Social identity and self-esteem among Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, British born Chinese and white Scottish children
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The Chinese community is the fastest growing non-European ethnic group in the UK, with 11.2% annual growth between 2001 and 2007. According to the National Statistics office (2005), there are over a quarter of a million Chinese in Britain. Compared to other ethnic minority groups, the Chinese group is socio-economically widespread, characterized by high academic achievements and high household income. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 Chinese immigrant children studying in British schools, 75% of who were born in the UK. These children face a complex process of establishing their social identity, maintaining their own cultural roots whilst adapting to the British cultural contexts. The predominant psychological interpretation of social identity formation is founded on Social Identity Theory (Tajfel, 1978). Social identity creates and defines an individual’s place in society. One of the key features in social identity theory is ingroup favouritism and out-group derogation (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). The function and motivation for in-group and out-group attitude construction is to promoting a positive self-concept and related self-esteem. Theoretical approaches to understanding social identity that take a developmental perspective are Cognitive Development Theory (CDT) (Aboud, 1988, 2008) and Social Identity Developmental Theory (SIDT) (Nesdale, 2004, 2008). These theories attempt to explain the age related development in children’s inter- and intra-group attitudes. There are different types of social identities, and ethnic identity as well as national identity are the central focus of the current research. Some researchers have pointed out that ethnic identity is relevant to self-esteem and it is particularly important to children from ethnic minority backgrounds (Phinney, 1992). However, the research on social identity is predominantly conducted in Western contexts and there is lack of evidence supporting the generalization of developmental models of social identity in children to all ethnic groups and particularly those growing up in different cultures and national contexts. The research reported in this thesis is a cross cultural and developmental study which compares social identity in relation to self-esteem among British born Chinese (BBC), white British, Hong Kong Chinese and Mainland Chinese children. The overarching aim is to explore the influence of social context and ethnic culture on social identity development and self-esteem. Three research studies were conducted in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Scotland with 464 children across three age groups, age 8, 11 and 14 years (148 children from Mainland China, 155 Hong Kong Chinese children, 70 British born Chinese children, and 91 Scottish children). In addition, 46 parents of BBC children were surveyed to investigate their cultural orientation. The first study was designed to explore cultural similarities and differences in social identity and its relation to self-esteem across four groups of children in three age groups. Social identity (self-description questionnaire) and self-esteem (Harter’s Self-esteem questionnaire) were measured with all four groups of children. The result revealed significant differences of social identity across the groups. Four cultural groups of children think individual self was the most common form of identity. All the Chinese groups emphasized show more collective self than white Scottish children whereas the white Scottish sample of children placed more focused on individual identity. All four groups of children had high self-esteem, and no correlation was evident between social identity and self-esteem. Furthermore, analysis found no significant developmental change in social identity or self-esteem with age. The second study focused on BBC and white Scottish children: these share national context, but differ in ethnic identity. The study was designed to explore children’s national self-categorisation, the degree of national/ethnic identification (Chinese, Scottish, or both), and their perception of the positive and negative traits of Chinese and Scottish people across the age (using a Trait Attribution Task). BBC children’s sense of national identity varied in different national contexts, whereas white Scottish children were more fixed in their sense of national identity. Furthermore, BBC children attributed more positive traits to Chinese than to Scottish people, and white Scottish children attributed more positive traits to Scottish than to Chinese. BBC and white Scottish children evaluated both Chinese and Scottish groups positively, but they both attributed more positive traits to in-groups than out-groups. Some age-related differences were identified for degree of national identification. The third study introduced a novel social identity vignettes task to examine BBC and white Scottish children’s perceptions of ethnic identity of a Chinese character within two contrasting socio-cultural contexts (Scottish versus Chinese). This study addresses the question of whether children’s social identifications are adaptive and sensitive to social context, and how this contextual sensitivity might change with age. It also explored the link between parents’ attitudes towards their children’s cultural orientation and children’s national/ethnic identity in identity vignettes. The study revealed that both BBC and Scottish children judged the vignette characters as having a stronger Chinese identity or Scottish identity according to whether they were described in a Chinese or Scottish vignette. This cultural sensitivity increased with age. Both groups had a positive evaluation of the vignette characters’ self-esteem in both Chinese and Scottish cultural situations. Parental cultural orientation attitudes (using General Ethnicity Questionnaire) towards their children were also examined and differences of language proficiency among BBC children were identified. There is no connection between children’s strength of Chinese and Scottish identification and parents’ strength of cultural orientation towards Chinese or Scottish. Together, the findings presented in this thesis extend our understanding of social identity development, ethnic and national attitudes and the developmental intergroup attitudes among children from different national and ethnic groups. Furthermore, findings indicate that social identity is a complex and dynamic process in children’s development that cannot be understood without considering national and specific socio-cultural contexts as frames of reference. The findings of this research have important implications for child-related policy and practice and for future research on social identity development.