Parents’ Ethnic–Racial Socialization Practices: A Review of Research
and Directions for Future Study
New York University
Emilie P. Smith
Pennsylvania State University
Deborah J. Johnson
Michigan State University
Howard C. Stevenson
University of Pennsylvania
University of Colorado
Recently, there has been an emergence of literature on the mechanisms through which parents transmit
information, values, and perspectives about ethnicity and race to their children, commonly referred to as
racial or ethnic socialization. This literature has sought to document the nature of such socialization, its
antecedents in parents’ and children’s characteristics and experiences, and its consequences for children’s
well-being and development. In this article, the authors integrate and synthesize what is known about
racial and ethnic socialization on the basis of current empirical research, examining studies concerning
its nature and frequency; its child, parent, and ecological predictors; and its consequences for children’s
development, including ethnic identity, self-esteem, coping with discrimination, academic achievement,
and psychosocial well-being. The authors also discuss conceptual and methodological limitations of the
literature and suggest directions for future research.
Keywords: socialization, child-rearing practices, racial and ethnic groups, intergroup dynamics, ethnic
Over 2 decades ago, scholars introduced the notion that com-
munications to children about ethnicity and race are central and
highly salient components of parenting in ethnic minority families.
In the early 1980s, in-depth portraits of African American families
described parents’ concerns that their children would encounter
racial barriers and negative stereotypes and their corresponding
emphasis on promoting high self-esteem, instilling racial pride,
and preparing children for bias (Peters & Massey, 1983; Richard-
son, 1981; Spencer, 1983; Tatum, 1987). By the 1990s, studies on
racial and ethnic socialization processes across multiple ethnic
minority groups had emerged. For instance, large-scale ethnogra-
phies suggested that recent immigrants to the United States em-
phasize children’s acquisition of their native cultural values, be-
liefs, practices, and language (Pessar, 1995; Rodriguez & Sa ´nchez
Korrol, 1996; Sua ´rez-Orozco & Sua ´rez-Orozco, 1995, 2001; Ur-
ciuoli, 1996; Waters, 1990, 1994, 1999). Quantitative studies also
attempted to classify and assess parents’ racial and ethnic social-
ization practices (e.g., Stevenson, 1994, 1995; Thornton, 1997,
1998; Thornton, Chatters, Taylor, & Allen, 1990), to examine the
sociodemographic and ecological correlates of these practices
(e.g., Hughes, 2003; Hughes & Chen, 1997; Hughes & Johnson,
2001; Thornton et al., 1990), and to determine their consequences
for children and adolescents (e.g., Knight, Bernal, Cota, Garza, &
Ocampo, 1993; Knight, Bernal, Garza, Cota, & Ocampo, 1993;
Marshall, 1995; Phinney & Chavira, 1995; Quintana & Vera,
1999; Spencer, 1983; Stevenson, Reed, Bodison, & Bishop, 1997).
Thus, the literature on parents’ ethnic and racial socialization has
grown tremendously in recent years.
Increased scholarly interest in racial and ethnic socialization has
been precipitated by a complex set of factors. Among the most
important has been what some have called the “browning of
America.” By 2035, children of color are expected to constitute
50% of the U.S. school population, with the greatest increase
coming from students of Hispanic descent (U.S. Census Bureau,
2004). Thus, scholars, educators, and parents need to know about
processes that enable children to negotiate contexts characterized
by high racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. Parents’ socialization
Diane Hughes, Department of Psychology, New York University; James
Rodriguez, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Columbia
University; Emilie P. Smith, Department of Human Development and
Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University; Deborah J. Johnson, De-
partment of Family and Child Ecology, Michigan State University; Howard
C. Stevenson, Department of Applied Psychology and Human Develop-
ment, University of Pennsylvania; Paul Spicer, Department of Psychiatry,
University of Colorado.
Preparation of this article was supported, in part, by William T. Grant
Foundation Grant 2642 and National Science Foundation Grant 0218159 to
Diane Hughes and by a grant from Pennsylvania State University for a
meeting of the Study Group on Race, Culture, and Ethnicity (SGRCE). We
thank members of the SGRCE for initial conceptual contributions and Hiro
Yoshikawa, Marybeth Shinn, Irwin Sandler, and Nancy Hill for their
thoughtful comments on drafts of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Diane
Hughes, Department of Psychology, New York University, 6 Washington
Place, Room 280, New York, NY 10003. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2006, Vol. 42, No. 5, 747–770
Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association
0012-1649/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0012-16126.96.36.1997
regarding ethnicity and race is likely to be among the most im-
portant of these processes.
Scholars have also recognized that empirical knowledge about
normative developmental and family processes within ethnic mi-
nority families is limited but sorely needed (Fisher, Jackson, &
Villarruel, 1998; Garcı ´a Coll, Crnic, Lamberty, & Wasik, 1996;
Garcı ´a Coll, Meyer, & Brillon, 1995; Garcı ´a Coll & Va ´zquez
Garcı ´a, 1995; Harrison, Wilson, Pine, Chan, & Buriel, 1990;
McLoyd, Cauce, Takeuchi, & Wilson, 2000; Swanson, Spencer, et
al., 2003). Thus, recent theory and research has focused on elab-
orating constructs and processes that may be unique to various
ethnic minority groups. For example, recent findings regarding the
protective functions of positive ethnic identity (Chatman, Eccles,
& Malanchuk, 2005; Oyserman, Harrison, & Bybee, 2001; Shelton
et al., 2005) have precipitated questions regarding practices that
promote it. Again, parents’ ethnic and racial socialization are
likely to be especially important.
Finally, there is increased recognition that ethnic minority
youths encounter unique ecological demands and developmental
tasks stemming from societal discrimination against and devalua-
tion of ethnic minority group members (American Civil Liberties
Union, 1998; Charles, Dinwiddie, & Massey, 2004; Cunningham,
Swanson, Spencer, & Dupree, 2003; Garcı ´a Coll et al., 1996;
Swanson, Cunningham, & Spencer, 2003). Recent empirical work
has documented subtle and insidious forms of bias against youths
of color as well as the negative consequences of these for mental
health (Kessler, Mickelson, & Williams, 1999; Szalacha, Erkut,
Garcı ´a Coll, Alarco ´n, et al., 2003; Szalacha, Erkut, Garcı ´a Coll,
Fields, et al., 2003; Williams, Neighbors, & Jackson, 2003). Thus,
studies of ethnic and racial socialization, in part, reflect psychol-
ogists’ efforts to understand how families of color experience and
discuss social inequalities and injustices and how they teach chil-
dren to manage them.
In this article, we evaluate and integrate existing studies of racial
and ethnic socialization.1Our primary objective is to take stock of
what is known and to pave the way for forward movement in this
area. Because the literature is characterized by wide variation in
terminology, conceptualization, and operationalization of con-
structs, we begin by discussing these issues, because they present
challenges to integrating the literature. In the remaining sections,
we first review studies that have sought to describe ethnic and
racial socialization. We focus on the four themes that have
emerged most often in empirical research, which we term
cultural socialization, preparation for bias, promotion of mis-
trust, and egalitarianism. Then, we review studies of the ante-
cedents of racial and ethnic socialization and its consequences
for a range of youth outcomes. Finally, we discuss conceptual
and methodological issues that are common across existing
studies and limit what is known. We conclude by outlining
directions for future research.
To facilitate our goals, we provide basic information about
studies of ethnic and racial socialization in Table 1. Where studies
have examined multiple dimensions, we list the terms used to
reference particular themes and, if possible, classify them accord-
ing to the four themes that constitute our focus. Although any
specific ethnic–racial socialization message may simultaneously
contain two or more themes, we believe that it is conceptually and
empirically useful to distinguish them.
Conceptual Issues in Defining the Domain
Racial Versus Ethnic Socialization
The terms racial socialization and ethnic socialization are each
used broadly to refer to the transmission from adults to children of
information regarding race and ethnicity. Historically, these terms
have been applied to somewhat different phenomena in different
groups. Research on racial socialization emanated from scholars’
efforts to understand how African American parents maintain
children’s high self-esteem and prepare them to understand racial
barriers given systems of racial stratification in the United States
(Boykin & Toms, 1985; Peters, 1985, 2002; Spencer, 1983; Spen-
cer & Markstrom-Adams, 1990; Tatum, 1987; Thornton et al.,
1990). Research on ethnic socialization originated in the experi-
ences of immigrant Latino, Asian, and (less often) African and
Caribbean groups in the United States, having focused largely on
children’s cultural retention, identity achievement, and in-group
affiliation in the face of competing pressures to assimilate to the
dominant society (Knight, Bernal, Cota, et al., 1993; Knight,
Bernal, Garza, et al., 1993; Ou & McAdoo, 1993; Quintana &
Vera, 1999). Currently, however, the two concepts overlap con-
siderably. Although the term racial socialization is still used
almost exclusively in research with African Americans, reflecting
deeply entrenched constructions of U.S. race relations as a Black-
versus-White problem, its current conceptualization includes ex-
posure to cultural practices and objects, efforts to instill pride in
and knowledge about African Americans, discussions about dis-
crimination and how to cope with it, and strategies for succeeding
in mainstream society. The term ethnic socialization is currently
applied in research on multiple ethnic groups, including African
Americans, and covers the same conceptual territory.
The fact that researchers use different terminology to refer to
similar processes in different ethnic or racial groups means that the
literature is fragmented and difficult to integrate. However, devel-
oping a clear consensus on when the term ethnic socialization
versus the term racial socialization should be used may also pose
challenges. Technically, both ethnic and racial socialization are
applicable across all ethnic–racial groups, because all people are
members of racial categories that are legally recognized by the
U.S. government, and all people are members of an ethnic group,
defined as a group of people who share a common culture, reli-
gion, language, or nationality (Cooper, Garcı ´a Coll, Bartko, Davis,
& Chatman, 2005). Moreover, parents from all ethnic and racial
groups probably transmit messages to children about issues such as
cultural heritage and group social status, including discussions
about the prevalence of stereotypes and discrimination based on
phenotypic characteristics, language competencies, and other
group characteristics. Notably, although White parents are rarely
1Our review covers articles from peer-reviewed journals and book
chapters in psychology, sociology, and related fields, which were identified
by searching PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts, ERIC, JSTOR, Ingenta,
LexisNexis, and ProQuest between 1975 and 2005 using the keywords
“racial socialization” and “ethnic socialization” and combinations such as
“parenting and ethnic identity” in the title, abstract, keyword, or full-text
listings. We perused citation lists for other articles that seemed relevant and
searched the Social Sciences Citation Index for recent work that cited key
articles. This iterative process yielded over 50 empirical articles. Although
the literature seems ripe for an integrative review, too few articles exist to
warrant a formal meta-analysis.
