Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 43, Issue 10, pp 1728–1741 | Cite as

The Protective Role of Ethnic Identity for Urban Adolescent Males Facing Multiple Stressors

  • Joanna L. Williams
  • Sophie M. Aiyer
  • Myles I. Durkee
  • Patrick H. Tolan
Empirical Research


Having a connection to one’s ethnic heritage is considered a protective factor in the face of discrimination; however, it is unclear whether the protective effects are persistent across multiple stressors. Furthermore, the dimensions of ethnic identity that reflect group pride/connection (affirmation) and exploration of the meaning of group membership (achievement) may operate differently in the face of stress. The present study examined the moderating role of ethnic identity affirmation and achievement on concurrent and longitudinal relationships between exposure to stress (discrimination, family hardship, exposure to violence) and antisocial behavior in a sample of 256 Black and Latino male youth (70 % Black) living in low-income urban neighborhoods. Using regression analysis, concurrent associations were examined at age 18, and longitudinal associations were tested 18 months later. We found that, among youth experiencing discrimination, high levels of achievement and low levels of affirmation predicted greater aggressive behavior and delinquency. Low affirmation also predicted more criminal offending in the face of discrimination. The two dimensions operated similarly in the context of family stress, in which case high levels of affirmation and achievement predicted lower levels of antisocial behavior. The findings suggest a differential role of the two dimensions of ethnic identity with respect to discrimination; furthermore, the coping skills that may be promoted as youth make meaning of their ethnic group membership may serve as cultural assets in the face of family stress.


Ethnic identity African American youth Latino youth Stress Discrimination Urban youth 



The Chicago Youth Development Study (CYDS) was conducted with support from National Institute of Mental Health Grant RO148248, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant HS35415, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Grant R49/CCR512739, and National Science Foundation Grant SPR-9601157. The authors would like to acknowledge CYDS co-investigators, Deborah Gorman-Smith at the University of Chicago and David B. Henry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Author Contributions

Authors’ contributions are as follows: JLW conceived of the research questions, conducted the statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript; SMA and MID assisted with interpretation of the data and drafting and revising of the manuscript; PHT conceived of the original study from which the data were taken and assisted with interpretation of the data and revising of the manuscript. The authors on the manuscript have agreed to the byline order and to submission of the manuscript in this form.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanna L. Williams
    • 1
  • Sophie M. Aiyer
    • 2
  • Myles I. Durkee
    • 3
  • Patrick H. Tolan
    • 4
  1. 1.Curry School of EducationUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.University of Michigan School of Public HealthAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of Comparative Human DevelopmentThe University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Curry School of EducationUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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