parents
and closer contact with members of their own ethnic group
make young people more likely to conform to the standards and
values of their own ethnic group in order to avoid sanctions.
Thus, the pressure to behave in a certain way should lead to
higher scores on the dimension own-group conformity pressure
for adolescent immigrants who live together with their families
than for young people from ethnic minorities, who do not live
with their parents.
Hypothesis 7: Accompanied adolescent immigrants should
perceive more own-group conformity pressure than unaccom-
panied adolescent immigrants.
Seventy adolescents participated in the study. Thirty-eight of
the participants were women and thirty-two were men. Partici-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
pants were between 13 and 20 years old (M = 17.21, SD = 1.70).
The participants were assigned to the three groups in the fol-
lowing manner: 25 participants who specified German as native
language and cultural group formed the control group. 25 par-
ticipants who specified German not as their cultural group or
mother tongue and indicated living with their families formed
the group of accompanied immigrants. Adolescents who cur-
rently live as unaccompanied minor refugees in Germany
formed the group of unaccompanied adolescent immigrants.
The group of unaccompanied immigrants consists of 20 ado-
lescents. The origin of the immigrants was Asia (40%), Russia
(24.4%), Eastern Europe (20%) and Africa (15.6%).
The participants were recruited in cooperation with teachers
from different schools in the state of Saxony-Anhalt and in
cooperation with organizations which support immigrants. The
participants were reassured of anonymity and confidentiality,
and provided with adequate information to help them formulate
informed consent to participate in the study. All participants
were informed of their right to withdraw from the study or to
refuse to answer any questions they deemed to be too sensitive.
Immigrants also received help when they had difficulties with
the German language. All participants were given a question-
naire. They were first asked to indicate their mother tongue and
cultural group. In addition, demographic variables of age, gen-
der, school and grade were collected. With a total of 58 items,
the following constructs were measured:
Ethnic identity. The Ethnic Group Membership Question-
naire (EGMQ) by Contrada et al. (2001) was used. In the origi-
nal version this questionnaire consists of 12 items, with four
items for each of the three dimensions 1) private feelings; 2)
public regard and 3) identity centrality. We translated the
EGMQ into German and shortened the questionnaire by 2 items
whose wording and meaning in German is uncommon. The
dimension “private feelings” was measured with 4 items (e.g.,
“I often regret that I belong to the ethnic group I do”, reverse
scored), the scale mean was M = 4.57 (SD = 1.05), and Cron-
bach’s alpha was .71. The dimension “identity centrality” was
also measured with 4 items (e.g., “The ethnic group that I be-
long to is an important reflection of who I am”), the scale mean
was M = 3.59 (SD = 1.04), and Chronbach’s alpha was .64.
Finally, the dimension “public regard” was measured with two
items (e.g., “Overall, my ethnic group is viewed positively by
others”), the scale mean was M = 4.08 (SD = 1.20), and Chron-
bach’s alpha was .61. All 10 items were scored on 6-point
scales ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree).
Perceived ethnic discrimination. This form of ethnicity-re-
lated stress was measured with the Perceived Ethnic Discrimi-
nation Questionnaire (PEDQ) by Contrada et al. (2001). The
questionnaire was translated into German and adapted to the
characteristics of an adolescent sample. In the original version
of the PEDQ of Contrada et al. the authors distinguish seven
forms of discrimination, which are measured by 22 items. The
seven forms are 1) verbal rejection (e.g., “Offensive ethnic
comments aimed directly at you”); 2) avoidance (e.g., “Others
avoided you because of your ethnicity”); 3) exclusion (e.g.,
“You were denied access to a public facility because of your
ethnicity”); 4) denial of equal treatment (e.g., “You received
unfair treatment from school officials because of your ethnic-
ity”); 5) disvaluing action (e.g., “Others had implied or sug-
gested that you must be violent or dangerous because of your
ethnicity”); 6) threat of aggression (e.g., “Others threatened to
hurt you because of your ethnicity”); 7) aggression (e.g., “Oth-
ers physically hurt or intended to hurt you because of your eth-
nicity”). In the present study we added 2 items on perceived
discrimination in school, such as, “How many times have you
been abused by fellow students because of your ethnicity?” and
“How often did you feel threatened in school because of your
ethnicity?” We further added the following 3 items that relate to
the dimension “denial of equal treatment”: “How often have
you not gone into a nightclub or bar because of your ethnicity?”,
“How many times were you treated unfairly by police officers
because of your ethnicity?” and “How often were you treated
unfairly by authorities and agencies because of your ethnicity?”