HUGHES ET AL.
included in studies of socialization about ethnicity and race (for
exceptions, see Hamm, 2001; Hughes & Chen, 1999), such social-
ization is quite likely to take place within White families as well,
especially in communities that are ethnically and racially inte-
grated. Nevertheless, across racial and ethnic groups, either type of
discussion can concern ethnicity (e.g., discussions pertaining to
being Puerto Rican, West Indian, or Chinese) or race (e.g., dis-
cussions pertaining to being Black, White, or Asian), and the basis
for determining when such discussions should be termed racial or
ethnic socialization can be tricky.
In our view, there is not yet a satisfying solution for unambig-
uously distinguishing socialization that is racial from socialization
that is ethnic or for determining when one term should be used
rather than the other. Further, we believe that both terms are too
broad and nonspecific to be conceptually or empirically useful.
Thus, researchers will need to adopt terminology that is more
precise and descriptive. Here, rather than attempting to settle the
issue, we use the combined term ethnic–racial socialization when
referring to the broader research literature and focus on other
definitional and conceptual issues that we regard as more impor-
tant. We later propose that the terms cultural socialization, prep-
aration for bias, promotion of mistrust, and egalitarianism be used
in lieu of these broad terms to refer to distinctions in the nature of
messages parents transmit about ethnicity and race.
Varied Operationalization of Ethnic–Racial Socialization
To date, studies have varied considerably in how ethnic–racial
socialization is conceived and measured, limiting researchers’
ability to integrate findings across studies. To illustrate, Table 1
lists conceptualizations in existing work. As the table shows, some
studies have focused solely on transmission of cultural values,
knowledge, and practices (cultural socialization); some have fo-
cused solely on preparing youths for discrimination (preparation
for bias); some have examined multiple dimensions of ethnic–
racial socialization; and some have examined ethnic–racial social-
ization as a unidimensional construct. When the broad terms ethnic
socialization or racial socialization are used to refer to these
different conceptualizations, it becomes difficult to integrate find-
ings across studies. For the literature to advance, researchers need
to use more precise and descriptive terminology that refers to the
content or type of message that is under examination (e.g., prep-
aration for bias, specifically, rather than ethnic socialization, gen-
erally), much as the literature on parenting distinguishes harsh
from inconsistent discipline and authoritative, authoritarian, and
permissive parenting styles.
Closely related to this, although common ethnic–racial themes
have emerged in many studies, scholars have not developed a
common terminology to refer to them. Among the terms for
messages about cultural pride, history, and heritage (cultural so-
cialization) are cultural emersion (O’Connor, Brooks-Gunn, &
Graber, 2000), cultural pride reinforcement, cultural legacy ap-
preciation (Stevenson, Herrero-Taylor, Cameron, & Davis, 2002),
and integrative/assertive socialization (Demo & Hughes, 1990).
Discussion with children about discrimination (preparation for
bias) has been termed racism awareness training (Stevenson,
1994, 1995), racial barrier awareness (Bowman & Howard,
1985), racism struggles (Johnson, 1988), and cautious/defensive
socialization (Demo & Hughes, 1990). Again, development of a
common terminology that recognizes multiple dimensions of
ethnic–racial socialization would benefit the literature immensely.
Finally, the literature is characterized by great variety in how
ethnic–racial socialization is empirically operationalized. Al-
though diversity in measurement is needed in any field, the current
diversity within the socialization literature presents challenges to
synthesis, because different measurement approaches yield differ-
ent information. A close examination of existing measures indi-
cates that some assess parent (or adolescent) attitudes and values
(Stevenson, 1994, 1995), some assess parents’ behaviors and prac-
tices (Hughes & Chen, 1997), and some infer ethnic–racial social-
ization from significant correlations between parents’ and chil-
dren’s ethnic–racial attitudes or practices (e.g., Barnes, 1980;
Smith, Atkins, & Connell, 2003). In addition, inductively coded
open-ended questions, closed-ended binary questions, and Likert-
type survey questions, each of which have been used across
studies, produce different types of information that are not readily
comparable. Open-ended questions assess what first comes to
mind when parents reflect on their child-rearing goals, an indicator
of the salience of a particular ethnic–racial socialization theme.
However, such open-ended questions provide limited information
about the range of messages that parents transmit, because multiple
types of messages are not assessed independently. Binary ques-
tions assess the prevalence of specified dimensions of ethnic–
racial socialization (e.g., whether they are ever used), and Likert-
type survey measures assess the strength of ethnic–racial
socialization values or the frequency of ethnic–racial socialization
practices. In moving forward, researchers need to determine
whether their research questions call for an assessment of attitudes or
of behavior and whether relative salience, presence versus absence, or
frequency is the variable most relevant to their study goals.
The Content and Frequency of Parents’ Ethnic–Racial
We turn now to examining research that has sought to describe
the substantive content of parents’ ethnic–racial socialization mes-
sages. In doing so, we distinguish studies using different assess-
ment methods in terms of what they suggest regarding the salience,
prevalence, and frequency of different messages to youths.
We propose that the term cultural socialization be used to refer
to parental practices that teach children about their racial or ethnic
heritage and history; that promote cultural customs and traditions;
and that promote children’s cultural, racial, and ethnic pride, either
deliberately or implicitly (Boykin & Toms, 1985; Hughes, Bach-
man, Ruble & Fuligni, 2006; Hughes & Chen, 1999; Thornton et
al., 1990; Uman ˜a-Taylor & Fine, 2004). Examples include talking
about important historical or cultural figures; exposing children to
culturally relevant books, artifacts, music, and stories; celebrating
cultural holidays; eating ethnic foods; and encouraging children to
use their family’s native language. Cultural socialization shares
conceptual space with other well-established social scientific con-
structs such as enculturation, and it has been central to researchers’
ideas regarding parental influences on children’s ethnic and racial
identity formation (Bowman & Howard, 1985; Hughes & Chen,
1997; Knight, Bernal, Cota, et al., 1993; Knight, Bernal, Garza,
(text continues on page 756)
Methodological and Measurement Characteristics of Studies That Directly Assess Ethnic–Racial Socialization
Authors’ label for proposed dimensions of ethnic–racial socialization
Method of assessment
Biafora, Taylor, et
et al. (1993)
9-item Likert-type measure
assessing adolescents’ attitudes about Whitesand messages received
from family about
Content coding of 2 NSBA
open-ended questions toyield fourfold
measure of parents’
racial awareness; 40-
item measure of parents’
Black ethnocentrism; 5
open-ended interview questions about parents’
vis-a `-vis race
a pro-Black/ anti-White
Brega & Coleman
8 content-coded open-
practices, yielding aglobal measure and a primary orientation for
Caughy et al.
40 items from the PERS to
practices; 10-item observational checklistof objects in home
40 items from the TERS
assessing the frequency
of messages received
cultural coping with antagonism
DeBerry et al.
M ? 7
M ? 17
Content coding of open-
that yielded a fivefold
classification of families
HUGHES ET AL.
Table 1 (continued)
Authors’ label for proposed dimensions of ethnic–racial socialization
Method of assessment
Demo & Hughes
Content coding of 2 NSBA
(M ? 15
40 items from the TERS
assessing the frequency
of messages received
Fischer & Shaw
11 items regarding teen
from the Racism
subscale of the SORS; 8
items regarding received
from the TERS
Frabutt et al. (2002)
7-item Parent Management
the frequency and
breadth of parents’discussions with
10 items assessing the
prevalence (everhappen) and frequency of parents’ socializationpractices
Hughes & Chen
16 items assessing the
prevalence (everhappen) and frequencyof socialization practices
Hughes & Johnson
15 items assessing the
prevalence (ever happen) and frequencyof parents’ racial
40 items from the TERS
assessing the frequency
of messages received
Cota, et al.
68 Likert-type survey
items regarding ethnic
foods, teaching about
ethnic culture, Mexican
objects in the home, and
teaching about ethnic
pride and discrimination
Table 1 (continued)
Authors’ label for proposed dimensions of ethnic–racial socialization
Method of assessment
Garza, et al.
36 Likert-type items
assessing teaching about
Mexican culture; 11
items assessing teaching
about pride and
checklist about Mexican
objects in the home
in the home
7 binary questions with
open-ended follow-upprobes (probes were
content coded; answers
to binary questions were
summed to create
measure used in
McHale et al. (in
12 items (from Hughes &
Chen, 1997) assessing
the frequency of
McKay et al.
42-item SORS assessing
attitudes toward racial
Miller & MacIntosh
Sum of 45 items from the
O’Connor et al.
19 items (based on Hughes
& Chen, 1997)
regarding parents’ racial
Ou & McAdoo
22 items assessing attitudes
toward Chinese values
vis-a `-vis child rearing
and maintenance of
Chinese traditions; 1
item assessing attitudestoward child’s study of
HUGHES ET AL.
Table 1 (continued)
Authors’ label for proposed dimensions of ethnic–racial socialization
Age of target
Method of assessment
Parham & Williams
Adults ages 16–
68 years (no
Content coding of 2 NSBA
Phinney & Chavira
4 binary questions (teach
about cultural practice;
teach about mainstream;teach about diversity; teach about
discrimination) followedby inductive coding of
answers to follow-up
prejudice;prejudice as problem
Quintana et al.
21 items assessing
frequency of parental
practices such as
discrimination, languageuse, events, and food
Quintana & Vera
Grades 2 and 6
5 Likert-type items
assessing parents’ attitudes about ethnic
Romero et al.
students (M ?
19-item survey measure of
attitudes about American and Latino preferences,
knowledge, and role behaviors
2 items assessing the
discussions; 2 items
regarding impacts on
belief and behavior ratedon a 5-point scale; 1 open-ended question
by adults ages18–92 years
20 items assessing family’s
attitudes and adviceabout race
Grades 9–11 (M
? 16 years)
5 items assessing parents’
messages about race and
Table 1 (continued)
Authors’ label for proposed dimensions of ethnic–racial socialization
Method of assessment
5 binary survey items
assessing importance of
teaching about race, teaching or not about
civil rights, and Black
history embedded in
larger survey measure
45-item SORS-A assessing
adolescents’ attitudesabout aspects of ethnic-
45-item SORS-A assessing
adolescents’ attitudesabout aspects of ethnic–
45-item SORS-A assessing
adolescents’ attitudes about aspects of ethnic–
Cameron, et al.
45-item TERS assessing
teens’ experiences of
communication;cultural coping withantagonism
Taylor, et al.
45-item TERS assessing
teens’ experiences of
culturalcoping with antagonism
Stevenson et al.
