Identity Development in Immigrant Youth: A Multilevel Contextual Perspective

Seth J. Schwartz, Alan Meca, Miguel Ángel Cano, Elma I. Lorenzo-Blanco, Jennifer B. Unger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Rates of immigration are at an all-time high in many Western countries, and immigration can exert profound influences on identity development. These influences occur both at the individual level and at the group level, but these two sets of influences have rarely been considered simultaneously. Accordingly, this article adopts a multilevel approach to identity development among immigrant youth, with a focus on North American receiving contexts. We focus not only on individual ethnic, national, and personal identity development, but also on the societal-level intergroup processes (e.g., threats and stereotypes) that constrain the identity options available to immigrants. We highlight the prominence of biculturalism - endorsement of both heritage and destination-country identities - but also discuss ways in which biculturalism may be difficult to attain for some immigrants and immigrant groups. We also emphasize the interplay between individual immigrants' identities and the mechanisms through which defensive policies enacted by "threatened" majority groups may harm identity development among immigrant youth. The article concludes with a listing of priorities for future work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-349
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Psychologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2018


  • cultural identity
  • ethnic identity
  • immigrant
  • intergroup processes
  • national identity
  • personal identity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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