Item 11 of the PEDQ of Contrada et al. (2001), which refers to
work situations, has been omitted. In addition, three other items
were omitted (items 1, 12, 22 of the original questionnaire),
because they do not reflect the situation of young people in
Germany (e.g. nonverbal harassment like being given “the fin-
ger”) or appeared too difficult (e.g., “How often do others have
low expectations of you?”). With the added items, this ques-
tionnaire part consists of 23 items. In response to each of these
items, participants were instructed to use a 6-point scale rang-
ing from 1 (never) to 6 (very often) to indicate how often over
the past 3 months each form of discrimination had been di-
rected at them. The scale mean was M = 1.77 (SD = .82), and
Chronbach’s alpha was .95.
Stereotype conformation concern. Concerns of confirming
stereotypes about the own ethnic group were measured with the
Stereotype Confirmation Scale (SCCS) by Contrada et al.
(2001). The original scale consists of 11 items. For this study,
the SCCS was translated into German and adapted to the situa-
tion of young people in Germany. The items 4, 5, 10 and 11 of
the original scale were removed because they seemed neither
appropriate nor relevant to the situation of young people in
Germany (e.g., “How often have you been concerned that in
doing certain household tasks you might appear to confirm a
stereotype of your ethnic group?”). The scale used in this study
to measure concerns about confirming stereotypes includes 7
items. Participants were asked to use a 6-point scale ranging
from 1 (never) to 6 (always) to indicate how often over the past
3 months they have been “concerned that by ____ [they] might
appear to be confirming a stereotype about [their] ethnic group”.
Specific behaviors mentioned in individual items include dres-
sing a certain way, talking in certain ways or eating. The scale
mean was M = 1.89 (SD = .81), and Chronbach’s alpha was .79.
Own-Group Conformity Pressure. The conformity pressure
of the own-group was measured with the Own-Group Confor-
mity Pressure Scale (OGCPS) by Contrada et al. (2001). The
original scale consists of 16 items. In the present study the
items 13, 14, 15 and 16 were omitted because they do not re-
flect the situation of young people in Germany. For the adopted
12 items the participants were asked to use a 6-point scale
ranging from 1 (not at all pressured) to 6 (quite a bit pressured)
to indicate, for the past 3 months, “To what degree [they] have
felt pressured by members of [their] ethnic group to ____”.
Individual items referred to social interactions with their own
and other group members, interests and hobbies, music prefer-
ences and style of dress. The scale mean was M = 1.63 (SD
= .62), and Chronbach’s alpha was .83.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 373
Ethnic Identity
Mean ratings of the variables “Private feelings”, “Public re-
gard” and “Identity centrality” for the German adolescents of
the control group, for accompanied adolescent immigrants and
for unaccompanied adolescent immigrants are displayed in Fig-
ure 1.
Private feelings. A univariate ANOVA revealed significant
differences between conditions, F (2, 67) = 16.21, p < .01, η2
= .33. Planned comparisons (t-tests) to test H1a and H2a
showed that unaccompanied adolescent immigrants (M = 3.66,
SD = .92) reported significantly more negative feelings than
German adolescents (M = 4.73, SD = .91, t(43) = 3.67, p < .001)
and accompanied adolescent immigrants (M = 5.13, SD = .68,
t(43) = 5,73, p < .001). All other planned comparisons were not
significant. This means that adolescent immigrants do not gen-
erally have more negative feelings about their own ethnicity
than German adolescents, thus H1a is only supported for unac-
companied adolescent immigrants but not for accompanied
adolescent immigrants. Further, results show that accompanied
adolescent immigrants have more positive feelings about their
ethnicity than unaccompanied adolescent immigrants. Thus, we
found support for H2a.
Public regard. A univariate ANOVA revealed significant
differences between the three groups, F(2, 67) = 4.54, p < .05,
η2 = .12. Unaccompanied adolescent immigrants (M = 3.45, SD
= 1.16) rated the public regard of their group significantly
lower than German adolescents (M = 4.46, SD = 1.07, t(43) =
3.04, p < .05) and accompanied adolescent immigrants (M =
4.20, SD = 1.20, t(43) = 2.11, p < .05). All other planned com-
parisons were not significant. These results show that adoles-
cent immigrants do not generally rate the public regard of their
group lower than German adolescents, thus H1b is only sup-
ported for unaccompanied adolescents immigrants but not for
accompanied adolescent immigrants. H2b is supported by the
data: Accompanied adolescent immigrants reported more posi-
tive beliefs about the public regard for their own ethnic group
than unaccompanied adolescent immigrants.