45-item attitudinal 5-point
Likert-type scale; single-
item question about
family discussion of racism
caring; spiritualand religiouscoping; global
HUGHES ET AL.
Table 1 (continued)
Authors’ label for proposed dimensions of ethnic–racial socialization
Method of assessment
Stevenson et al.
45-item SORS-A assessing
attitudes toward racial
caring; spiritualand religious coping; global
Thomas & Speight
17-item measure of
attitudes about the
importance of ethnic–
racial socialization and
messages; 4 content-
coded interview questionabout importance of
frequency, messages for
boys, and messages forgirls
racism; reality ofracism
Thompson et al.
Total scale score from the
40-item TERS assessing
teens’ experiences of
Content coding of 2 NSBA
Thornton et al.
Multiple themes derived
from coding of NSBA
questions; presence/absence of any
racial socialization used
Uman ˜a-Taylor &
8 items assessing the
extent to whichadolescents receive overt
(family teaches about
culture) and covert
(family participates in
Overt and covert
4 items assessing messages
about pride and
participation in practices
Only studies that explicitly included a measure of ethnic–racial socialization are represented. NSBA ? National Survey of Black Americans; PERS ? Parental Experience of Racial Socialization
Scale; TERS ? Teenager Experience of Racial Socialization Scale; SORS ? Scale of Racial Socialization; SORS-A ? Scale of Racial Socialization–Adolescent.
1993; Ou & McAdoo, 1993; Sanders Thompson, 1994; Spencer,
1983; Stevenson, 1994; Thornton et al., 1990).
Studies have consistently highlighted the fact that cultural so-
cialization is a salient aspect of child rearing. That is, promoting
pride, cultural knowledge, and cultural traditions are among the
first things parents mention when asked open-ended questions
about ethnic–racial socialization. For instance, approximately 40%
of a nationally representative sample of African American adults
who participated in the National Survey of Black Americans
(NSBA; Jackson & Gurin, 1997) mentioned themes related to
racial pride and heritage in response to open-ended questions about
their ethnic–racial socialization practices (Demo & Hughes, 1990;
Thornton et al., 1990), as did 23% of the NSBA youth sample
(Bowman & Howard, 1985). One in 6 African American adults in
Sanders Thompson’s (1994) study mentioned messages about cul-
tural pride when asked to reflect retrospectively on messages about
race that they had received in their families of origin. In studies of
Chinese (Ou & McAdoo, 1993) and Latino (Quintana & Vera,
1999) families, parents have stressed that their children should be
exposed to their culture and that they benefit from speaking their
Studies that have used binary indicators of whether parents
engage in cultural socialization have provided evidence that cul-
tural socialization is also prevalent in many families; that is, most
parents report engaging in cultural socialization practices at some
point. In studies of African American families, the percentage of
parents who report cultural socialization with their children ranges
from 33% (Marshall, 1995) to 80% or more (Caughy, O’Campo,
Randolph, & Nickerson, 2002; Coard, Wallace, Stevenson, &
Brotman, 2004; Hughes, 2003; Hughes & Chen, 1997; Hughes &
Johnson, 2001; Phinney & Chavira, 1995). About 66% of Japanese
parents (Phinney & Chavira, 1995) and 85% or more of Domini-
can, Mexican, and Puerto Rican parents (Hughes, 2003; Phinney &
Chavira, 1995) report cultural socialization. In several studies,
parents have been more likely to report cultural socialization than
preparation for bias and to engage in it more frequently (Caughy et
al., 2002; Hughes & Chen, 1999; Phinney & Chavira, 1995).
The importance to parents of transmitting their cultural heritage
to their children has also been documented through observations
and ethnographies. In Caughy et al.’s (2002) observational coding
of objects in African American families’ homes, 96% had multiple
Afrocentric artifacts. Ethnographic research with immigrant and
U.S.-born Asian and Latino families, as well as with Native
American families, has documented that families transmit their
native cultural values, beliefs, and practices to their children in the
course of daily routines in which the native language is spoken,
native foods are served, and native traditions are observed (Pessar,
1995; Rodriguez & Sa ´nchez Korrol, 1996; Sua ´rez-Orozco &
Sua ´rez-Orozco, 1995, 2001; Urciuoli, 1996; Waters, 1990; Zim-
merman, Ramirez-Valles, Washienko, Walter, & Dyer, 1996).
Preparation for Bias
Parents’ efforts to promote their children’s awareness of dis-
crimination and prepare them to cope with it have also been
emphasized as a critical component of ethnic–racial socialization
(Hughes et al., 2006; Hughes & Chen, 1999). As can be seen in
Table 1, most studies of ethnic–racial socialization among African
American families—and a few studies of ethnic–racial socializa-
tion among Latino, Asian, and immigrant Black families—have
included measures pertaining to preparation for bias. Qualitative
studies often identify discussions about discrimination as a theme
that emerges in parents’ narratives as well (Tatum, 1987; Urciuoli,
1996; Ward, 1991).
Overall, studies suggest that few parents spontaneously mention
discussion with children about discrimination in response to open-
ended question about socialization. It is difficult to determine
whether this is because preparation for bias is less salient to
parents than are other ethnic–racial socialization themes or be-
cause discrimination and ethnic–racial bias are too painful or
uncomfortable to discuss in the context of interviews with relative
strangers. In the NSBA, 8% of parents and 13% of youths men-
tioned messages to children about racial barriers in response to
questions about what parents taught about being Black (Bowman
& Howard, 1985; Thornton et al., 1990). In Marshall’s (1995)
study, 14% of African American parents and 3% of African
American children mentioned racial barriers in response to open-
ended questions. The exception to this pattern is Sanders Thomp-
son’s (1994) finding that 48%–58% of African American adults
who were asked to recount race-related discussions during their
youth recalled parental messages about racial barriers. This may be
because discrimination is more likely to be a topic of discussion
than is participation in events or other activities that parents
engage in to promote ethnic pride and knowledge in their children.
Nevertheless, findings that preparing children for bias is not typ-
ically among the first things parents mention when asked about
their ethnic–racial socialization practices suggest that either this
aspect of socialization is not especially salient to parents or that
other factors prevent parents from mentioning it.
Although few parents mention preparation for bias spontane-
ously, studies using in-depth interviews and binary survey ques-
tions have found that parents do discuss issues related to discrim-
ination with their children, although the prevalence varies across
ethnic–racial groups. For instance, in qualitative studies, themes
emphasizing the existence of discrimination and teaching children
to cope with it have emerged consistently (Hamm, 2001; Hughes
& DuMont, 1993; Peters & Massey, 1983; Tatum, 1987; Ward,
1991). In Frabutt, Walker, and MacKinnon-Lewis (2002), only 5%
of African American parents indicated that discrimination had
never come up in conversations with their children. Estimates of
the percentage of African American parents reporting preparation
for bias in other studies range from 67% to 90% (Caughy et al.,
2002; Coard et al., 2004; Hughes, 2003; Hughes & Chen, 1997,
1999). However, preparation for bias is more prevalent among
African American parents in studies comparing them with parents
from other ethnic and racial backgrounds, including Japanese
American, Mexican/Mexican American, Dominican, Puerto Rican,
White, Haitian, and Caribbean parents (Biafora, Warheit, Zimmer-
man, & Gil, 1993; Hughes, 2003; Hughes & Chen, 1999; Phinney
& Chavira, 1995), although many parents in these ethnic groups
also report it. As Ward (1991) observed, preparation for bias
among African American families may be part of a set of indige-
nous child-rearing strategies, transmitted intergenerationally, that
emanate from shared knowledge regarding historical experiences
Although it seems likely that preparation for bias would be
especially common among groups who have historically been
marginalized and oppressed, several studies have found that Jap-
anese Americans, who experienced pervasive discrimination dur-
ing World War II, rarely discuss these issues with their children. In
HUGHES ET AL.
Nagata’s (1990, 1993; cf. Nagata & Cheng, 2003) studies, adult
children of Japanese internees reported that their parents rarely, if
ever, discussed the internment experience with them. Although
95% of the subsequent generation discussed the internment with
their own children, discussions were infrequent and of limited
duration. In Chen’s (1998) dissertation study of immigrant Chinese
families with children ages 4–9 years old, only 10% of parents
discussed racial prejudice or discrimination against Chinese people
with their children. As Nagata suggested, silence around experi-
ences of discrimination among Asian-origin groups may reflect
cultural values that emphasize suppression of emotion, self-
restraint, and maintenance of harmony.
Promotion of Mistrust
We propose that the term promotion of mistrust be used to refer
to practices that emphasize the need for wariness and distrust in
interracial interactions (Hughes et al., 2006; Hughes & Chen,
1999). Mistrust may be communicated in parents’ cautions or
warnings to children about other racial groups or in their cautions
about barriers to success. Hughes and colleagues have argued that,
conceptually and empirically, messages that promote caution and
wariness about other groups can be differentiated from preparation
for bias messages in that they contain no advice for coping with or
managing discrimination (Hughes & Chen, 1997; Hughes & John-
Themes related to promotion of mistrust rarely emerge in re-
sponse to open-ended questions, and parents rarely endorse items
assessing promotion of mistrust in survey-based studies. For in-
stance, fewer than 3% of NSBA participants mentioned that they
instructed their children to maintain social distance from Whites as
a strategy for ethnic–racial socialization (Thornton et al., 1990).
The percentages of parents who have reported ever conveying
cautions or warnings about other groups in survey-based studies
are similarly low, ranging from 6% to 18% across multiple ethnic
groups (Biafora, Taylor, Warheit, & Zimmerman, 1993; Biafora,
Warheit, et al., 1993; Hughes & Chen, 1997, 1999; Hughes &
Johnson, 2001). Only one study (Caughy et al., 2002) found that a
majority of parents (65%) reported promotion of mistrust, but the
wording of items, which focused on discrimination rather than on
cautions and warnings, may account for the high level of endorse-
ment in this study.
Despite general patterns suggesting that promotion of mistrust is
not salient or prevalent, themes related to mistrust have emerged in
several qualitative studies, suggesting that a subset of parents
transmit these sorts of messages to their children. In Coard et al.’s
(2004) intensive interviews with African American parents, mes-
sages that taught defensive racial protocols and emphasized social
distance and mistrust emerged for about one-third of the sample. In
Hughes and DuMont’s (1993) focus groups with African Ameri-
can parents, discussions about encouraging children’s vigilance in
interactions with White peers and adults, and about the need to
maintain social distance and skepticism in relationships with them,
emerged in every group. Ethnographic studies have also found that
immigrant West Indian, Caribbean, and Dominican parents ex-
press strong convictions that their children should distinguish
themselves from native-born African Americans because of Afri-
can Americans’ low social status. These convictions are typically
accompanied by cautions and warnings to children about African
Americans’ undesirable characteristics (Pessar, 1995; Waters,
1994, 1999). This type of promotion of mistrust—aimed at pro-
tecting children from affiliations with groups who are negatively
stereotyped—may be substantively different from cautions about
closeness to Whites, which have been described among African
Americans. Thus, an interesting empirical question concerns
whether these phenomena are conceptually distinct and have dif-
ferent consequences for youths.
