Ethnicity and geographical location can impact psychological well-being through a variety of mechanisms. When ethnic minorities live far away from their ethnically similar peers, they may not be able to socialize and connect with them as often as they would like. Being geographically distant from those with similar ethnic backgrounds can lead to a feeling of being disconnected and different.
Isolation is common for people who are not engaged with ethnically similar individuals. And discrimination, isolation, and other cultural discrepancies can put some ethnic groups at risk for psychological stress. Added to that is the burden of socioeconomic disadvantage that many ethnic minority groups face.
To determine if living and socializing with ethnically similar individuals reduces the risk of psychological stress, Xiaoqu Feng of the Centre for Health Research at the University of Western Sydney’s School of Medicine in Australia, recently conducted a study on over 225,000 adults living in Australia. The adults were all over the age of 45 and were from 19 different ethnic groups.
Feng looked at how many times the adults interacted with ethnically similar individuals over the course of a week, how many ethnically similar individuals they felt they could count on for support within an hour’s drive, and how many ethnic clubs and organizations they belonged to. Feng also evaluated country of origin and how this factor and the others influenced psychological stress in the participants.
Feng found that although social interactions with people from the same ethnic group did appear to decrease psychological stress for some participants, it did not for others. Stress levels also differed for individuals from different ethnicities overall and in particular, by country of origin. Another interesting finding was that for some participants, living in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods had a larger impact on psychological stress than any positive benefits of living in close proximity to those of the same ethnicity.
In sum, Feng believes that these results underscore the importance of social interactions for people of similar ethnic groups, but more research is needed in this area. Feng added, “Social interactions are important correlates of mental health, but fully explain neither the ethnic differences in psychological distress nor the protective effect of own-group density.”
Feng, X., Astell-Burt, T., Kolt, G.S. (2013). Do social interactions explain ethnic differences in psychological distress and the protective effect of local ethnic density? A cross-sectional study of 225,487 adults in Australia. BMJ Open 2013;3:e002713. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002713
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