Identity centrality. A univariate ANOVA showed that Ger-
man adolescents (M = 3.32, SD = 1.05), accompanied adoles-
cent immigrants (M = 3.90, SD = 1.07) and unaccompanied
adolescent immigrants (M = 3.53, SD = .90) do not differ in the
rating of the importance or centrality of ethnicity for their iden-
tity, F(2, 67) = 2.09, p ns.
Private feelingsPublic regardIdentity centrality
Control groupAccompanied immigrantsUnaccompanied immigrants
Figure 1.
Mean ratings of the variables “Private feelings about one’s ethnicity,”
“Beliefs about the public’s regard for one’s ethnic group” and “Impor-
tance or centrality of ethnicity to identity” for the German adolescents
of the control group, for accompanied adolescent immigrants and for
unaccompanied adolescent immigrants.
Ethnicity-Related Stress
Mean ratings of the variables “Perceived ethnic discrimina-
tion,” “Stereotype confirmation concern” and “Own-group con-
formity pressure” for the German adolescents of the control
group, for accompanied adolescent immigrants and for unac-
companied adolescent immigrants are displayed in Figure 2.
Perceived ethnic discrimination. A univariate ANOVA re-
vealed significant differences between conditions, F(2, 67) =
17.80, p < .001, η2 = .35. Planned comparisons to test H3
showed that accompanied adolescent immigrants (M = 1.80, SD
= .77, t (48) = 3.56, p < .001) as well as unaccompanied ado-
lescent immigrants (M = 2.42, SD = 86, t(43) = 6.55, p < .001)
reported a significantly higher perceived ethnic discrimination
than German adolescents (M = 1.21, SD = .30). Thus, H3 was
supported. Furthermore, in support of H4, unaccompanied ado-
lescent immigrants perceive significantly more ethnic discri-
mination (M = 2.41) than accompanied adolescent immigrants
(M = 1.80, t (43) = 2.52, p < .05).
Stereotype confirmation concern. A univariate ANOVA re-
vealed significant differences between conditions, F(2, 67) =
3.34, p < .05, η2 = .09. Planned comparisons displayed that
while on the one hand unaccompanied adolescent immigrants
(M = 2.26, SD = .86) show more stereotype confirmation con-
cern than German adolescents (M = 1.65, SD = .68, t (43) =
2.60, p < .05), on the other hand the stereotype confirmation
concern reported by accompanied adolescent immigrants and
German adolescents do not differ (M = 1.83, SD = .82 vs M =
1.65, SD = .68, t(48) = .80, p ns.). Therefore, adolescent immi-
grants do not generally show a greater fear of confirming to
stereotypes than German adolescents. Thus, H5 was not sup-
ported. However, we found some support for H6: Unaccompa-
nied adolescent immigrants (M = 2.26) reported tendencially
more stereotype confirmation concern than accompanied ado-
lescent immigrants (M = 1.83, t(43) = 1.70, p < .10).
Own-group conformity pressure. A univariate ANOVA re-
vealed significant differences between conditions, F(2, 67) =
4.04, p < .05, η2 = .11. Planned comparisons displayed that
unaccompanied adolescent immigrants tendencially perceived
more own-group conformity pressure (M = 1.94, SD = .73) than
accompanied adolescent immigrants (M = 1.56, SD = 66, t(43)
= 1.83, p < .10) and significantly more own group conformity
pressure than German adolescents (M = 1.44, SD = .37, t(43) =
2.94, p < .01). Thus, the results do not confirm H7, that living
with parents and having closer contact with members of their
own ethnic group leads accompanied adolescent immigrants to
Perceived ethnic
discrimination Stereotype
confirmation concernOwn-g roup conf or m ity
Control groupAccompani ed im m igrant s U naccompanied immigrants
Figure 2.
