Identity formation is an important developmental task during adolescence. Ethnic minority adolescents face the additional acculturative task of finding ways to balance two important identity domains—their ethnic and their national identity. This involves developing a sense of belonging, affection, and pride to their ethnic community and heritage culture as well as to their country of residence. There are different ways how these identifications can be combined (e.g., being high on both or being high in ethnic and low in national identification) and these identification profiles are in turn differentially related to social-emotional wellbeing and adjustment (Nguyen and Benet-Martinez 2013
). Yet, little is known about how ethnic minority adolescents develop a particular identification profile and how stable these profiles are. Unfortunately, most previous research has used cross-sectional designs, limiting the understanding of the inherently developmental and dynamic process of acculturation. The aim of this study therefore is to examine the development of acculturation profiles of identification among the two largest groups of ethnic minority adolescents in Germany—Turkish-origin and ethnic German resettler-origin youth from the former Soviet Union. While all immigrants and their descendants face high pressures for assimilation in Germany (Zick et al. 2001
) the social climate is more welcoming for resettler-origin youth than for Turkish-origin youth and thus the conditions for the development of acculturation profiles of identification are quite different for these two groups (Schotte et al. 2018
Ethnic and national identification can be mapped onto Berry’s (1997
) bidimensional model of acculturation, which refers to orientations toward ethnic (heritage) culture and national (host) culture. While these acculturation orientations comprise practices, identifications, and values in relation to both cultures (Schwartz et al. 2010
), the focus is on identification here. When the strength of ethnic and national identification is independently measured and crossed, this results in four different acculturation profiles of identification: integration (ethnic and national identification high), assimilation (ethnic identification low—national identification high), separation (ethnic identification high—national identification low), and marginalization (both identifications low). Integration (also referred to as dual identification or biculturalism) is often associated positively with psychological adjustment, wellbeing, school achievement, and civic engagement (Nguyen and Benet-Martinez 2013
), though this may depend on the sociopolitical context (i.e., pressure for assimilation), the particular ethnic minority group, and the outcome domain (Schotte et al. 2018
). But how do ethnic minority adolescents come to adopt a particular acculturation profile of identification, and how does it change over time?
The Development of Acculturation Profiles of Identification
While ample research has examined the links between particular acculturation profiles of identification and measures of psychological and sociocultural adjustment, there is a lack of both empirical evidence and theorizing on how adolescents develop a particular acculturation profile of identification in the first place (c. Schwartz et al. 2018
). A rich literature on ethnic-racial identity, however, suggests that ethnic identity development starts already in childhood and continues into adulthood (Umaña-Taylor et al. 2014
). Research on ethnic identity is rooted in the model by Marcia (1966
), which assumes that identity development consists of exploration and commitment (i.e., identification). Ethnic identity exploration is particularly salient during adolescence when adolescents try to answer the questions of “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” (Umaña-Taylor et al. 2014
). Individuals commit to an ethnic identity through exploring their ethnic background and learning about the culture, history, and traditions of their ethnic group (Syed et al. 2013
). Accordingly, commitment to a particular ethnic identity follows from a phase of exploration, and research shows that changes in ethnic identity commitment are most common between early to middle adolescence when youth are most active in their ethnic identity exploration. Thus, between early and middle adolescence most ethnic minority adolescents show increasing levels of commitment with their ethnic identity (Huang and Stormshak 2011
) while ethnic identity commitment remains stable between middle and late adolescence (Pahl and Way 2006
). These findings suggest that early to middle adolescence is a key period to study ethnic identity development.
However, research on ethnic identity development is relatively silent about national identity. Research on national identity development has mainly focused on ethnic majority children (Barrett and Oppenheimer 2011
), and only recently studies have begun to examine national identity development among ethnic minority adolescents. For instance, one study found a slight downward trend in the strength of national identification among ethnic minority youth in Germany across early adolescence (Fleischmann et al. 2019
). Examining a younger age group and shorter time frame, another study, by contrast, found no change in national identification levels among 9–10 year old ethnic minority children in Germany across a 5-month period (Froehlich et al. 2019
). A study from the US suggests that national identification may follow a different developmental trajectory than ethnic identity (Kiang et al. 2013
). In this study among Asian Americans, ethnic identification stayed stable while American identification increased from middle to late adolescence.
