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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
 
Adopt Q. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 January 1.
Published in final edited form as:
Adopt Q. 2010 January; 13(1): 2–17.
doi:  10.1080/10926751003704408
PMCID: PMC2915782
NIHMSID: NIHMS183032

Comparing the Ethnic Identity and Well-Being of Adopted Korean Americans with Immigrant/U.S.-Born Korean Americans and Korean International Students

Richard M. Lee and Andrea Bora Yun
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus

Abstract

This study compared the ethnic identity and well-being of Korean Americans who were adopted internationally with immigrant/U.S.-born Korean Americans and Korean international students, as well as the relationship between ethnic identity and well-being for each group. One-hundred and seven college students completed measures of ethnic identity and subjective well-being. Immigrant/U.S.-born Korean Americans had higher ethnic identity scores than the other two groups. Immigrant/U.S.-born Korean Americans also had higher positive affect scores than international students. Ethnic identity was positively correlated with positive affect for all three groups (r’s = .27 – .34), but was negatively correlated with negative affect for international students (r = −.44). Overall, the results suggest that ethnic identity, although slightly lower than non-adopted peers, is relevant to the well-being of adopted Korean American college students.

Since 1953, over 160,000 Korean children have been adopted overseas by families in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Canada with nearly 110,000 Korean children having been adopted by U.S. families (South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2007; refer to http://oaks.korean.net/ for complete statistics). South Korea remains one of the top sending countries to families in the U.S., although the annual rate of international adoption from Korea has decreased over the last two decades. The majority of these internationally adopted Korean Americans are now emerging/young adults, but there is little empirical research on the identity development and well-being of this particular generation of adopted Korean Americans. To begin to address this gap in the literature, this study examined the ethnic identity and subjective well-being of adopted Korean American college students in comparison with immigrant/U.S.-born Koreans American and Korean international college students.

Development and Adjustment of Korean Adopted Individuals

The majority of research on Korean adoption has focused on the behavioral development of children and adolescents. These outcome studies on primarily internalizing and externalizing behavior problems have found that most internationally adopted children, including from South Korea, are faring well in comparison to non-adopted children and domestically adopted children (Bimmel, Juffer, van IJzendoorn, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2003; Juffer & van IJzendoorn, 2005, 2007; van IJzendoorn, Juffer, & Klein Poelhuis, 2005). This consistent finding is salient because many adopted individuals experienced significant pre-adoption adversity in early childhood, such as poverty, maternal separation, and institutionalization, which has been found to have long-lasting developmental effects (Kreppner, O’Connor, Rutter, & the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team, 2001; Rutter, 1998). Thus, the positive outcomes of adopted children and adolescents have led researchers to argue that international adoption is an effective natural intervention in the lives of children who otherwise may have grown up in orphanages, residential care homes, or in foster care (van IJzendoorn & Juffer, 2006).

The post-adoption life experiences of internationally adopted individuals as they mature into adolescence and adulthood, however, has been less studied. In particular, although the behavioral development of adopted children and adolescents may be comparable to non-adopted populations, little is known about the development and adjustment of adopted individuals in adulthood. For example, questions remain as to whether internationally adopted adults fare as well as their non-adopted peers, especially peers of the same ethnicity and race. It is possible that changing life circumstances in adulthood lead to new developmental challenges for adopted individuals. As individuals move from late adolescence to adulthood, they experience a variety of important life transitions, such as independence and autonomy from the family, the start of college, romantic relationships and marriage and entry into the workforce, that can lead to further exploration of social roles and identities, as well as to changes in mental health and well-being (Elder, 1998; Spencer, Dupree, & Hartmann, 1997). For people who were adopted, these life transitions in adulthood can raise important adoption- and race-related questions about identity and belonging that were less explored during childhood and arguably were less relevant to earlier childhood adjustment (Grotevant, 1997; Meier, 1999).

Most notably, the racial and ethnic experiences of adopted individuals as they grow up in White households and subsequently when they live independently as adults, has been overlooked in psychological studies on internationally adopted individuals (Lee, 2003a). There have been some studies interspersed over the years on the racial and ethnic experiences of Korean adopted children, adolescents and young adults, as well as international adoptees from other Asian countries (see Lee, 2003a, for a review). These investigations suggest at least three patterns of racial and ethnic adjustment and well-being. The first group of adopted individuals does not develop a strong interest in their ethnic culture or their racial background. These adoptees instead may identify more with their national identity, such as being American or Canadian (e.g., Westhues & Cohen, 1998). The second group of adopted individuals expresses some confusion and discomfort about the role of ethnicity and race in their lives, wishes they were White or not Asian, and may even self-identify as White (e.g., Cederblad, Hook, Irhammar, & Mercke, 1999). The last group of adopted individuals self-identifies as a member of their racial or ethnic group, is comfortable with and proud of their racial and ethnic heritage, and engages in ethnic and racial identity exploration (e.g., Lee, Yoo, & Roberts, 2004). Collectively, these study results appear to mirror the larger literature on ethnic identity development (Phinney, 1990), but there remains a need for more research on the ethnic identity development of adopted Korean Americans, particularly beyond childhood and adolescence. There also is a need to examine ways in which these different patterns of racial and ethnic adjustment affect the subjective well-being of adopted individuals as they enter early adulthood.

