U-M study: Teens’ racial identity can affect school achievement

September 15, 2006
Contact: Jared Wadley jwadley@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—Minority youths get better grades in school when they feel connected to their ethnicity, a new University of Michigan study showed.

Black and Hispanic students in eighth and ninth grade also performed well in school if they believed academic achievement was a characteristic of their ethnic group, said Daphna Oyserman, professor of social work and psychology and researcher at the Institute for Social Research and her former graduate student Inna Altschul, who is now an assistant professor of social work at the University of Denver.

The findings appear in the new issue of Child Development.

The researchers looked at racial-ethnic identity in early adolescence and its effects on academic achievement based on three components: youths who felt connected to their ethnic group; those who were aware that others may not value their ethnic group; and youths who viewed school achievement as an in-group defining characteristic. Specifically, the researchers studied shifts in racial-ethnic identity and its effects on grades during the transition from middle school to high school.

The study asked 139 youths (98 African Americans, 41 Latinos) randomly selected from three low-income, urban schools to describe their racial-ethnic identity four times during two school years (8th and 9th grade). Responses were linked to the students’ grades.

Analyses showed that racial-ethnic identity became more salient during the transition to high school. Feeling connected to one’s racial-ethnic in-group and believing that doing well in school is an in-group characteristic promoted better school outcomes, Oyserman said.

In addition, youths who reported high levels of racial-ethnic identity connectedness and awareness of racism in the beginning of 8th grade attained better grades through 9th grade, she said.

The researchers noted that the positive effect of these components of racial identity on school grades are consistent for African American and Latino youth and for boys and girls.

“This is important because it suggests that interventions, which can bolster a youth’s sense of connection to their racial-ethnic in-group and her belief that doing well in school is an in-group thing to do, can be equally helpful to African American and Latino youths,” Oyserman said. “Girls are doing better in school than boys overall, but racial-ethnic identity can be beneficial for both boys and girls.”

In addition to Oyserman and Altschul, the study’s other researcher is Deborah Bybee of Michigan State University.


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