So how do acculturation profiles of identification develop? It has been proposed that first generation adult immigrants will add national identification to an already existing ethnic identification as they bring their ethnic identity with them but are likely to develop a sense of belonging to their country of residence over time (Fleischmann and Verkuyten 2016
). However, it is less clear how these multiple identifications develop among adolescents of immigrant origin (often 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants) who go through the phase of identity exploration and commitment as ethnic minority members during adolescence. Many immigrant parents try to instill values of their culture of origin in their children (Suárez-Orozco et al. 2015
), and for many immigrant children their own ethnic group therefore often is initially more salient than their country of birth and/or residence (Phinney and Ong 2007b
). At the same time, maintaining a high level of identification with two groups (e.g. dual identification) is cognitively more complex than identifying with one group (Roccas and Brewer 2002
). The required level of cognitive maturation to maintain an integrated acculturation profile of identification thus might not be achieved before adolescence. Taken together, this suggests that ethnic minority children will first develop an identification with their ethnic group and that national identification will develop later (i.e., during adolescence).
Previous Research on the Development of Acculturation Profiles of Identification
Little is known about the development of acculturation profiles of identification among early adolescents. A limited number of studies examined developmental trajectories of ethnic and national identification. All of these studies used some form of latent class growth modeling to identify different classes of individuals with similar intercepts and slopes in ethnic and national identification. Studies from the US identified two-class solutions among Mexican-origin (Knight et al. 2009
) and Hispanic adolescents (Schwartz et al. 2015
). While the former study found one class of high ethnic and low national identifiers (i.e., separated) and another class with moderately high values on both dimensions (i.e., integrated), both classes were characterized by stability across age 14 to 20. The latter study identified two different classes of integration among late adolescents, one with stable identifications, and one with increasing national identification.
Studies from Europe have found more varied trajectory classes. In a German study with resettler-origin youth from the former Soviet Union, three different identification trajectories were identified (Stoessel et al. 2014
). One class could be described as assimilated (i.e., high national and low ethnic identification) with increasing levels of ethnic identification, but remaining below the mid-point of the scale. The other two classes could be described as different kinds of integration, one group where individuals start from separated and move to integrated, and another class where both identifications are moderately high and stable over time. Another study with Muslim adolescents in four Western European countries (Spiegler et al. 2019
) found four different trajectory classes, integrated (both increasing), moving from separated to integrated, moving from assimilated to integrated, and separated (both decreasing).
All of these studies have provided important insights into the development of acculturation profiles of identification by starting to go beyond the predominantly cross-sectional approaches in acculturation research. Yet, they all identified classes based on average rates of change over time, thus assuming change to be continually occurring at the same rate across class members. But what if change is not continuous (e.g., moving through discrete stages) and more idiosyncratic (e.g., different people taking different paths) and thus reflects qualitative rather than quantitative growth (cf. Perra 2012
)? In that case, another analytical approach is needed. This can be achieved by classifying individuals into acculturation profiles of identification using latent profile analysis and then examining transitions between these profiles over time using latent transition analysis (Collins and Lanza 2010
). The crucial difference between the latent class growth model approach used by earlier studies and the combination of latent profile and latent transition analysis is that the former focuses on establishing different growth patterns while the latter first tries to establish the number of latent profiles at each time point and then examines whether there is change between latent profiles across time and, if so, how that change can be characterized. As argued by Lee et al. (2018
), the latent class growth model approach does not provide a deeper understanding of how acculturation profiles of identification change over time because increasing or decreasing trends in ethnic and national identification do not necessarily imply that individuals switch between profiles. It also does not inform us about whether certain profiles (e.g., integration) increase or decrease across development and what predicts transitions between profiles.
Only one previous study has used a combined latent profile-latent transition analysis approach to examine the development of acculturation profiles of identification (Lee et al. 2018
). This study identified two latent profiles of ethnic and national identification among a sample of Hispanic adolescents in the US—low and high integration. Both profiles were characterized by high stability across time, and when changes occurred, individuals were more likely to transition from high to low integrated than vice versa. However, previous research (e.g., Spiegler et al. 2019
) suggests that identification profiles are more varied in German samples.
The Influence of Group Permeability and Ethnic Discrimination
While integration is the most common acculturation profile of identification (Berry et al. 2006
), not all ethnic minority adolescents develop a dual identification. Importantly, like all collective identities, ethnic and national identities are social constructions that need to be claimed by the individual and verified by others (North and Swann 2009
). This implies that there are social constraints on which acculturation profile of identification adolescents can choose. Thus, members of ethnic minority groups may struggle to develop an integrated profile because members of the dominant society may not want them to retain their ethnic heritage culture (Bourhis et al. 1997
). Integration may also be difficult to pursue because the receiving culture may not be willing to grant recognition to ethnic minority members from visible-minority backgrounds as fellow national citizens (e.g., Cheryan and Monin 2005
). In the period of (early) adolescence, particularly the ages between 10 and 14, children become aware of stereotypes and the social status position of their group in society (Vedder and van Geel 2017
), thus making it a particularly fruitful period to study the development of acculturation profiles of identification.
