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Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics:
Original Articles

Associations Among Familism, Language Preference, and Education in Mexican-American Mothers and Their Children

ROMERO, ANDREA J. Ph.D.; ROBINSON, THOMAS N. M.D., M.P.H.; HAYDEL, K. FARISH B.A.; MENDOZA, FERNANDO M.D., M.P.H.; KILLEN, JOEL D. Ph.D.

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Abstract

Latino families who express a higher degree of familism are characterized by positive interpersonal familial relationships, high family unity, social support, interdependence in the completion of daily activities, and close proximity with extended family members. Retention of cultural values, such as familism, may be linked to positive health outcomes; however, little is known about how families retain culture of origin values in the face of acculturation pressures. The current study explores acculturation influences as indexed by language preference and household education on maternal and child familism. Mothers and children of Mexican descent (fourth grade students) (n = 219) completed measures of demographics, household education, language preference, and familism. Three hypotheses were examined. First, we predicted that lower household education would be correlated with higher familism scores. However, contrary to our prediction, a higher familism score was significantly associated with a higher level of household education (p < .05). Second, we predicted that higher child familism would be associated with the preference for speaking Spanish. Children who preferred to use both English and Spanish (p < .01) or English alone (p < .05) had higher familism scores than those who preferred Spanish. Third, we predicted that lower child familism scores would be associated with greater differences in mother and child language preferences. There were no significant differences in child familism based on differences between parent and child language. Protective influences of cultural maintenance deserve further attention in longitudinal studies and in relation to the physical and mental health of youth.

It is helpful for clinicians who work with families from different cultures to be aware of normative beliefs, values, attitudes, and practices that are commonly identified in a particular group. But it is also crucially important to recognize that there is often as much variation in beliefs and practices within groups as among different groups. Knowledge of such variability guards against stereotyping. This article describes differences in expression of a common traditional cultural value (familism) within a group of Mexican-American families based on the level of acculturation and other sociodemographic factors. Results show that the relationships among these variables are complex and require further study.—Editor

Familism is a construct that reflects the collectivistic nature of Latino culture, in other words, the orientation toward the welfare of the group. 1 Latino families who express a higher degree of familism are characterized by positive interpersonal familial relationships, high family unity, social support, interdependence in the completion of daily activities, and close proximity with extended family members. 2–6

Higher levels of familism are associated with positive health outcomes such as lower youth substance use, later initiation of immigrant youth drug use, lower juvenile delinquency rates, lower rates of child abuse, and higher use rates of mammographic services. 7–13 As a result, health researchers have become interested in how the maintenance of culture of origin values influences the ways in which people adapt to new cultures. 14–18 It is known, for example, that family conflict may increase when family members shed cultural values and adopt new values at different rates. 14,19 In two studies investigating the perception of different rates of acculturation within families, higher prevalence of substance use and lower levels of self-esteem were detected among Latino youth who perceived larger intergenerational differences in cultural values. 20,21 The maintenance of culture of origin values such as familism may decelerate the rate of acculturation within families, leading to less intergenerational strife and better health outcomes.

In this article, we examine associations between familism and level of acculturation as indexed by language preference in Mexican-American mothers and their children. To date, the relevant literature is limited to a few case reports and a handful of studies with adult children. 19,22,23 In these studies, higher education level was the only significant covariate with lower familism among Puerto Rican parents and adult children. 23

In general, the hypotheses guiding our study express the rationale that English language preference and higher education will reduce the extent to which family members embrace values rooted in the culture of origin. The study examined the following specific hypotheses: (1) Higher maternal familism will be associated with lower household education level. (2) Higher child familism will be associated with a preference for Spanish language. (3) Lower child familism will be associated with greater differences in mother and child language preferences.

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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