Mean ratings of the variables “Perceived ethnic discrimination,” “Ste-
reotype confirmation concern” and “Own-group conformity pressure”
for the German adolescents of the control group, for accompanied ado-
lescent immigrants and for unaccompanied adolescent immigrants.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
feel more conformity pressure than unaccompanied adolescent
immigrants. On the contrary, unaccompanied immigrants report
the highest values in the dimension of own-group conformity
This study had two main goals. Firstly, the development of
ethnic identity and ethnicity-related stress among adolescent
immigrants in Germany should be compared with German ado-
lescents. Second, the impact of living with the family on the
development of ethnic identity and the experience of ethnic-
ity-related stress should be studied. Therefore we differentiated
between accompanied and unaccompanied adolescent immi-
Ethnic Identity
When comparing the groups, only two significant results
were found. These related to the dimensions of private feelings
about one’s ethnic identity and the beliefs about the public’s
regard for one’s ethnic group. Here unaccompanied adolescent
immigrants revealed significantly more negative feelings and
reported lower beliefs about the public regard of their ethnic
group than accompanied adolescent immigrants and German
youths. No differences on these dimensions were found for
accompanied adolescent immigrants and German youths. It must
also be noted here that the values for all three groups—and thus
also for unaccompanied young immigrants—were high in ab-
solute magnitude. Furthermore, contrary to the hypotheses, the
importance or centrality of ethnicity to identity was not higher
for the two immigrant groups than for the German group.
The results of this study are therefore interesting in two ways.
Firstly, the present study shows that there are, if any, only mi-
nor differences between adolescent immigrants and German
adolescents regarding the positivity and the importance of their
own ethnic identity. What the self-esteem theory proposes (Pe-
tersen, Stahlberg, & Dauenheimer, 2000) for personal identity,
what the social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) postu-
lated for the social identity and what was demonstrated in a
large number of studies (Baumeister, 1988) seems to be true for
the ethnic identity, too: People have a strong desire to achieve a
positive identity, and they often succeed in building a positive
identity despite unfavorable conditions. Although adolescent
immigrants experience increased discrimination due to their
ethnicity—as also shown in this study—they succeed overall in
developing positive feelings concerning their ethnicity and in
generating positive beliefs about the public’s regard for their
ethnic group. It is left to subsequent research to find out if peo-
ple, regarding the development of their own ethnicity, use
similar positivity biases to achieve a positive personal or social
identity (Crocker & Major, 1989), or whether they employ
specific strategies in the field of ethnic identity.
Second, this study also indicates that the family may have
some influence on the perception of one’s own ethnic group. In
her three-phase model of the development of ethnic identity,
Phinney describes that in the second phase, young people feel a
strong desire to learn about their group (Phinney, 1996a). Vari-
ous information sources may explain the difference in terms of
public regard and personal feelings about their ethnicity, which
was found between accompanied and unaccompanied adoles-
cent immigrants. Thus, accompanied adolescent immigrants
have the possibility to compare and discuss their negative ex-
periences with other members of their group because of their
group membership. Accompanied adolescent immigrants should
also receive positive and appropriate ethnic socialization mes-
sages from their parents, leading to a good understanding of
ethnic identity and to coping strategies to confront discrimina-
tion behavior (Stevenson, 1995). Living with parents could thus
help young immigrants, despite the experience of ethnic dis-
crimination, to develop a positive ethnic identity. Our results
are also consistent with some British studies who shows that
accompanied adolescent immigrants do not generally experi-
ence problems and concerns about their ethnic identity (Barn,
Andrew, & Mantovani, 2005; Reynolds, 2006).
Unaccompanied refugees, however, have problems in this
phase of their own ethnic identity development getting infor-
mation about their own ethnic group from group members. Due
to the fact that they often live in collective accommodations
together with other young people who also possess no estab-
lished ethnic identity or belong to other ethnic groups, they
have difficulties accessing adult members of their own ethnic
group. This could mean that they are mainly dependent on in-
formation outside their ethnic group. This lack of opportunity
to compare experiences with discrimination could be used as
one explanation why unaccompanied adolescent immigrant
have more negative feelings about their own ethnic group and
lower beliefs about the public regard for their own group com-
pared to accompanied adolescent immigrants.
