In a study on peer-relationships of teens in school, researchers found that ethnic minority teens were less keen to hang out with crowds made up of their ethnic peers.
It was also found that for most Asian students, being part of an ethnically oriented crowd at school was linked with mostly positive characteristics (such as pride in one's ethnic background). And in case of Latino students it was associated with a mixed group of characteristics (some pride, but also some feelings of discrimination and stereotyping).
In the study, the researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dartmouth College, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, polled 2,465 African American, Asian American, and Latino teenagers ages 14 to 19 attending seven public high schools in the midwestern and western United States.
They provided the students with a list of the crowds most commonly mentioned by other teens at their school and asked them to mention the one they identified with most closely. Also, a group of students placed all their classmates (including those initially polled) into crowds; the researchers then looked for characteristics that distinguished adolescents who were part of ethnically oriented crowds from adolescents who were part of non-ethnic crowds.
It was discovered that ethnic crowd affiliation was not widespread, particularly among biracial youth. Only about 30 percent of the teenagers were placed by peers in ethnically oriented crowds, and only half of them linked with such crowds. Teens in the ethnic categories studied tended to be placed by peers, and to place themselves, in crowds that were not defined ethnically.
The results indicated that in all three ethnic groups studied, teenagers were more likely to be part of an ethnically oriented crowd if most of their friends came from the same ethnic background and if the students were doing poorly in school.
In addition, Latino and Asian American teens having positive feelings about their ethnic background were more likely to associate themselves with a crowd made up of other teens from their ethnic group.
Besides this, Latino students were more likely to be part of an ethnically oriented crowd if they belonged to lower-income homes and were at the receiving end of a lot of ethnic discrimination, perhaps because associating with a Latino crowd served as a defence against negative experiences with other peers at school.
"Adolescent crowds are often disparaged as instruments of peer pressure and stereotyping that interfere with healthy identity development. Our findings suggest that this might be true for ethnically oriented crowds in multi-ethnic American high schools, at least among Latino youth. In other respects, however our findings suggest that ethnically oriented crowd affiliations can reflect and contribute to healthy identity and social development, particularly among adolescents of Asian backgrounds," noted Bradford Brown, professor of human development and educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the study's lead author.
The study is published in the latest issue of the journal Child Development.