Our findings are consistent with previous studies of other non-Latino populations which found similar associations between discrimination and socio-demographic, socioeconomic and some of the cultural factors assessed in the present study6
. Contrary to previous reports6
, we did not find that relationship between income and perceived discrimination in the final model of our regression. Our findings are similar to results by Gary and others9,30,31
who found that higher education and employment status were positively related to increased likelihood of perceived discrimination among African Americans but higher income was not, suggesting that socioeconomic factors may be differentially associated to discrimination by ethnic or racial groups.
The findings suggest that as Latinos achieve higher social status and become more assimilated, they have a greater sensitivity to discrimination compared to their less acculturated counterparts. For example, well educated, young U.S.-born Latinos, or those who arrived age 6 or younger, are more likely to perceive everyday discrimination. This may be a consequence of frustrated expectations within the dominant U.S. culture and institutions. Inversely, lower-educated Latinos may have lower expectations for fair treatment and therefore may not be as vulnerable to perceiving everyday discrimination. As immigrants assimilate they may lose their idealized view of America as the land of equal opportunity and therefore have higher expectations for fair treatment.
The increase in rate of perceived discrimination among the younger male cohorts may also be explained by the potential increase in exposure. Minority men are more vulnerable to negative encounters with social institutions26
. Younger Latinos may also have higher expectations of fair treatment than their parents and may define treatment as discriminatory that their parents did not. Contrary to earlier findings of Finch27
we found that U.S.-born Latinos residing in the U.S. were more likely to perceive everyday discrimination compared to their less acculturated counterparts. Other studies found similar increases in the experience of discrimination among immigrant groups correlated with increases in time in U.S.32
. Latinos arriving at a younger age may be more likely to intermingle with non-Latinos in multiple settings; this increased exposure to cultures different from their own may lend itself to increase incidents of and sensitivity to discrimination.
The finding that Spanish-proficient U.S.-born Latinos were less likely to perceive discrimination than English-proficient foreign-born Latinos confirms our hypothesis that lower acculturated Latinos report lower rates of perceived discrimination than acculturated Latinos. Linguistic isolation may reduce the perception of discrimination. The more English Latinos speak, the more likely that they will interpret any inter-cultural interactions as discriminatory and understand it when someone discriminates against them. For all subethnic groups, speaking English was associated with twice the rate of reporting everyday discrimination compared to Spanish-speaking Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Other Latinos who may be more socially isolated from U.S. culture and institutions.
Our study shows that Latinos who express strong ethnic identity may be buffered against perceptions of discrimination, a result that has been demonstrated in other ethnic subpopulations including Korean, Filipino and Chinese28
. As far as we know, this is the first time that the effect of strong ethnic identity as a protector against everyday discrimination has been found for Latinos. People with high levels of ethnic identity may be more likely to associate with people of their own ethnicity and therefore be less exposed to discrimination28
Cubans were least likely to report discrimination. Cuban immigrants have arguably the best infrastructure for transition into the U.S. of any other Latino group15
. This supportive infrastructure may also be associated with the presence of strong ethnic identity in the context of a politically and socially well-developed enclave. In addition, living in an ethnic enclave may provide protection against the perception of discrimination if not against actual discriminatory acts.
Similar to other studies, we used a subjective measure of everyday discrimination rather than objective measures of discrimination. However, studies on the subject of discrimination have shown that personal assessments of discrimination and their psychological impact are similar to objective discriminatory acts6,33,34
. Furthermore, we use a well-established discrimination scale as our outcome measure. While no causal direction of the observed association between discrimination and cultural factors is established, it is evident that cultural factors should precede experiences of discrimination. It may be true; however, that discrimination may play a role in some socioeconomic measures as well as strengthening ethnic identity as a coping mechanism35
Understanding the prevalence and correlates of discrimination can help us better address disparities in the healthcare system. Reducing discrimination can improve the patient/provider relationship and in turn improves healthcare outcomes. This study reveals the importance of examining the multi-dimensional impact of varying degrees of acculturation. Health researchers attempting to explain Latino differences in health care access, behavior and attitudes need to test their hypotheses disaggregating the cultural elements. The findings presented here suggest that the rate of perceived discrimination is differently associated with several such components including subethnic differences, generation, and ethnic identity. Identifying how particular elements impact the healthcare experience such as English proficiency and generational status also has implications for service delivery. For example, low English proficiency is often cited as an important contributor to healthcare disparities36
but less attention has been given to experiences of discrimination and the impact on patient-provider interactions among English-speaking younger generations.
This paper contributes to the existing literature by providing information about the prevalence of discrimination among Latino subethnic groups. People who care about how the health care system operates should also care about the prevalence of everyday discrimination among vulnerable populations. Our findings suggest that multiple factors need to be accounted for in understanding Latinos perceptions of the world and their interactions with institutions. Additionally, further research is also needed to understand the mechanisms by which perceptions of discrimination change over generations.