Acculturation in the United States of America

Gail M. Ferguson, Dina Birman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The United States (US) of America is a dynamic multicultural nation built to a large extent by immigrants. A groundswell of contemporary immigration in the last 50 years, mainly from Latin America and Asia, has brought about a demographic transformation featuring growing racial and ethnic diversity and a “fading majority” of European Americans. Moreover, for some, acculturation begins remotely in the home country, long before emigration to the United States. What implications do these demographic and globalization trends have for acculturation? This chapter will (1) describe aspects of the US national context that make it a unique setting for acculturation (Section 20.2), (2) present advances in acculturation theory that help to conceptualize acculturation in this dynamic and multicultural nation (Section 20.3), and (3) propose a contextual perspective on the link between acculturation and adaptation that integrates seemingly disparate findings (Section 20.4). Each section will conclude with a brief summary, discussion of implications and suggestions for future directions. Acculturation is studied by multiple disciplines in the US. This broad-based interest is beneficial to visibility and funding streams for research and intervention. However, multiple disciplinary lenses also present a challenge due to varying conceptualizations of acculturation, levels of analysis, methodologies and findings (Birman & Simon, 2014). Anthropologists are interested in understanding the process of change of an entire culture, such as changes in patterns of shared knowledge, beliefs, behavior and symbols of cultural groups. Sociologists are interested in group-level phenomena including race and structural explanations for the extent to which an immigrant group assimilates, or becomes absorbed by the larger society over the course of generations. The psychological approach to acculturation (Graves, 1967) is distinct from the prior lenses because it focuses on individual variations in acculturation strategies, and psychological and sociocultural adaptation (Yoon, Langrehg & Ong, 2011). Several groups in the US experience cultural discontinuity and acculturation to some degree, including recent immigrants (e.g., Latino immigrants from Latin America), established ethnic minorities (e.g., African Americans and Native Americans), and religious minorities (e.g., Muslims).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Acculturation Psychology, Second Edition
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781316219218
ISBN (Print)9781107103993
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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