Egalitarianism and Silence About Race
Many parents either explicitly encourage their children to value
individual qualities over racial group membership or avoid any
mention of race in discussions with their children (Spencer, 1983).
Boykin and Toms (1985) coined the term mainstream socialization
to refer to these sorts of strategies, because rather than orienting
youths toward their native culture or toward their minority status,
they orient youths toward developing skills and characteristics
needed to thrive in settings that are part of the mainstream, or
dominant, culture. We refer to these types of ethnic–racial social-
ization strategies as egalitarianism and silence about race, respec-
tively, to distinguish them more clearly from one another.
Studies suggest that egalitarianism is salient to parents and
prevalent across multiple ethnic groups. In individual and focus-
group interviews, many African American parents have said that
emphasizing hard work, virtue, self-acceptance, and equality is the
primary ethnic–racial socialization strategy that they use (Demo &
Hughes, 1990; Hughes & DuMont, 1993; Marshall, 1995; Thorn-
ton et al., 1990). Promoting color-blind perspectives, in which
children are taught that they should not notice race, emerged as
prominent among White parents in Hamm’s (2001) qualitative
study, although it was less prominent in African American parents’
narratives. Many White parents stated that their children should
not choose friends on the basis of their racial or ethnic background
or try to initiate cross-race friendships simply for the purpose of
diversity. In quantitative studies using binary survey questions to
assess egalitarianism, two-thirds or more of parents from multiple
ethnic groups (including African American, White, and Latino)
report egalitarianism (Hughes & Chen, 1999; Phinney & Chavira,
1995). An exception is that only 22% of Japanese American
parents in Phinney and Chavira’s (1995) study reported
Silence about race has not typically been examined as an ex-
plicit dimension of ethnic–racial socialization, although failure to
mention racial issues also communicates race-related values and
perspectives to children. As a result, estimating silence about race
is somewhat tricky. When estimates of such are based on the
inverse of the percentage of parents who report other ethnic–racial
socialization strategies, the percentage is small (e.g., Caughy et al.,
2002; Frabutt et al., 2002; Hughes & Chen, 1999). However, when
parents are asked open-ended questions about the strategies they
use, a substantial minority report doing nothing, with estimates
ranging from 20% to 50% (Bowman & Howard, 1985; Parham &
Williams, 1993; Sanders Thompson, 1994; Thornton et al., 1990).
We suspect that inconsistency in the conclusions that might be
drawn from these different estimates is methodological. For ex-
ample, Brega and Coleman (1999) observed that field-workers
who were better skilled at probing answers indicating “no racial
socialization” were much more likely to obtain information about
how and when racial issues where discussed than were less skilled
Many studies have sought to examine basic questions about
whether parents socialize children about ethnicity and race and to
categorize the nature of the messages parents transmit. Four di-
mensions of ethnic–racial socialization have been investigated
most often: cultural socialization, preparation for bias, promotion
of mistrust, and egalitarianism. Across studies, parents most com-
monly mention cultural socialization and egalitarianism in re-
sponse to open-ended questions, suggesting that messages about
ethnic pride and appreciating diversity are most salient or central
to parents’ child-rearing agendas. However, studies that have di-
rectly asked parents whether they engage in specific behaviors
have found that a majority of ethnic minority parents report prep-
aration for bias as well. Although only a few studies have exam-
ined ethnic–racial socialization across multiple ethnic groups,
these studies have found that African American parents are more
likely than are other parents to report preparation for bias. How-
ever, cautions or warnings about other groups are uncommon,
regardless of the ethnic group examined or the assessment method
used. Asian-origin parents, both Japanese and Chinese, may be
least likely to report conversations about discrimination or equality
In future studies, it will be important for researchers to distin-
guish different types of ethnic–racial socialization and to provide
a clear rationale for specific aspects chosen for examination.
Although we propose that four dominant dimensions be distin-
guished, future researchers may find it important to distinguish
these dimensions even further (e.g., emphasizing cultural pride vs.
teaching about history and heritage). Moreover, other types of
ethnic–racial socialization that researchers have not yet elaborated
may also emerge as important (e.g., those containing messages
about in-group or out-group stereotypes). For now, if researchers
are more consistent about distinguishing different types of ethnic–
racial socialization messages, they will be in a better position to
understand these messages’ antecedents and consequences.
Predictors of Ethnic–Racial Socialization
Parental practices regarding ethnic–racial socialization are
shaped by individual and group characteristics and by character-
istics of the contexts in which parents and children operate. In this
section, we focus on five demographic and two contextual factors
that have been investigated most commonly: children’s age and
gender; parents’ socioeconomic status, immigration status, and
ethnic–racial identity; and, as contextual variables, region/neigh-
borhood and discrimination experiences. Children’s age and gen-
der constitute developmental contexts that shape parents’ views
about the types of experiences youths are likely to have and about
youths’ capacity to understand their messages (Hughes & Chen,
1997; Marshall, 1995; Peters & Massey, 1983). Socioeconomic
and immigration status constitute the sorts of social stratification
factors that Garcı ´a Coll et al. (1996) described in their model of
developmental contexts for ethnic minority youth. That is, these
factors operate primarily by shaping parents’ worldviews (e.g.,
ethnic identity, views about discrimination) and by determining the
settings and activities in which parents and children participate.
Although race and ethnicity are also social stratification variables
(Garcı ´a Coll et al., 1996), we have already described available
findings regarding ethnic–racial differences in socialization.
Setting-level characteristics and processes constitute proximal in-
fluences on parents’ ethnic–racial socialization goals and behav-
iors, because it is through experiences across settings that parents
develop ideas about the skills and characteristics children need for
Studies suggest that parents’ ethnic–racial socialization mes-
sages are not static or constant throughout childhood but, rather,
shift according to children’s cognitive abilities and their experi-
ences (Hughes & Chen, 1997; Hughes & Johnson, 2001; Uman ˜a-
Taylor & Fine, 2004). As children get older, they move from a
rudimentary to an adult-like understanding of race (Aboud, 1988;
Quintana, 1998). Thus, parents with young children, who lack the
cognitive maturity to understand race as a social category, may be
less likely than parents of older children to discuss racial or ethnic
issues with them, especially discrimination. Moreover, adoles-
cents’ identity-seeking processes, their ability to reflect on their
experiences, and the greater likelihood that they will encounter
racial bias may prompt them to initiate discussions about race with
their parents (Hughes & Johnson, 2001). Accordingly, the fre-
quency of some aspects of ethnic–racial socialization may increase
as children get older. In particular, whereas cultural socialization
or egalitarian messages may be transmitted when children are quite
young, discussion of more complex social processes, such as
discrimination or wariness of other groups, may not emerge until
children reach middle childhood or adolescence.
A comparison of findings across studies of younger and older
children is consistent with the idea that parents shift their ethnic–
racial socialization strategies to align with children’s developmen-
tal competencies and experiences. Studies involving preschoolers
typically find a lower incidence of ethnic–racial socialization,
especially discussions about discrimination, than do studies in-
volving adolescents or adults.2In Spencer (1983), 50% of African
American parents reported that children knew “some” or “a lot” of
Black history, 51% taught that all people are equal, but only 33%
discussed civil rights with their children. Peters and Massey (1983)
and Richardson (1981) found that although many African Amer-
ican parents of preschoolers recognized the importance of prepar-
ing children for discrimination, few articulated specific strategies
that they used to do so. However, studies of adolescents (Bowman
& Howard, 1985; Hughes & Chen, 1997; Marshall, 1995) and
studies involving adults’ retrospective reports about received so-
cialization (Thomas & Speight, 1999) have found that ethnic–
racial socialization includes discussions about discrimination.
Studies that have examined children from different age groups
have also found age-related differences in the frequency of par-
ents’ discussions with children about discrimination (Fatimilehin,
1999; Hughes & Chen, 1997; McHale et al., in press), and some
suggest differences in cultural socialization as well (Fatimilehin,
1999). For instance, McHale et al. (in press), using within-family
2Caughy et al. (2002) found high levels of ethnic–racial socialization in
their sample of African American parents with preschool children, includ-
ing ethnic pride (89%), preparation for bias (67%), and promotion of
mistrust (65%). Here, however, items did not ask specifically about the
target children, and thus, it is unclear that parents were answering questions
about 3–4-year-old children (M. O. Caughy, personal communication,
March 16, 2004).
HUGHES ET AL.
analyses, found that mothers engaged in more preparation for bias
with their older than with their younger children. Among the
studies that have reported nonsignificant differences in parents’
ethnic–racial socialization across different age groups (Caughy et
al., 2002; Hughes & Johnson, 2001; Quintana & Vera, 1999), two
were based on samples with too limited an age range (approxi-
mately 8–12 years) for age differences in ethnic–racial socializa-
tion to emerge (Hughes & Johnson, 2001; Quintana & Vera, 1999),
and one (Quintana & Vera, 1999) combined items about cultural
pride with those about discrimination, precluding analysis of age
differences by message type.
In sum, findings suggest that ethnic–racial socialization in-
creases as children age, probably reflecting parents’ sensitivity to
children’s developmental competencies and experiences. How-
ever, the literature does not permit firm conclusions in this regard.
Only a handful of studies have examined age differences, and even
fewer have included an age span that is sufficient for detecting
relationships. Longitudinal studies that both distinguish the range
of messages parents transmit and assess change in these messages
over time are sorely needed.
Boys and girls have different experiences related to their eth-
nicity and race. Compared with ethnic minority girls, ethnic mi-
nority boys are more likely to be viewed by others as threatening
(Sampson & Laub, 1993; Stevenson, Herrero-Taylor, et al., 2002),
and, indeed, they report more discrimination (Fischer & Shaw,
1999). Thus, one might expect ethnic–racial socialization mes-
sages to differ for boys versus girls because of the possibility that
parents anticipate their differential experiences in external contexts
such as neighborhoods and schools.
Studies that have examined gender differences in parents’
ethnic–racial socialization have yielded mixed findings (Bowman
& Howard, 1985; Sanders Thompson, 1994; Stevenson, Cameron,
Herrero-Taylor, & Davis, 2002; Thomas & Speight, 1999). Several
studies, all based on African American samples, have found that
boys are more likely to receive messages regarding racial barriers,
whereas girls are more likely to receive messages regarding racial
pride. For example, Bowman and Howard (1985) found that girls
were more likely to report that parents taught nothing about racial
status or emphasized racial pride, whereas boys were more likely
to report that parents emphasized egalitarianism and racial barriers.
