International Comparative Study of Ethno-cultural Youth

Published 2008. Contact: Colleen Ward


The International Comparative Study of Ethno-cultural Youth is a 13 nation project on Identity, Acculturation and Adaptation. The results of the international project have been published in Immigrant Youth in Cultural Transition: Acculturation, Identity and Adaptation across National Context (Erlbaum, 2006).

The New Zealand component of the study was extended by Professor Colleen Ward to include survey data collected from 510 national youth (396 New Zealand Europeans and 114 Maori) and 935 immigrant youth (including 145 Chinese, 188 Koreans, 147 Samoans, 102 Indians, 111 Britons and 101 South Africans), aged 12-19 years.

In addition to background information, the survey included measures of:

  • intercultural factors (such as ethnic and national identity, ethnic and national language usage, ethnic and national peer contact, family values and acculturation attitudes)
  • perceived discrimination
  • adaptation (psychological adaptation, including life satisfaction and psychological symptoms and socio-cultural adaptation, including behavioural problems and school adjustment).


The research revealed that there were four major acculturation profiles: Integrated, National, Ethnic and Diffuse.

  • 'Integrated youth' had strong ethnic and national identities, strong ethnic peer contacts, and good English language proficiency. They also endorsed integration as an acculturation strategy. This means that they favoured both the retention of their traditional culture and participation in the wider New Zealand society.
  • 'National youth' had a moderately strong national identity, but a weak ethnic identity. They were highly proficient in English and used it frequently at home. National youth had strong national, but weak ethnic, peer contacts. They also rejected separation as an acculturation strategy.
  • 'Ethnic youth' leaned more towards original culture. They had a moderately strong ethnic identity, but a weak national identity, and strong ethnic peer contacts, but weak national peer contacts. Ethnic youth had poor English language proficiency but good ethnic language proficiency.
  • 'Diffuse youth' had poor English language proficiency and weak ethnic identity. They endorsed separation, assimilation and marginalisation.

The research also revealed that there were systematic differences in the adaptation outcomes across integrated, national, ethnic and diffuse youth.

  1. Integrated and National youth reported greater life satisfaction than Ethnic and Diffuse.
  2. Diffuse youth displayed more psychological symptoms than all other groups.
  3. Integrated and Ethnic youth reported fewer behavioural problems than National and Diffuse youth.
  4. Diffuse youth reported poorer school adjustment than all other groups.

Finally, the findings indicated that immigrant youth adapted as well or better than national youth in terms of life satisfaction, psychological symptoms, school adjustment and behavioural problems. Furthermore, they adapt well despite discrimination- Korean, Indian, Chinese, and Samoan youth reported more ethnic discrimination than New Zealand European youth.