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Multiracial Youths Show Similar Vulnerability to Peer Pressure as Whites

Update Date: Jul 10, 2012 03:05 PM EDT

A new study has concluded that America's fastest growing youth group does not engage in more violence than other groups. Researchers say thatstudents who are mixed with two or more races more similar to their white counterparts than previously believed."

Researchers surveyed, twice, nearly 2,000 middle- and high-school students in Washington State. About 13 percent of the students were from various multiracial backgrounds, including Latino and white, Native American and white, Asian-American and white, and others. Of the single-race students, 71 percent were white. The rest of the single-race participants were Latino or Asian-American. Native Americans and African-Americans were left out because too few were in the sample. The participants comprised an even mix of boys and girls at different socioeconomic levels.

Researchers found that: 

  • 55 percent of multiracial youths compared with 47 percent of whites indicated that they had tried alcohol during the first year that they completed the survey.
  • 11 percent of multiracial youths compared with 5 percent of white youths reported violent behavior, measured by a question about whether participants had ever beat up anyone so badly that the person had to see a doctor or nurse.

Past studies have concluded that multiracial adolescents use drugs and engage in violence more than their single-race peers because they "struggle to fit in they become more likely to fall in with bad crowds."

Lead Author of the study Yoonsun Choi said although the risk of violence among multicultural youths has lowered, the problem is still prevalent.

"People usually portray multiracial children as facing greater challenges growing up than single-race children," Choi said. "What we're finding is that they do have an increased risk for problems with drugs and violence, but those problems aren't as extensive as what has been found before. Maybe there's a trend going on, where problems are declining for multiracial youth."

Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Chicago said that the students in this study reported fewer behavioral problems than seen in previous studies.

In addition to peer pressure, researchers found that family background, including income level and parental marital status played a role among youth who reported greater use of alcohol and instances of violent fights also reported having friends with similar problem behaviors.

Multiracial youths who reported higher rates of problem behaviors were more likely to come from poor families.

The study suggests that prevention programs aimed to reduce the negative influences of peers will likely have a universal effect across adolescents.

"We consistently find a strong connection between negative social influences of peers and problem behaviors," said co-author Todd Herrenkohl, professor in UW's School of Social Work. "Intervention programs need to recognize the strong social and environmental influences that reinforce those behaviors."

The findings are published in the July issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

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