Between Acculturation, Segregation and Assimilation: Examining the Association between Racial Contact and Psychological Distress

Jenifer Bratter, University of Houston
Karl Eschbach, University of Houston

Does racial mixture coincide with psychological distress? Using Robert Park’s “Marginal man” hypothesis and notions of acculturative stress associated with cross-cultural contact as points of reference, we explore the psychological health of interracial couples using a nationally representative data set. We use a pooled 1997-2000 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) sample and analyze the odds of distress for interracial vs. same race married/cohabiting adults. There are three key findings. First, presence in an interracial union is associated with psychological distress (O.R.= 1.26). Secondly, this relationship is stronger among non-White (O.R.= 1.37) than White (O.R.=1.23) populations. Finally, the roles of socioeconomic status and acculturation vary by race/ethnic group. Acculturation partially explains the effect of presence in an interracial union for Asians and Hispanics while socioeconomic status masks the effect of interracial unions on distress for non-Whites. The results are consistent with notions of increasing stress associated with traversing inter-group boundaries.

Presented in Session 91: Interracial Contact