In Thomas and Speight (1999), parents’ descriptions of socializa-
tion themes for boys emphasized negative stereotypes and strate-
gies for coping with racism, whereas those for girls emphasized
achievement and racial pride. However, other studies have re-
ported no significant gender differences in ethnic–racial socializa-
tion (Caughy et al., 2002; Frabutt et al., 2002; Hughes & Chen,
1997; Phinney & Chavira, 1995; Scott, 2003; Stevenson, Reed, &
Bodison, 1996; Thompson, Anderson, & Bakeman, 2000). These
findings do not appear to vary according to method of assessment,
source of information, parents’ ethnicity, or child’s age.
Parents’ Immigration Status
Among immigrant groups, perspectives on what it means to be
an ethnic group member and on the types of cultural knowledge
that children need for effective functioning are likely to shift with
the length of time in the United States and according to other social
processes, including acculturation. For recent immigrants, social-
ization about ethnicity occurs naturally as families participate in
the routines and practices of their home country. Among later
generations, parents may need to make deliberate efforts to pro-
mote children’s identification with their ethnic group (Waters,
1990). Immigrants’ understanding of U.S. systems of racial strat-
ification may also shift across immigrant generations (Kasinitz,
Mollenkopf, & Waters, 2004), influencing messages about ethnic-
ity and race.
Not surprisingly, studies have shown that parents’ immigration
status is associated with the type and frequency of ethnic–racial
socialization messages parents transmit to children. Recent immi-
grants are more likely to socialize youths regarding their ethnic
origin, native language, and traditions (cultural socialization) than
are their same-ethnicity counterparts who have been in the United
States longer (Alba, 1990; Cheng & Kuo, 2000; Knight, Bernal,
Garza, et al., 1993; Quintana, Casten ˜ada-English, & Ybarra, 1999;
Rumbaut, 1994; Uman ˜a-Taylor & Fine, 2004; Waters, 1990) and
as compared with successive generations (Portes & Zhou, 1993;
Rumbaut, 1994). In Knight, Bernal, Garza, et al.’s (1993) study,
more recent immigrants were also more likely to discuss discrim-
ination with their children.
Less is known about other correlates of changes in ethnic–racial
socialization among immigrants to the United States. For instance,
shifts over time in the nature or frequency of preparation for bias
may vary according to a group’s country of origin, phenotypic
characteristics, and patterns of assimilation. Likewise, socializa-
tion practices among successive generations may shift as families
move from ethnic enclaves to ethnically heterogeneous neighbor-
hoods. These sorts of issues represent important areas for future
Parents’ Socioeconomic Status
Parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds and with
different occupational and educational histories may have different
ideas about ethnicity and race and about experiences related to
them. For instance, higher income and better educated Blacks
perceive more prejudice and discrimination than do their lower
income and less well-educated counterparts (Williams, 1999), as
do socioeconomically advantaged immigrants (Portes, Parker, &
Cobas, 1980). Thus, one might expect that socioeconomic status
(SES) differences in experiences vis-a `-vis ethnicity and race would
be reflected in differences in ethnic–racial socialization.
Consistent with this, several studies have found that higher SES
parents report more ethnic–racial socialization than do their lower
SES counterparts. Cultural socialization and preparation for bias
are each higher among parents in professional and managerial jobs
than among parents in clerical or sales jobs or in service, machine
trades, or bench-work occupations (Hughes & Chen, 1997). Cul-
tural socialization and preparation for bias are also more frequent
among parents with higher incomes and more years of schooling
(Caughy et al., 2002; McHale et al., in press). In Caughy et al.
(2002), higher income parents were also more likely to provide an
Afrocentric home environment than were their lower income coun-
terparts. Although several studies have not found SES differences
in ethnic–racial socialization, these studies are characterized by
smaller samples (e.g., N ? 66) and limited variability in SES (e.g.,
Frabutt et al., 2002; Knight, Bernal, Cota, et al., 1993; Phinney &
Chavira, 1995), reducing statistical power to detect significant
Several studies have found curvilinear associations between
SES and ethnic–racial socialization. Specifically, in studies using
both income and education as socioeconomic indicators, middle-
SES respondents have been more likely to focus on discrimination
and mistrust, and less likely to focus on egalitarian messages, than
respondents in lower or higher groups, suggesting that race and
ethnicity are more relevant to them (Caughy et al., 2002; Thornton,
Regions of the country vary in their racial histories, racial
composition, and patterns of intergroup relations, and these differ-
ences may shape the nature of parents’ ethnic–racial socialization
messages. Only the NSBA has examined regional differences in
ethnic–racial socialization; other samples have tended to be within
small geographic areas. Using NSBA data, Thornton et al. (1990)
found that men in the Northeast were more likely to report ethnic–
racial socialization than were men in the South, although no
regional differences were evident among women. In a separate
analysis combining men and women, respondents in the West were
less likely than those in the South to report socialization as related
to being a member of a minority group (Thornton, 1997).
Neighborhoods, like regions, vary in their racial composition
and in patterns of intergroup relations. Thus, one might expect
ethnic–racial socialization to vary according to aggregate charac-
teristics of neighborhoods, especially ethnic composition. For in-
stance, preparation for bias and promotion of mistrust may not be
very common among parents rearing children in neighborhoods in
which intergroup relations and discrimination are not salient. In
contrast, egalitarian messages may be especially functional among
parents living in neighborhoods in which children need to relate
across groups, such as when children are in a numerical minority.
Studies have only recently begun to examine neighborhood
context as an important determinant of, or moderator of, ethnic–
racial socialization. The few studies that exist have found greater
preparation for bias in integrated neighborhoods (e.g., Caughy,
Nettles, O’Campo, & Lohrfink, 2005; Stevenson, Herrero-Taylor,
et al., 2002; Stevenson, McNeil, Herrero-Taylor, & Davis, 2005;
Thornton et al., 1990) as compared with predominantly Black
(Stevenson, Herrero-Taylor, et al., 2002) or predominantly White
(Caughy et al., 2005) neighborhoods. However, neighborhood
racial composition is, in part, a proxy indicator of other neighbor-
hood social processes such as intergroup conflict, neighborhood
violence, availability of resources, and social capital, which are
also likely to influence ethnic–racial socialization. For instance,
one might expect different types of messages about race in neigh-
borhoods that differed in the extent of animosity, competition, and
closeness between groups. In Caughy et al. (2005), parents in
neighborhoods characterized by a negative social climate were
more likely to report preparation for bias and promotion of mis-
trust than were other parents. Stevenson (2004) found that African
American girls reported the most preparation for bias when neigh-
borhood danger was high and neighborhood support was minimal.
Parents’ Racial Identity
Parents’ ethnic–racial identity shapes the frequency and content
of ethnic–racial socialization messages, because parents for whom
race and ethnicity are more salient may have stronger convictions
regarding the particular types of racial, cultural, and ethnic knowl-
edge they want their children to develop. Dimensions of ethnic
identity such as centrality, ideology, and regard (Sellers, Rowley,
Chavous, Shelton, & Smith, 1997) should be especially important.
For instance, parents for whom race is a central social identity (i.e.,
high centrality) and those who believe their group is negatively
valued by others (i.e., low public regard) may be especially likely
to discuss discrimination with their children. Those with high
centrality and favorable views of their ethnic–racial group (i.e.,
high private regard) may be especially likely to transmit messages
about group pride to their children. Surprisingly, few studies have
examined the extent to which parents’ identities shape their
ethnic–racial socialization practices. Virtually no studies have
taken the sort of nuanced look at these relationships that seems
Nevertheless, in the few studies that have investigated the extent
to which parents’ identities are associated with their socialization
practices, significant relationships have been found. For instance,
in studies of African American (Thomas & Speight, 1999), Do-
minican and Puerto Rican (Hughes, 2003), and Mexican/Mexican
American (Knight, Bernal, Cota, et al., 1993; Romero, Cuellar, &
Roberts, 2000) parents, those with greater attachment to their
ethnic group have been more likely than their counterparts to
emphasize cultural socialization. In Hughes’s (2003) study, rela-
tionships between parents’ ethnic identity and cultural socializa-
tion were more pronounced among parents of older (10–17-year-
old) than among parents of younger (6–9-year-old) children.
Stronger ethnic identity has also been found to predict more
frequent preparation for bias among Latino parents (Hughes, 2003;
Knight, Bernal, Cota, et al., 1993; Knight, Bernal, Garza, et al.,
Parents’ and Youths’ Discrimination Experiences
Studies of parenting have documented that parents try to incul-
cate in their children the skills that they themselves have needed to
function effectively across contexts (Kohn & Schooler, 1978).
Accordingly, one might expect that parents who experience dis-
crimination will be more likely than others to anticipate that their
children will also experience it and to provide their children with
tools for coping with it (Hughes, 2003; Hughes & Chen, 1997;
Uman ˜a-Taylor & Fine, 2004). Findings from several studies are
consistent with this expectation. Hughes and Chen (1997) found
that African American parents’ messages regarding discrimination
(preparation for bias) were significantly associated with their per-
ceptions of interpersonal prejudice at work. Parents’ cautions and
warnings about Whites (promotion of mistrust) were associated
with their perceptions of institutional-level discrimination at work.
These relationships were evident among parents of children 9–12
years of age but not among parents of children 4–8 years of age.
In Hughes (2003), parents’ community-based discrimination ex-
periences predicted preparation for bias, although these relation-
ships were only evident among African American and Dominican
parents of children 10–14 years of age (as compared with parents
of children ages 6–9 or Puerto Rican parents). In Stevenson,
Cameron, et al. (2002), adolescents who reported that a family
member had experienced discrimination reported receiving higher
levels of cultural socialization than did adolescents who reported
no discrimination experiences.
HUGHES ET AL.
Children’s experiences of discrimination also prompt parents to
discuss discrimination with them. For instance, adolescent girls
and boys report more frequent ethnic–racial socialization overall
when they have experienced discrimination (Miller & MacIntosh,
1999), and adolescent girls report fewer mainstream messages if
they have experienced discrimination (Stevenson, Cameron, et al.,
2002). In Stevenson et al. (2005), relationships between discrim-
ination and preparation for bias were especially strong among boys
living in diverse neighborhoods. In Hughes and Johnson (2001),
parents reported more preparation for bias when they believed
their early adolescent children had experienced discrimination by
adults and more promotion of mistrust when they and their chil-
dren believed that the children had been discriminated against by
Parents’ ethnic–racial socialization practices vary according to
children’s and parents’ characteristics and according to character-
istics of their contexts. Children’s gender and age are two such
characteristics. Preparation for bias and promotion of mistrust
appear to increase in frequency as children get older, perhaps
reflecting shifts in children’s cognitions about race and their prior
experiences with discrimination. Some studies have found that
cultural socialization increases with children’s age as well, al-
though findings have been mixed. Children’s gender also plays an
important role in shaping parents’ ethnic–racial socialization.
