The findings in this study show that the effects of family cohesion, family cultural conflict, and the interaction between family cohesion and family cultural conflict on psychological distress differ by Latino subethnicity. However, the cross-sectional nature of the data used in this study poses limitations in making causal inferences. It could well be the case that persons with higher psychological distress have an increased risk of interpreting the actions of other family members as non-cohesive. Similar arguments could be made for the perceptions of family cultural conflict, with those reporting more conflict also reporting lower rates of family cohesion.
The data also restrain us from making further analyses for sub-group variations on the Other Latino category. We could not test if the differences found were related to the Latino experience or the experience of being a minority within the social hierarchy of the U.S. Further tests should extend our analyses to other minority groups as well. In spite of those limitations, our findings contribute to unraveling the differences in family dynamics across Latino subethnic groups. When looking at the aggregated Latino group, family cohesion was associated with lower psychological distress. This result is consistent with previous research (Gil & Vega, 1996
; Gil, 1996
; Vega, Kolody et al., 1986
). When we examined each Latino subethnic group, we found that family cohesion was significantly associated with lower distress for Other Latinos, consistent with Latinos as a whole. However, for Cubans, family cohesion appeared to function differently from the sample as a whole, with higher levels of cohesion associated with increased psychological distress. Previous literature (Olson et al., 1989
), has indicated that high levels of family cohesion, in comparison to moderate levels, might produce potentially harmful effects on distress by entailing high levels of family demand. It is possible that the more stable migratory patterns for Cubans may foster an experience of family cohesion where Cubans are less able to escape negative family patterns in the U.S. by moving back to their country of origin or separating from the family, as might be the case for other groups, such as Puerto Ricans.
The fact that family cohesion and family culture conflict do not appear to be significant factors in distress levels for Puerto Ricans, after adjusting for household income and education, suggest that family dynamics might be strongly influenced by the socioeconomic conditions of the family. It might also be explained by Puerto Rican’s greater socialization into U.S. society which might imply the rejection of strong family norms and values that ensure family cohesion and the dilution of relationships where there is family culture conflict. As such, this might be related to why Puerto Rican women are substantially more likely to be single heads of household than their other Latina counterparts, and why psychological distress might be higher for Puerto Ricans as compared to the other Latino subgroups.
For Mexicans, there are several explanations for why family cohesion neither decreases nor increases distress, nor does it moderate the negative effects of family cultural conflict. For one, family cohesion might go beyond the immediate to the extended multigenerational family. There are many family structures that can be considered among Mexicans as forming the family cohesion, allowing for incredible variation across Mexicans and no definitive association to psychological distress. A second alternative explanation is that Mexican families have typically remained concentrated in Mexican enclaves that reinforce the traditional family structure with gender roles designated by chores to be able to survive. This rigid family cohesion is not related to distress but more to task performance. Therefore, it does not protect against family cultural conflict.
Our other aim was to assess the interaction between family cohesion and family cultural conflict on psychological distress. We hypothesized that family cohesion would moderate the negative effect of family culture conflict on psychological distress. Surprisingly, we found that the interaction between family cohesion and family cultural conflict was positively associated with distress when looking at Latinos as an aggregate. Thus, at high levels of family cohesion and family cultural conflict, distress increases, and family cohesion loses its protective character. These findings underscore the importance of looking closely at the specific nature of family cohesion for Latinos and how it interacts with other characteristics, in order to avoid cultural generalizations that may not apply universally.
Across each subethnic group, the relationships among these variables also varied. We found that strong family cohesion moderated the negative effect of family culture conflict on distress for Cubans, consistent with our hypothesis. In contrast, elevated levels of family cultural conflict and family cohesion were related to increased distress levels of psychological distress for Other Latinos. This finding is counterintuitive to our proposed hypotheses. It appears as if strong family cohesion might lose its potential protective character with the Other Latino group. We speculate that in these cases, the intense family bonds may only serve to increase the negative impact of the family cultural conflict. There is no significant interaction effect of family cultural conflict and family cohesion for Puerto Ricans. The mobility of Puerto Ricans due to their status as U.S. citizens may well diffuse the experience of family cohesion, and mitigate its ability to moderate the negative effects of family cultural conflict.
Although being female was related to greater psychological distress in the sample as a whole, for Puerto Ricans, neither of these variables was significantly related to distress. This finding has been shown in other studies, where the high number of men underemployed and out of the labor force having high psychological distress may eliminate the gender gap observed in other groups. Being divorced was also significant for the sample as a whole, but not for Puerto Ricans. With Cubans, we find being female related to psychological distress. At the same time, being divorced increased distress, while being never married decreased it. We speculate that cultural constructions of women’s roles in the Cuban community might account for these elevated levels of distress experienced by Cuban women (Koss-Chioino, 1999
For Mexicans and Other Latinos, we also found that female gender was related to greater psychological distress. We hypothesized that changing cultural constructions of women’s roles might create conflict with traditional roles and play a significant part in the elevated distress experienced by Cuban, Mexican and Other Latina females. Given that Puerto Ricans are more integrated culturally with the U.S., they may be less vulnerable to cultural tensions due to more flexible gender roles. For Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Other Latinos, however, low education and low income were associated with increased distress.
These robust and consistent findings in regards to the socioeconomic variables across these three groups warrant attention given the overrepresentation of Latinos in lower levels of the social hierarchy in the U.S. Here, the results for Mexicans paint a different picture. For this group, socioeconomic factors were not significantly related to low psychological distress. Further investigation of the unique effects of socioeconomic markers and psychological distress across distinct Latino subgroups is required.
The findings from this study illustrate the complex nature of the relationships among family cohesion, family cultural conflict, and psychological distress across Latino subethnicities. Given the distinct migration patterns and sociocultural composition of each of these groups, we recommend continued research and analysis of the differences in family dynamics among them, and how these differences impact psychological distress.