Social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner 1979
) is a useful framework to understand the influence of the social context on the development of acculturation profiles of identification. According to social identity theory, individuals derive positive self-esteem from membership in positively valued groups. However, when groups are low in public esteem as in the case of ethnic minority groups who face discrimination and rejection, this creates a social identity conflict. How this conflict is resolved by the individual depends on structural conditions in society and in particular on the perceived permeability of group boundaries
. If group boundaries are perceived as permeable, individuals may follow an individual mobility strategy, which would suggest to identify highly with the nation and to dis-identify with the ethnic group (i.e., assimilation; cf. Roccas 2003
). If, on the other hand, group boundaries are perceived as impermeable, individual mobility is not an option and therefore separation is more likely. Impermeable group boundaries also make integration unlikely because identifying with two groups is only possible if simultaneous membership in both groups is actually possible.
Research on acculturation distinguishes classic settler societies, which were founded on immigration (e.g., the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), from non-settler societies, in which immigration is only recently acknowledged as a social reality (e.g., Europe). In non-settler societies like Germany where national identity is often defined in terms of shared ancestry (Pehrson et al. 2009
), it is difficult for phenotypically visible ethnic minority members to be accepted as co-nationals (i.e., group boundaries are rather impermeable). This is particularly the case for Turkish-origin youth in Germany whose national belonging in Germany? is often contested by mainstream members of society (Moffitt et al. 2018
). Individuals of Turkish-origin are the largest immigrant group in Germany, comprising around three million people. Turkish immigrants were recruited as so-called “guest workers” for unskilled factory and mining work in West Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. They were not meant to stay but eventually brought their families and settled permanently in Germany. People of Turkish-origin face high levels of discrimination and rejection by non-immigrant members of society (Schaefer and Simon 2020
By contrast, group boundaries are more permeable for ethnic German diaspora immigrants (so-called “Aussiedler”). These resettler immigrants arrived in the 1990s after the break-down of the Soviet Union. With over 2.5 million individuals, ethnic German resettlers are one of the largest immigrant groups in Germany. They are descendants of ethnically German settlers who had moved to Russia in the 1800s. They have lived in the former Soviet Union for generations and were well adapted to Russian culture (Dietz 2003
). Hence, upon arrival in Germany, most of them spoke little German and they have faced typical challenges of all immigrant groups, such as discrimination by host society members and language problems. However, due to their German ancestry, they received preferential treatment by German authorities in form of financial support and immediate citizenship rights. Moreover, ethnic German resettlers are phenotypically White, have mostly German-sounding names, and if they speak German without a Russian accent, they cannot be easily be distinguished from non-immigrants. Support for the notion of different group boundaries for different immigrant groups comes from research on acculturation showing that immigrant groups who are culturally more distinct from non-immigrants typically encounter more acculturative stress and adjustment problems than culturally more similar immigrant groups (e.g., Ward and Kennedy 1993
). Research from the US also shows that people from racial minority groups are less likely to be associated with being American than White people (Devos and Banaji 2005
). Consistent with the notion of different group boundaries, research shows that compared to immigrants of Turkish origin, ethnic German resettlers are viewed much more favorably by members of the mainstream society (Brüß 2005
Another context-related factor that is likely to influence the development of acculturation profiles of identification among ethnic minority adolescents is experiencing ethnic discrimination. Being discriminated thwarts developing a sense of belonging to the nation, for it signals that one does not belong to and is not welcome in the national category. In order to protect wellbeing and self-esteem, adolescents may dis-identify with the nation (Jasinskaja‐Lahti et al. 2009
) and identify more strongly with their ethnic group (Branscombe et al. 1999
). Identifying more strongly with one’s ethnic group in response to ethnic discrimination has been termed reactive identification (Verkuyten 2018
) or reactive ethnicity (Rumbaut 2008
). It can be seen as a strategic reaction because it seems most fruitful to choose identity options that are actually available to oneself (Schwartz et al. 2018
). Past research confirmed that ethnic discrimination boosts ethnic identification (Skrobanek 2009
) while decreasing national identification (Fleischmann et al. 2019
). Experiences of discrimination have also been found to lead to greater perceived conflict and thus to compartmentalization (i.e., identities are rather separate) between identities (Amiot et al. 2018
). Experiences of ethnic discrimination and permeability of group boundaries are related, such that individuals who experience a lot of discrimination may perceive group boundaries to be rather impermeable (cf. Schulz and Leszczensky 2016