Where mean-level gender differences in ethnic–racial socialization
have been found, boys are more likely to receive messages regard-
ing racial barriers, whereas girls are more likely to receive mes-
sages regarding racial pride. However, the work of Stevenson and
colleagues suggests that these gender differences interact in com-
plex ways with youths’ discrimination experiences and neighbor-
hood contexts (Stevenson, 2004; Stevenson, Cameron, et al., 2002;
Stevenson et al., 2005). Future studies should be designed to more
thoroughly examine these relationships. As the literature develops,
studies should also examine a broader set of child characteristics
than have been examined thus far. Among those that are likely to
be important are a child’s temperament and skin color, which may
directly influence or moderate parents’ ethnic–racial socialization
(Garcı ´a Coll et al., 1996).
Parents’ demographic characteristics serve as a critical backdrop
for ethnic–racial socialization, underscoring the fact that parents
bring to the process a set of prior experiences and worldviews that
shape their socialization practices and determine the proximal
contexts in which families and children operate (Garcı ´a Coll et al.,
1996). Generally, higher SES parents are more likely to engage in
cultural socialization and preparation for bias than are their coun-
terparts. In some studies, these relations are curvilinear, with
middle-SES respondents reporting more socialization about eth-
nicity and race than their lower or higher SES counterparts. Al-
though the literature on immigration status is small, it suggests that
some aspects of ethnic–racial socialization, especially cultural
socialization, are shaped by the length of time that immigrant
parents have been in the United States and by the nature of parents’
ties to their country of origin, which tend to be closer among more
recent immigrants. Parents who identify more strongly with their
ethnic group also value ethnic–racial socialization more and report
using certain strategies more often.
Studies of how neighborhood context and discrimination expe-
riences shape parents’ ethnic–racial socialization underscore the
importance of understanding aspects of parents’ and youths’ eco-
logical experiences in relation to messages that children receive. In
particular, when features of settings make race highly salient, as
when settings are ethnically integrated or highly discriminatory,
parents are more likely to communicate messages about ethnicity
and race to their children. However, it is unclear whether more
frequent messages stem from parents’ expectations for their chil-
dren’s experiences or are reactions to experiences children have
Ethnic–Racial Socialization and Youth Outcomes
We turn now to a consideration of the research literature regard-
ing relationships between ethnic–racial socialization and youth
outcomes. Notably, this literature is still small and underdevel-
oped. Although a range of youth outcomes have been examined,
only a handful of studies have examined any particular one of
them. Moreover, the literature lacks a theoretical rationale that
specifies how ethnic–racial socialization might operate vis-a `-vis
particular youth outcomes. We begin by describing studies that
have examined relationships to youths’ ethnic identity and self-
esteem. These aspects of youths’ self-system seem most proximal
to parents’ socialization efforts and may mediate relationships to
cognitive, behavioral, and achievement outcomes. We then de-
scribe studies that have examined relationships to coping with
discrimination, academic achievement, and other psychosocial
outcomes. Where the literature is precise enough to permit distinc-
tions between types of messages, we discuss the dimensions that
have emerged as most important. Further, we discuss studies of
early and middle childhood separately from those of adolescents
and young adults because of our view that ethnic–racial socializa-
tion processes may have different consequences across these age
Youths’ ethnic identity has been the most commonly investi-
gated outcome of parents’ ethnic–racial socialization. This is likely
attributable to the fact that many ethnic–racial socialization prac-
tices are targeted directly toward instilling a sense of pride and
group knowledge in children. Aspects of cultural socialization—
including an emphasis on ethnic pride and language use, exposing
children to positive aspects of their history and heritage, embed-
ding children in cultural settings and events, and having ethnic
objects in the home—have been examined most often. A few
studies have also examined other dimensions of ethnic–racial
socialization, or unidimensional measures, in relation to youths’
Early and middle childhood.
cultural socialization facilitates children’s knowledge about their
ethnic–racial group and their favorable in-group attitudes. In early
studies conducted among African American families, a plurality of
factors—parents’ own racial attitudes (Branch & Newcombe,
1986); the value they place on teaching children about history,
civil rights, and discrimination (Spencer, 1983); and worldviews
combining a system-blame orientation, support for collective ac-
tion, and involvement in the community (Barnes, 1980)—have
been associated with children’s more Afrocentric and less Euro-
Most studies have found that
centric racial attitudes as assessed via projective techniques. In
more recent work, Marshall (1995) found that African American
parents who reported more ethnic–racial socialization had children
who were more likely to express racial identity views character-
istic of W. E. Cross’s (1991) encounter stage, characterized by
questioning allegiance to the dominant culture’s worldview. In two
studies among Mexican American families, parental teachings
about ethnic pride and cultural knowledge (cultural socialization)
and about discrimination against Mexican Americans (preparation
for bias) were significantly associated with elementary school
children’s knowledge about Mexican traditions and with their
reports about preference for Mexican behaviors (Knight, Bernal,
Garza, et al., 1993; Quintana & Vera, 1999). In the Knight, Bernal,
Garza, et al. (1993) study, the presence of Mexican objects was
also associated with children’s ethnic knowledge and preferences.
Adolescents and adults.
Similar to studies of young children,
studies among adolescents and adults have found that parents’
ethnic–racial socialization is associated with indicators of ethnic
identity. This general pattern has emerged in studies using unidi-
mensional (Quintana et al., 1999; Sanders Thompson, 1994;
Stevenson, 1995; Thompson et al., 2000) and multidimensional
(O’Connor et al., 2000) measures and in studies across multiple
ethnic groups (Lee & Quintana, 2005; Uman ˜a-Taylor & Fine,
2004). For instance, cultural socialization has been associated with
identity exploration, more advanced stages of identity develop-
ment, more positive group attitudes, and more group-oriented
ethnic behaviors among African American and Mexican adoles-
cents and adults (Demo & Hughes, 1990; O’Connor et al., 2000;
Stevenson, 1995; Uman ˜a-Taylor & Fine, 2004) and among cross-
racially adopted Korean and African American youths (DeBerry,
Scarr, & Weinberg, 1990; Lee & Quintana, 2005; Yoon, 2001,
2004). Preparation for bias has also been associated with youths’
identity development. For instance, adolescents who believe more
strongly in the importance of teaching about racism are more likely
than their counterparts to evidence more advanced stages of
ethnic–racial identity development (Stevenson, 1995). African
American adolescent girls whose mothers engage in greater prep-
aration for bias are more likely to have Black over mixed-race or
White music preferences (O’Connor et al., 2000). In the NSBA,
however, there were no significant differences in ethnic identity
among adults who received messages about discrimination, those
who received messages about egalitarianism, and those who re-
ceived no ethnic–racial socialization messages (Demo & Hughes,
Self-esteem is commonly conceived of as the central evaluative
dimension of youths’ self-concept (Harter, 1999; Rosenberg,
1986), and it is associated with varied psychological and behav-
ioral outcomes (Greene & Way, 2005). It is highly sensitive to
parenting (Jacobvitz & Bush, 1996; Laible, Gustavo, & Scott,
2004), to individuals’ awareness of their membership in devalued
groups (Crocker, Luhtanen, Blaine, & Broadnax, 1994), and to
expectations that one is likely to experience discrimination
(Branscombe, Schmitt, & Harvey, 1999). Thus, it seems likely that
ethnic–racial socialization would be associated with youths’ self-
esteem. For instance, when ethnic–racial socialization leads youths
to expect persistent discrimination and unfair treatment, one might
expect it to be associated with lower self-esteem (Branscombe et
al., 1999). When such socialization enhances youths’ positive
views of their ethnic–racial group or allows them to attribute
unfavorable outcomes to an external source (Crocker & Major,
1989), one might expect it to be associated with higher self-esteem
(Smith, Walker, Fields, Brookins, & Seay, 1999). Among the
handful of studies that have explicitly examined relationships
between ethnic–racial socialization and youths’ self-esteem, we
did not identify any that included younger (early and middle
childhood) samples. Below, we describe the few studies that have
Studies of ethnic–racial socialization in relation to adolescents’
self-esteem have produced conflicting results, possibly because of
differences in foci, methodology, and measurement (Constantine
& Blackmon, 2002; Fatimilehin, 1999; Stevenson et al., 1997). For
instance, whereas Constantine and Blackmon (2002) examined
domain-specific self-esteem, others have examined global self-
esteem (Fatimilehin, 1999; Stevenson et al., 1997). Similarly,
whereas Stevenson et al. (1997) conducted separate analyses for
boys and girls and examined a unidimensional indicator of ethnic–
racial socialization, neither Fatimilehin (1999) nor Constantine and
Blackmon (2002) conducted analyses by gender, and both distin-
guished multiple dimensions of ethnic–racial socialization. Thus,
findings across these studies are not readily comparable. Never-
theless, the findings suggest that youths’ self-esteem may be
sensitive to ethnic–racial socialization messages from parents. For
instance, in Constantine and Blackmon (2002), preparation for bias
and cultural socialization were associated with higher family self-
esteem, cultural socialization was associated with higher peer
self-esteem, and mainstream socialization was associated with
lower school self-esteem. Although this specific pattern may have
been difficult to predict a priori, several plausible explanations
come to mind that could be pursued in future studies. The positive
association between cultural socialization and peer esteem sug-
gests that cultural socialization may facilitate student’s compe-
tence and confidence in interacting with their age-mates. Con-
versely, mainstream messages may lead to expectancies for equal
treatment at school that are unrealized, consistent with Spencer’s
(1983) view that color-blind approaches leave children unprepared
for racial realities. Stevenson et al. (1997) also documented that
adolescents’ beliefs in the importance of ethnic–racial socializa-
tion, assessed globally, are associated with self-esteem. In this
study, relationships were positive among girls and negative among
boys. Notably, given the use of a global scale score, girls and boys
with similar mean global scale scores may have been differentially
endorsing discrete dimensions of ethnic–racial socialization (e.g.,
spirituality vs. extended family caring vs. coping with antago-
nism), which may in turn have been differentially associated with
Coping With Prejudice and Discrimination
One of the primary functions of ethnic–racial socialization may
be to enable youths to recognize and cope with societal discrimi-
nation (Barnes, 1980; Spencer, 1983). Among the dimensions of
ethnic–racial socialization that we have proposed, one might ex-
pect preparation for bias to be especially influential in this regard,
because it presumably includes proscriptions for coping with dis-
crimination. However, other aspects of ethnic–racial socialization
may influence coping as well. For instance, cultural socialization
may bolster youths’ resilience in the face of discrimination through
HUGHES ET AL.
its influences on self-esteem and ethnic identity (Barnes, 1980;
Branch & Newcombe, 1986; Spencer, 1983). Messages about
appreciation of all groups and equality, however, may leave youths
ill-prepared to cope with discrimination by socializing them to
expect equal treatment (Spencer, 1983).
