Individual characteristics, microsystem factors, and proximal relationship processes associated with ethnic identity in rural youth

Caroline Bill Robertson Evans, Paul Richard Smokowski, Katie L. Cotter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Although strong ethnic identity is associated with positive psychological functioning and high academic achievement, few studies have examined factors associated with ethnic identity of rural youths. Social identity theory was used as a guide for the current study, integrating ecological systems theory to frame the study’s focus on how transactions and social relationships across mic-rosystems relate to ethnic identity. This study uses hierarchical regression analysis to investigate which individual characteristics, microsystem factors, and proximal relational processes are associated with ethnic identity in a large sample (N = 3,418) of rural students in Grades 6 through 8 (mean age 12.8 years, 46.77% male) who participated in the Rural Adaptation Project in 2011. Results show that adolescents from racial/ethnic minority groups report higher levels of ethnic identity than Caucasian adolescents. We find high levels of ethnic identity are related to individual characteristics, including speaking a language other than English in the home, and having high levels of optimism for the future. In contrast, we find characteristics such as gender and socioeconomic disadvantage are not related to ethnic identity. For microsystem transactions, religious orientation was positively associated with ethnic identity. The relationship between self-esteem and ethnic identity was not statistically significant once religious orientation was added to the regression model. Other microsystem transactions positively associated with ethnic identity include high levels of both school satisfaction and perceived discrimination. Proximal processes in the form of social support (i.e., from parents, friends, teachers, neighbors) across multiple micro-systems are associated with high levels of ethnic identity. Implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-77
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of the Society for Social Work and Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescence
  • Ethnic identity
  • Identity formation
  • Rural

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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