Ethnic Identity Development

Ethnic identity refers to the aspect of one’s self-concept that is derived from awareness and knowledge of membership in an ethnic group (Phinney, 1990; Sellers, Rowley, Chavous, Shelton, & Smith, 1997). It includes the central role of ethnicity in one’s identity, particularly feelings of ethnic group belonging and pride, the acquisition of certain values and beliefs, and the engagement of behaviors consistent with the traditions and heritage of the ethnic group. Scholars posit that ethnic identity development typically begins early in life through socialization practices and customs, but becomes most salient during adolescence when children begin to develop their own personal and social identities, independent from their parents and other family members. Ethnic identity development continues through the early adulthood years and is believed to shift and change as individuals experience new situations and contexts and assume new roles and responsibilities.

The ethnic identity development of transracially and transnationally adopted individuals is complicated by the fact that they are confronted with the paradox of having grown up in a White family and community and typically having been treated as an honorary White (Tuan, 1998), but being perceived by others outside of these milieus as an ethnic and racial minority (Lee, 2003a). This contradictory set of life experiences may undermine ethnic identity development, because conflicting feelings of belonging and rejection can lead adopted individuals to disavow and to not want to explore their ethnicity and heritage (Shiao & Tuan, 2008). Identity foreclosure, in particular, may occur when parents have not made sufficient efforts to help children work through these issues earlier in life (Lee et al., 2006). Recent studies on Korean adopted children and adolescents confirm the importance of parental ethnic socialization in childhood and adolescence for ethnic identity development (Lee & Quintana, 2005; Yoon, 2001).

The ethnic identity of adopted Korean Americans who are now adults is likely to be different from the more recent generation of adopted Korean children, as adoptive families were less inclined to make efforts at ethnic socialization in the past (Lee, 2003a). Qualitative studies and narrative accounts, for example, suggest that many adopted Korean American adults who were adopted in the 1980s and earlier did not begin their ethnic identity exploration until they left the family home to start college or to enter the workforce (Meier, 1999; Shiao & Tuan, 2008). Other researchers have noted that some adopted Korean American adults identified more strongly as White/Caucasian than as Korean or Asian (Freundlich, & Lieberthal, 2000; Westhues & Cohen, 1998). Recently, Song and Lee (2006) corroborated these accounts in their empirical study of adopted Korean American adults. They found that only ethnic socialization experiences during early adulthood, and not from childhood or adolescence, correlated with ethnic identity.

Adoption scholars have suggested that ethnic identities of adopted individuals may be lower than for non-adopted individuals from similar ethnic backgrounds because adoptees are less likely to have been immersed in their ethnic culture and heritage during childhood and adolescence (Grotevant, 1997; Lee, 2003a; Meier, 1999). In one of the only known published comparison study of adopted and non-adopted Korean American adults (Lee et al., 2004), it was indeed found that adoptees had lower scores on a measure of ethnic identity. Unfortunately, there was a large age difference between these two samples, thus confounding the results. Also, the adopted sample included some individuals who were adopted at a much later age in life (e.g., later childhood and adolescence). Camras, Chen, Bakeman, Norris, and Cain (2006) similarly reported lower ethnic identities among adopted Chinese American girls compared t o non-adopted Chinese American girls. Similar to our study approach, Camras et al. also compared adopted Chinese children with Mainland Chinese children to differentiate the influence of ethnic backgrounds from different rearing environments. Given the general differences in cultural upbringing, we expected that adopted Korean Americans would have less strong ethnic identities than non-adopted Korean Americans raised by immigrant parents and Korean nationals born and raised exclusively in South Korea, such as international students attending college in the United States.