Early and middle childhood.
ined ethnic–racial socialization vis-a `-vis coping with discrimina-
tion among young children, perhaps because issues of discrimina-
tion are less salient during this stage. In Szalacha, Erkut, Garcı ´a
Coll, Alarco ´n, et. al (2003), only 12% of Puerto Rican children in
Grades 1–3 reported having been discriminated against, whereas
almost half of Puerto Rican adolescents reported discrimination.
Nevertheless, in the two studies that have examined whether
ethnic–racial socialization is associated with young children’s cop-
ing with discrimination, significant relationships were reported. In
Quintana and Vera (1999), Mexican American children whose
parents discussed discrimination with them evidenced greater
knowledge about Mexican Americans and, in turn, greater under-
standing of prejudice. In Johnson’s (1994) study of 41 parent–
child dyads in middle-class African American families, parents’
preferences for how children should cope with discrimination were
associated with children’s actual coping behaviors. For instance,
children whose parents believed children should respond proac-
tively to racial situations (engaging the person, asserting oneself,
or getting parents help) were least likely to use passive coping
strategies or strategies that indicated internalized racism.
Adolescents and adults.
Adolescents whose parents commu-
nicate with them about discrimination (preparation for bias) have
also been found to demonstrate more effective strategies for cop-
ing with it. For instance, when asked about ways they would cope
with hypothetical situations involving discrimination, these ado-
lescents are more likely to describe proactive strategies such as
seeking support and using direct problem-solving strategies (Phin-
ney & Chavira, 1995; Scott, 2003), and they are less likely to
describe ineffective coping strategies such as engaging in verbal
banter (Phinney & Chavira, 1995). Fischer and Shaw (1999) also
found that youths’ reports about their actual exposure to discrim-
ination were significantly associated with poorer mental health
outcomes only among youths who reported that they received no
ethnic–racial socialization from their parents. However, not all
studies have found that preparation for bias is adaptive. In Brega
and Coleman (1999), African American youths who received more
ethnic–racial socialization from their parents reported feeling more
stigmatized than did their counterparts who received less. This was
especially true among youths who received conflicting messages.
Only a few studies have exam-
The possibility that parents’ ethnic–racial socialization practices
are associated with their children’s cognitive abilities, academic
orientations, and success in school has been of critical concern to
social scientists. A positive ethnic identity and high self-esteem are
positively associated with youths’ academic orientations and out-
comes (Chavous et al., 2003; Wigfield & Eccles, 1994), and thus,
one might expect indirect influences of ethnic–racial socialization
by way of these components of youths’ self-systems. In addition,
ethnic–racial socialization can contain messages about opportu-
nity, which in turn influence youths’ own perceptions of opportu-
nity and their subsequent investment in the academic domain
(Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; see W. J. Cross, 2003, for a contrasting
perspective). In addition, certain types of messages, such as prep-
aration for bias, may lessen adolescents’ vulnerability to stereo-
types about their groups’ intellectual capabilities, which in turn
influence performance and achievement
Downy, Purdie, Davis, & Pietrzak, 2002; Steele & Aronson,
1998). And, finally, ethnic–racial socialization messages may
shape how youths construct their achievement goals vis-a `-vis their
ethnic–racial group. For instance, in a recent school-based inter-
vention study, Oyserman et al. (2001) found that African Ameri-
can students who were exposed to a curriculum that encouraged
them to view academic achievement as an important component of
their identity had fewer absences and higher grades than did their
Early and middle childhood.
ethnic–racial socialization in relation to academic achievement or
cognitive functioning among younger children (Caughy et al.,
2002; Marshall, 1995). In Marshall (1995), children who reported
that their mothers socialized them about a broad range of racial
issues had lower grades on their school report cards. However,
mothers’ own reports about their ethnic–racial socialization prac-
tices were unrelated to children’s grades. In Caughy et al. (2002),
an observational measure of the number of Afrocentric items in the
home was associated with children’s greater factual knowledge
and better problem-solving skills, as indicated by the Kaufman
Assessment Battery for Children. As in Marshall (1995), however,
mothers’ self-reported ethnic–racial socialization was unrelated to
their children’s cognitive outcomes. This pattern suggests that
children receive messages independent of parent’s perceptions of
them and that such messages may be most important for their
academic behaviors. Smith et al. (2003) reported that children’s
perceived racial barriers were inversely associated with their
achievement, whereas children’s cultural pride was positively as-
sociated with their achievement.
Adolescents and adults.
Similar to studies of early and middle
childhood, studies that have examined ethnic–racial socialization
in relation to academic outcomes among adolescents and adults
have produced mixed results. In the three-generation NSBA study,
youths who were taught about racial barriers reported higher
grades in school than did youths who were taught nothing about
race (Bowman & Howard, 1985). Miller and MacIntosh (1999),
however, found no significant relationships between adolescents’
views about ethnic–racial socialization and their grades when
zero-order relations were examined or in models controlling for
other demographic, risk, or protective factors.
Two studies have examined
In keeping with the view that ethnic–racial socialization serves
a variety of protective functions for ethnic minority youth, scholars
have predicted that such socialization is associated with more
favorable psychosocial outcomes. Among the psychosocial out-
comes that have been examined are internalizing symptoms, de-
pression, externalizing symptoms, anger management, and physi-
Early and middle childhood.
ethnic–racial socialization in relation to youths’ psychosocial out-
comes has included children in early or middle childhood (Caughy
et al., 2002). In this study, parents’ cultural socialization was
associated with fewer total behavior problems and fewer internal-
izing and externalizing behavior problems among boys. Among
To date, only one study of
girls, cultural socialization was marginally associated with fewer
internalizing problems and unrelated to externalizing behaviors.
All analyses controlled for general level of parental involvement,
suggesting that relationships were not attributable simply to
greater parental activity.
In studies concerning the consequences of
ethnic–racial socialization for adolescents’ psychosocial outcomes,
findings often differ for boys and girls and depend on the dimen-
sions of ethnic–racial socialization examined. No studies have
examined the consequences of ethnic–racial socialization for psy-
chosocial functioning among adults.
Many of the studies documenting gender differences in the
consequences of ethnic–racial socialization for youth psychosocial
outcomes come from Stevenson’s extensive program of research
with urban African American adolescents. In one study, boys with
higher global ethnic–racial socialization scores reported more fre-
quent sad mood and greater hopelessness than did their counter-
parts, whereas comparable girls reported less frequent sad mood
and less hopelessness (Stevenson, 1997; Stevenson et al., 1997). In
a second study, boys who believed in the importance of empha-
sizing cultural pride and heritage (cultural socialization) reported
higher levels of anger control than did those who endorsed a focus
on discrimination against Blacks (preparation for bias; Stevenson,
1997; Stevenson et al., 1997). In Stevenson, Herrero-Taylor, et al.
(2002), those who received messages regarding coping with an-
tagonism (preparation for bias) together with messages regarding
cultural pride and legacy appreciation (cultural socialization) re-
ported lower levels of fighting frequency and initiation. Thus,
findings from this program of research suggest that cultural so-
cialization is largely protective, but they also hint at potentially
maladaptive consequences of parents’ exclusive focus on discrim-
ination, especially for boys.
There is other evidence as well that an overemphasis on dis-
crimination may yield unfavorable outcomes among youths, espe-
cially when it leads youths to expect discrimination or to mistrust
others. In one study, Asian and Black (immigrant and U.S.-born)
adolescents who expected that others would discriminate against
them reported more depressive symptoms and greater conflict with
their parents than did those who did not express such expectations
(Rumbaut, 1994). In a study among African American, Haitian,
and Caribbean adolescents, racial mistrust was a significant pre-
dictor of deviant behavior, both minor and major, with SES, peer
values, family cohesion, and religiosity controlled for (Biafora,
Warheit, et al., 1993).
Studies suggest that ethnic–racial socialization has potentially
important consequences for youth outcomes, but relationships vary
according to types of measures used and the type of ethnic–racial
socialization assessed. When studies have used unidimensional
measures, findings have been mixed, with favorable, unfavorable,
and null relationships reported in relation to self-esteem, stigma-
tization, academic achievement, and psychosocial functioning.
This mixed pattern of findings underscores the need for research-
ers to move beyond global measures if they are to fully understand
the consequences of ethnic–racial socialization for youths. Studies
that have examined cultural socialization consistently suggest that
it is associated with favorable outcomes. Not surprisingly, youths
have reported stronger and more positive ethnic identities when
parents incorporate cultural socialization practices into their par-
enting repertoire. Cultural socialization has also been associated
with other youth outcomes, including fewer externalizing behav-
iors, lower fighting frequency and better anger management (es-
pecially among boys), higher self-esteem with peers, fewer inter-
nalizing problems, and better cognitive outcomes. Fewer studies
have examined the consequences of preparation for bias for youth
outcomes. In studies that have examined these consequences vis-
a `-vis ethnic identity, findings have been mixed. Studies of children
and adolescents have also found that preparation for bias provides
youths with skills for understanding and coping with discrimina-
tion, although these relationships tend to be weak. At least one
study found that preparation for bias is associated with higher
grades in school among older adolescents.
Findings regarding the potential protective properties of prepa-
ration for bias are tempered by findings that less favorable out-
comes are evident when youths develop expectations for discrim-
ination and mistrust of other groups. This pattern has emerged in
Stevenson’s work on anger management and fighting frequency
(e.g., Stevenson, 1997; see also Bowman & Howard, 1985) as well
as in Biafora, Taylor, et al. (1993), Biafora, Warheit, et al. (1993),
and Rumbaut’s (1994) large-sample survey studies of ethnic mi-
nority youths. As we discuss below, a challenge for future studies
will be to determine the conditions under which preparation for
bias is protective, possibly by distinguishing it more clearly from
promotion of mistrust.
