Social support for minority immigrant parents
By Haesung Yang
On October 5, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Asian American Studies Program and the Department of Sociology presented a
seminar for students and faculty who are interested in issues of ethnicity in the U.S. and other countries. The seminar’s guest speaker was
Grace Kao, an Asian American and a professor of Sociology, Education, and Asian American Studies at University of Pennsylvania.
Kao shared her recent study on how perceptions of social support vary by race and immigrant status. It is a well-known argument that
immigrants particularly feel disadvantaged by marginality and dislocation. As immigrants and children of immigrants are becoming an
important and increasing demographic group in the U.S., her focus was on the association between minority and immigrant status and
perceptions of social support among parents of young children.
By social support, she meant any kind of assistance that “individuals give to and receive from others.” Social support, including “the
exchanges of emotional or financial resources,” is important for families to handle everyday life. Therefore, perceptions of social support
directly influence parenting behaviors which is “associated with favorable outcomes in children.”
Kao used data from a study conducted by the National Center of Education Statistics. The data measured the perceptions of “both
instrumental support (i.e., being able to receive an emergency loan) and parenting assistance (i.e., being able to talk to someone if their child
has problems in school).” However, she admits the limitations of the data in which immigrant status was only measured by the mother’s
country of birth.
The respondent’s race and immigrant status were divided into White native-born (reference group), White foreign-born, Black native-born,
Black foreign-born, Hispanic native-born, Hispanic foreign-born, Asian native-born, Asian foreign-born, other race native-born, and other race
Two patterns emerged from her study. The first pattern was that “native-born White parents report more available social support than
their minority immigrant counterparts.” The second pattern was, “within race groups, native-born parents report more support than foreign-
born parents.” The most disadvantaged groups are foreign-born Hispanic and Asian parents. However, Asian groups show few differences in
perceptions of social support, compared to their White counterparts. Only Hmong respondents report significantly less support than native-
From the fact that parents who had their interview in another language were more disadvantaged than those who had their interview in
English, Kao concluded that lower English language proficiency leads to disadvantages in perceptions of social support. Thus, language
ability plays an important role in building social networks.
She pointed out that disadvantages in social support among immigrant families affect the immigrant family’s well-being and children’s
achievement in school.
Haesung Yang is Asian Wisconzine’s intern this fall from UW-Madison.