Ethnicity-Related Stress
Contrary to the results concerning the ethnic identity, signi-
ficant differences between groups occur for the magnitude of
ethnicity-related stress in all three dimensions. Both accompa-
nied and unaccompanied adolescent immigrants reported more
perceived ethnic discrimination in everyday life, such as verbal
rejections, exclusions, denial of equal treatment and disvaluing
actions, than German adolescents. Unaccompanied immigrants
reported significantly more of these experiences than accompa-
nied adolescent immigrants. Furthermore, unaccompanied im-
migrants also reported a significantly greater anxiety to confirm
stereotypes with their own behavior than accompanied adoles-
cent immigrant and German adolescents. Finally, contrary to
our hypothesis, unaccompanied adolescent immigrants reported
an increased own-group conformity pressure, for example in
interactions with own and other group members, interests and
style of dress.
The differences in experienced ethnicity-related stress be-
tween accompanied and unaccompanied adolescent immigrants
support the assumption that the family can act as a protective
factor for different stressors that are associated with one’s own
ethnicity. This is consistent with previous studies (DeGarmo &
Martinez, 2006; Slonim-Nevo et al., 2009), which also show
that the family works as social capital and has a positive impact
on the prevention of stress. The assumption of Porter (1998)
that living with parents and having closer contact with members
of their own ethnic group leads young people to the experience
of more own-group conformity pressure was not supported by
the results of this study. Rather, it seems that accompanied
adolescent immigrants have benefits from living together with
their families without having costs such as an increased pres-
sure to conform with the standards and values of the own ethnic
group. In contrast, unaccompanied adolescent immigrants seem
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 375
to experience conformity pressure in contact with people of
their ethnic group who do not belong to their families and give
this conformity pressure a greater importance than accom-
panied immigrants. Accompanied adolescent immigrant could
therefore benefit in all dimensions of ethnicity-related stress
from living together with their families.
Limitations and Future Directions
In the present study significant differences between accom-
panied and unaccompanied adolescent immigrants were shown
concerning private feelings about their ethnicity and ethnicity-
related stress. Our explanation for these differences builds on
family support and benefits, which result from extended family
networks. Subsequent studies could support this explanation by
measuring the quality of family relationships as well as the
extent of the family network and by showing that these factors
moderate the development of the ethnic identity and the percep-
tion of ethnic-related stress.
An alternative explanation for the reported differences be-
tween accompanied and unaccompanied adolescent immigrants
could be derived from potentially different life stories of the
members in these two groups. It can be assumed that unaccom-
panied young immigrants have experienced more dramatic
events in their flight (including the separation from their fami-
lies) than accompanied immigrants. These experiences, which
met unaccompanied adolescent immigrants on their way to
Germany, probably weakened their mental state and increased
their vulnerability to stressors in general. The necessary data for
an evaluation of the described alternative explanation were not
included in this study for several reasons. First, it would have
meant the inclusion of additional items in the questionnaire.
This would have been, given the limited language skills of the
immigrant participants and the already extensive questionnaire,
an undue additional workload for the participants. On the other
hand—which was a much more important reason—asking ques-
tions about events during the flight and separation from their
parents contains the danger of reactivating of existent traumata.
Information about such events should be obtained only if the
investigators have good and lasting relationships with the study
participants and could provide therapeutic options. This was not
the case in the present study. Subsequent studies could benefit
from such opportunities.
A successful integration of immigrants is one of the central
social and political issues of our times (Deaux, 2000; Bürgelt,
Morgan, & Pernice, 2008). Ethnicity-related stress and ethnic
discrimination can jeopardize this process of integration and the
development of a positive ethnic identity. This should be par-
ticularly important during adolescence when ethnic identity
becomes an important factor for developing a positive personal
identity for young immigrants (Barn, 2010; Schmitt, Roder-
mund, & Silbereisen, 2008). The present study shows that un-
accompanied adolescent immigrants experience more ethnic-
ity-related stress in the form of perceived ethnic discrimination,
stereotype confirmation concern and own-group conformity
pressure than accompanied adolescents immigrants and native
adolescents. Adolescent immigrants who live together with
their families, however, only report more perceived discrimina-
tion in comparison with German adolescents. Unaccompanied
adolescent immigrants also report more negative feelings re-
garding their own ethnic identity compared to accompanied
adolescent immigrants, while accompanied young immigrants
have just as positive feelings concerning their ethnic identity as
German adolescents. Therefore the results support the hypothe-
sis derived from the theory of social capital (Coleman, 1988;
Portes, 1998) that for accompanied adolescent immigrants the
family works as social capital, reduces ethnicity-related stress
and promotes the development of a positive ethnic identity.
Subsequent studies could further support this conclusion by
showing that the quality of family relationships has a positive
impact on the development of the ethnic identity and dealing
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