For non-adopted Korean Americans and Korean international students, ethnic identity is likely to be more salient (compared to adopted Korean Americans) given their cultural socialization experiences within same-ethnic families. In the case of Korean international students, ethnic identity should be very salient to them as both Korean nationals and as recent emigrants to this country, but its meaning may differ from children of immigrants whose ethnic identity is rooted in life in the United States as a member of an ethnic and racial minority population. Consistent with this viewpoint, Kim et al. (2004) found in a qualitative study that Korean international students associated being Korean with cultural characteristics, non-adopted Korean Americans associated being Korean with ethnic and racial features, and adopted Korean Americans associated being Korean with racial phenotype. Additionally, international students who identify strongly with their ethnicity are less likely to have contact with Americans (Li & Gasser, 2005), whereas, Asian Americans, including Korean Americans with a strong ethnic identity typically feel a greater connection with mainstream society (Lee, 2003b) and a greater willingness to interact with other ethnic and racial groups (Lee, 2005).

Moreover, a positive ethnic identity is associated with greater subjective well-being and less psychological distress among ethnic and racial minority groups of varying ages (Crocker, Luhtanen, Blaine, & Broadnax, 1994; Greene, Way, & Pahl, 2006; Lee & Davis, 2000; Lee & Yoo, 2004; Phinney & Alipuria, 1996; Ying, Lee, & Tsai, 2000; Yip & Fuligni, 2002: Yoo & Lee, 2005). Not surprisingly, empirical studies on these associations are less common in the study of internationally adopted individuals, particularly adult populations. Cederblad et al. (1999) found that ethnic identity confusion, along with perceived discrimination and family dysfunction, was associated with greater behavioral problems and psychological distress in their study of primarily non-Korean Asian adolescent in Sweden. Yoon (2001) and Lee et al. (2004) reported in studies of adopted Korean American adolescents and adults, respectively, that a stronger ethnic identity was correlated with greater well-being and less psychological distress. These few studies are consistent with ethnic identity development theory (Phinney, 1990). Specifically, confusion about the role of ethnicity in identity formation may evoke some negative affect and distress, whereas positive feelings about one’s ethnicity are more associated with positive affect, greater well-being, and less distress.

Study Purpose

The purpose of the study was to compare the ethnic identity and subjective well-being of Korean American young adults who had been internationally adopted with similarly-aged Korean Americans raised by immigrant parents and Korean nationals. We hypothesized that adopted Korean Americans would have lower scores on ethnic identity than the other two groups given their distinctive cultural upbringing. No differences were expected between the U.S.-born/immigrant and international student groups given the limited comparative studies on these two groups. We also hypothesized that ethnic identity would be positively correlated with subjective well-being for all three groups, thereby demonstrating the equal salience of ethnic identity for adopted Korean American adults despite lower levels of ethnic identity.

Methods

Sample and Procedure

The study sample consisted of 107 Korean college students (43 men, 60 women, 4 unidentified) with a mean age of 20.89 years (SD = 1.63) and an age range of 18 to 24 years old. Of the participants, 51 were adopted internationally as children, 27 were U.S.-born or immigrated to the U.S. prior to 12 years-old, and 29 were international students from South Korea. We elected to aggregate non-adopted Korean Americans who were born in the U.S. and who immigrated at an early age because past research has found that the two groups have more similar profiles than immigrants who arrived in early adolescence or later (Takeuchi, Hong, Gile, & Alegria, 2007; Tsai, Ying, & Lee, 2000). Additionally, forty of the adopted Korean Americans provided data on age at adoption. The mean age at adoption was 7.38 months (SD = 9.61) with a median age at adoption of 4 months; only four were adopted after one years-old at 15, 24, 42, and 48 months old.

All participants attended a large, public university in the Midwest and were recruited from undergraduate Asian American studies and Korean language courses (n = 74), Korean American student and Korean international student groups at the university (n = 21), a Korean American church college group (n = 10), and through referral from friends (n = 2). Participants in classes and student groups completed surveys in class or at group meetings. Surveys from the Korean church group and the snowball sample were collected in unmarked envelopes to preserve anonymity. All participants were paid $5.00 for participation in the study.

Measures

Participants completed a packet that included demographic information (gender, age, race, generation or group status, and age of immigration or adoption), the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure (MEIM; Phinney, 1992), the Positive Affect and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark, & Tellegan, 1988), and the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985).

Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure

The MEIM is a 14-item measure intended to be a broad measure of ethnic identity that emphasizes cognitive clarity, affective pride, and behavioral engagement in one’s ethnic group. For this study, we used a modified 11-item version based on a factor analysis of the measure on a diverse Asian American college population (Lee & Yoo, 2004). Items are rated on a 4-point scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). The MEIM demonstrates good validity and reliability estimates and has been used with a wide range of Asian American samples, including high school students (e.g., Greene et al., 2006), college students (e.g., Yoo & Lee, 2005), adoptees (e.g., Song & Lee, 2006), and international students (e.g., Li & Gasser, 2005). For this study, the mean item score was 3.18 (SD = 0.52) with an internal reliability estimate (α) of .84.