More studies are also needed that examine the consequences for
youths of parents’ emphasis on egalitarian views. Constantine and
Blackmon’s (2002) findings regarding negative relations between
egalitarianism and school self-esteem, together with Bowman and
Howard’s (1985) finding that no discussion of race is associated
with lower grades, serves as a reminder of the fine line between
strategies that undermine youths’ competence and goals and strat-
egies that leave them unprepared for the racial realities they may
Finally, although we differentiated studies examining children
during early and middle childhood from those examining adoles-
cents and adults, findings to date have been fairly similar across
these age ranges. However, differential findings have been re-
ported for boys and girls. Thus, extant studies underscore the
importance of considering youths’ gender when examining
Conceptual Gaps and Methodological Issues
In the remaining paragraphs, we underscore thorny conceptual
and methodological issues that cut across studies of ethnic–racial
socialization with the goal of shaping the way that researchers
think about and study this process in future work.
The Need for Research Across Multiple Ethnic Groups
The facts that only a few studies have examined ethnic–racial
socialization across multiple ethnic–racial groups (Hughes, 2003;
Phinney & Chavira, 1995) and that, to date, studies have focused
primarily on African American families limits empirical knowl-
edge. In our view, comparative information would not only be
descriptively interesting, it would also enrich understanding of
these processes in a number of ways. For instance, it is likely that
some aspects of ethnic–racial socialization are rooted in a group’s
HUGHES ET AL.
historical experiences and in family practices that are passed down
through successive generations (Hughes & Chen, 1997; Ward,
1991), whereas other types of messages are reactive to contempo-
rary constraints, opportunities, and social processes, including
discrimination. Examination of groups with similar historical ex-
periences but different current opportunities and constraints, or
groups with different historical experiences but similar current
opportunities and constraints, could help to unpack these origins
Moreover, comparative studies are needed because specific
ethnic–racial socialization behaviors may have different meanings
across groups and, therefore, different correlates and conse-
quences. For instance, Kofkin, Katz, and Downey (1995) found
that White parents’ avoidance of discussions about race emanated
from their views that race does not matter, whereas African Amer-
ican parents’ avoidance of such discussions emanated from their
views that their children were too young to understand. Here,
differing beliefs systems underlay similar patterns of behavior,
underscoring the need to understand these processes both within
and across groups.
Additional within-group studies of ethnic–racial socialization
among families from diverse groups would also contribute to
researchers’ understanding of the process. To date, studies of
African American families have dominated the literature, followed
by studies of Mexican/Mexican American and Korean families.
For other ethnic–racial groups—including White, Puerto Rican,
Chinese, Japanese, and Native American families—either no em-
pirical information is available or available data come from only
one or two studies. Investigation of ethnic–racial socialization
within cultural communities that vary in the salience of ethnic–
racial issues, in their social status and history, in the ways inter-
group relations are constructed, and in their beliefs about how race
and ethnicity should be represented and communicated to children
may illuminate additional features of ethnic–racial socialization
processes and of the mechanisms through which they operate. In
particular, more studies are needed that include White parents and
youths, not only because they have largely been ignored in the
ethnic–racial socialization literature but because they represent the
largest contrast to groups that have most commonly been studied
on factors that shape ethnic–racial socialization (e.g., distinctive-
ness of cultural rituals and routines, salience of ethnic identity,
prior discrimination experiences, exposure to negative group
Conceptualizing Ethnic–Racial Socialization in the
Broader Context of Parenting
autonomy-granting behaviors, and monitoring are powerful deter-
minants of outcomes among youths. Thus, one cannot reasonably
understand parents’ ethnic–racial socialization in isolation from
these factors. In a recent study using the Racial Stories Task,
processes of negotiating, scaffolding, and turn-taking with children
were as important to the children’s racial coping as were parents’
spoken messages (Johnson, 2005). Greater maternal warmth
(Caldwell, Zimmerman, Bernat, Sellers, & Notaro, 2002), positive
and involved parenting (Frabutt et al., 2002), and academic in-
volvement at home and at school (McKay, Atkins, Hawkins,
Brown, & Lynn, 2003) have also been associated with ethnic–
racial socialization. Thus, studies suggest that ethnic–racial social-
ization and its effects are embedded in other aspects of parenting,
but more information is needed regarding how.
Synergy and Bidirectionality
Ethnic–racial socialization is clearly a bidirectional process
shaped by parents and children, but studies have not yet sought to
understand the dynamic ways in which it unfolds. For example,
children’s experiences and questions may prompt parents to share
values and information regarding race, ethnicity and intergroup
relations, regardless of parents’ predetermined racial socialization
agendas (Hughes & Chen, 1999). Children can also disagree with,
miss, misinterpret, or ignore parents’ socialization messages (Mar-
shall, 1995). Thus, it is important to conceptually distinguish the
messages parents intend to impart from those that children per-
ceive by studying both. Marshall (1995) found that many children
whose parents had described a range of ethnic–racial socialization
strategies reported that their parents did not teach them anything
about ethnicity or race. Hughes et al. (2006) reported that children
perceive more preparation for bias messages than their parents
report sending, whereas they perceive fewer messages about cul-
tural socialization and egalitarianism. Thus, distinguishing situa-
tions in which ethnic–racial socialization is child-initiated from
those in which it is parent-initiated, elaborating the synergistic
qualities of the process, and exploring correspondence between
parents’ and youths’ perceptions are each essential for a complete
understanding of the process.
The Need for a Greater Range of Assessment Tools
Most studies of ethnic–racial socialization rely on self-report
measures. The limitations of such methods are of special concern
in this literature, because parents are frequently unaware of the
many types of messages they transmit or are unable or unwilling to
report them. Caughy et al.’s (2002) finding that observational
measures of an Afrocentric home environment predicted cognitive
outcomes, whereas parents’ self-reports about ethnic–racial social-
ization did not, serves as a reminder that parents may not consider
all relevant aspects of ethnic–racial socialization when responding
to self-report measures. Lewis’s (1999) description of hair comb-
ing as a culturally relevant context for ethnic–racial socialization
in African American families is also a reminder that self-report
measures may not capture the many subtle but relevant messages
that are embedded in families’ cultural practices and daily routines.
Thus, to fully understand the range of messages that parent trans-
mit, self-report methods need to be complemented by more holistic
and culturally anchored methods. Experimental methods, which
have not been used to our knowledge, could also be extremely
useful for identifying the mechanisms through which different
types of socialization exert their effects. For instance, one might
examine whether youths’ beliefs and feelings following experi-
mentally induced encounters with unfair treatment vary according
to messages they report having received.
Reliance on Single Informants and Correlational Designs
As is common in any emergent literature, most studies of
ethnic–racial socialization and its consequences have obtained
information from a single source. Thus, respondent bias and un-
measured third variables remain as plausible alternative explana-
tions for many documented relationships. Studies are needed that
obtain information at the family level, including relevant caregiv-
ers and youths. Most studies have also relied on correlational data,
which do not allow researchers to establish the causal nature of
relationships. As in other areas in developmental psychology,
longitudinal studies that track changes in ethnic–racial socializa-
tion and its correlates over time are needed.
Most studies in this area have also relied on self-selected ad hoc
and nonrandom samples, recruited from a single or small number
of settings (e.g., Miller & MacIntosh, 1999; Stevenson, 1994,
1995; Stevenson et al., 1996, 1997) or from a single or small
number of cities (e.g., Caughy et al., 2002; Hughes, 2003; Hughes
& Chen, 1997). Only the NSBA used a nationally representative
probability sample, enabling greater confidence in the findings
(Bowman & Howard, 1985; Demo & Hughes, 1990; Thornton et
al., 1990). Limited statistical power and restricted range are always
issues of concern when samples are small and drawn from single
settings, and effect sizes have not been reported in most studies.
Moreover, recruiting respondents from a single or small number of
settings limits variability in both ethnic–racial socialization and its
correlates, because respondents are more similar to those who
share a setting than they are to the population as a whole. Thus,
studies using larger and more representative samples are critical to
the development of knowledge in the area.
Implications for Policy and Positive Youth Development
Ethnic–racial socialization is a complex multidimensional con-
struct. Our review suggests that most parents engage in such
socialization, and thus it is critical that future studies focus on
building a theoretically grounded base of knowledge about its
nature, antecedents, and consequences for youths. Conceptually
and operationally differentiating the multiple dimensions of
ethnic–racial socialization that we propose (cultural socialization,
preparation for bias, egalitarianism, and promotion of mistrust) is
especially important, because studies have indicated that messages
differ in their salience to parents and in their prevalence and
We reviewed a range of distal and proximal factors that are
likely to shape parents’ ethnic–racial socialization. Characteristics
of parents, their children, and the settings in which they operate are
each associated with the types and frequency of messages that
parents transmit. As this literature expands in quantity and sophis-
tication, researchers will need to examine individual and contex-
tual factors in more complex ways—for example, as moderators of
ethnic–racial socialization rather than as predictors. Children’s age
and gender both predicted ethnic–racial socialization in many
studies. Gender also moderated its antecedents and consequences
across many studies. Although we did not identify studies that
examined children’s age as a statistical moderator vis-a `-vis youth
outcomes, and patterns of findings were quite similar across the
age groups we examined, the literature base is too small to support
conclusions in this regard. Thus, in generating future research,
studies that include boys and girls across a wide swath of the
developmental spectrum are needed to test hypotheses about
whether processes are similar or different across gender and de-
In studies examining the consequences of different types of
ethnic–racial socialization for youth outcomes, the literature is
uneven in terms of the types of questions that have been asked.
Cultural socialization has been examined most often, across sam-
ples that were diverse in terms of children’s age and ethnicity, and
studies have consistently spoken to its benefits for youths. How-
ever, there is not as yet a sufficient literature base from which to
draw conclusions about other aspects of ethnic–racial socializa-
tion, most notably preparation for bias and egalitarianism. Find-
ings regarding the consequences of these messages have been
mixed, such that among the foremost challenges for future studies
will be to disentangle the conditions under which each type of
message leads to positive versus unintended negative conse-
quences for youths. Thus, researchers need to generate empirically
based knowledge that scholars, practitioners, and parents can use
about how to effectively prepare youths to deal with discrimination
without undermining their sense of competence and possibility and
about how to encourage youths to value diversity without setting
false expectations about societal structures and relationships.
Finally, because interest in ethnic–racial socialization is a rela-
tively recent phenomenon, the existing literature has not kept pace
with methodological and statistical advances that characterize
other areas of inquiry in developmental psychology. At a basic
level, studies need to use larger and more representative samples,
longitudinal or experimental designs that permit examination of
causal mechanisms, and data from multiple informants. Ulti-
mately, however, the literature on ethnic–racial socialization will
need to include mixed-method studies to understand the process’s
depth and texture, multilevel nested models to understand the
influence of context, and interventions to understand mechanisms
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Revision received June 21, 2006
Accepted June 26, 2006 ?
HUGHES ET AL.