Effects of parent–child intergenerational cultural discrepancies on Korean-American young adults’ psychological well-being, through communication quality, mattering, and autonomy support

Lee, Yookyung, Ph.D.
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Korean-Americans are one of the fastest-growing racial subgroups, representing 0.4% of the total population of the U.S. as of 2019. Many Korean-American immigrant families consist of Korea-raised parents and their 1.5- or second-generation children. Because these families experience both mainstream and heritage cultures, cultural discrepancies may arise between the children and their immigrant parents. The main purpose of this study is to examine the mediating effects of parent–child communication quality, mattering to parents, and parental autonomy support on the relationship between intergenerational cultural discrepancies and psychological well-being, among Korean-American young adults. Participants were recruited through Korean-American communities in the U.S. and participated in this study through an online survey and follow-up one-on-one video interviews. A total of 161 Korean-American young adults between age 18 and 34 (M age = 23.14) were included in the final sample for the survey study, and 10 of the 161 also participated in the follow-up interview study. A mixed methods approach, including several mediation models and interview analysis, was used to test the hypotheses of this study. Key results from the quantitative analyses showed that greater parent–child intergenerational cultural discrepancies affected their lower communication quality, and this lower communication quality subsequently affected lower mattering to parents, but this lower mattering did not affected children’s depressive symptoms (Model 1). Also, greater parent–child intergenerational cultural discrepancies affected both lower parent–child communication quality and less parental autonomy support at the same time, which in turn affected lower levels of young adults’ life satisfaction (Model 2). The qualitative results provide a rich description of specific examples of these effects and possible reasons for the quantitative results. In addition, the participants shared messages to their parents during their adolescence as well as advice for current Korean-American adolescents who may face similar experiences. The results of this study support and extend the findings of previous work linking parent–child intergenerational cultural discrepancies to children’s psychological adjustment in immigrant families, as well as those linking parent–child communication, mattering to parents, and parental autonomy support. Future studies could investigate whether these relationships are different between mother–child and father–child dyads, and whether these results have any Korean-specific characteristics, by comparing them with results from young adults in other ethnic groups.