Positive Affect and Negative Affect Schedule

The PANAS is a 20-item scale that measures both positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA). The positive affect scale consists of 10 terms such as “enthusiastic” and “inspired”. The negative affect scale consists of 10 terms such as “nervous” and “irritable”. Items are rated on a 5-point scale from 1 (very slightly or not at all) to 5 (extremely). The PANAS demonstrates good validity and reliability estimates and has been used with a wide range of Asian American samples, including college students (e.g., Yoo & Lee, 2008), adoptees (e.g., Lee, Yoo, & Roberts, 2004), and international students (e.g., Thompson, 2007). For this study, the mean item score for the positive affect scale was 3.65 (SD = 0.60) with an internal reliability estimate (α) of .82. The mean item score for the negative affect scale was 1.91 (SD = 0.65) with an internal reliability estimate (α) of .86.

Satisfaction With Life Scale

The SWLS is a 5-item subjective measure of global life satisfaction. Sample items include “I am satisfied with my life” and “If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing”. Items are rated on a 7-point scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The SWLS demonstrates good validity and reliability estimates and has been used with a wide range of Asian American samples, including college students (e.g., Yoo & Lee, 2005), adoptees (e.g., Lee, et al., 2004), and international students (e.g., Sam, 2001). For this study, the mean item score for the SWLS was 4.93 (SD = 1.12) with an internal reliability estimate (α) of .73.

Results

To compare the ethnic identity between adopted, U.S.-born/immigrant, and international Korean college students, a one-way analysis of variance was performed using group status as the independent variable and the MEIM as the dependent variable (see Table 1). There was a significant difference in ethnic identity by group status with a medium effect size, F (2, 104) = 6.59, p = .002, ηp2 = .11. Bonferroni pairwise comparisons showed that U.S.-born/immigrant Korean Americans had higher ethnic identity mean item scores than adopted Korean Americans (3.48 vs. 3.06) and, unexpectedly, Korean international students (3.48 vs. 3.11). Adopted Korean Americans and Korean international students did not differ significantly on ethnic identity. Additionally, no significant group differences were found on life satisfaction and negative affect, but there was a significant group difference on positive affect, F (2, 104) = 3.29, p = .04, ηp2 = .06 (see Table 1). Bonferroni pairwise comparisons showed that U.S.-born/immigrant Korean Americans had higher positive affect than Korean international students (3.88 vs. 3.49). Adopted Korean Americans (M = 3.61) did not differ from the two other groups.

Table 1
Group Differences on Ethnic Identity and Well-Being

To assess the relationship between ethnic identity and subjective well-being, we examined the correlations between ethnic identity and the three well-being measures by group status (see Table 2). Given the small sample sizes, particularly for the U.S.-born/immigrant and international student groups, we did not expect statistically significant correlations using the traditional p-value of .05. Instead, we examined effect sizes of correlations to estimate small (.10), medium (.30), and large (.50) effects. Using this approach, we found that ethnic identity was correlated with positive affect for all three groups (r’s = .27 – .34). We also found a correlation between ethnic identity and negative affect (r = −.44) for only Korean international students. All these correlations were in the medium effect size range. Surprisingly, there was no correlation between ethnic identity and satisfaction with life for all three groups (r’s = −.02 – −.05).

Table 2
Correlations between Ethnic Identity and Well-Being

Discussion

With the majority of adopted Korean Americans now adults or entering early adulthood, this study provides an initial glimpse into the ethnic identity and subjective well-being of adopted Korean American college-aged adults, as compared to same-aged, non-adopted US-born/immigrant Korean Americans and international students from South Korea. Adopted Korean Americans had lower scores on ethnic identity than US-born/immigrant Korean Americans, but similar scores as Korean international students. Additionally, associations between ethnic identity and measures of subjective well-being were comparable across all three groups with the largest correlations between ethnic identity and positive affect. Ethnic identity also correlated with negative affect for only international students.

Consistent with our hypothesis, adopted Korean Americans in this study had lower scores on ethnic identity compared to non-adopted Korean Americans even though the method of sampling capitalized on surveying adopted individuals, as well as non-adopted Koreans, who exhibited some general interest and involvement in Korean culture (e.g., enrolled in Asian American/Korean courses, attending Korean church, member of Korean student group). This group difference supports the developmental importance of early ethnic socialization in ethnic identity development (Phinney, 1990). U.S.-born/immigrant Korean Americans have the advantage of growing up within a Korean household, thereby gaining earlier and greater exposure to Korean culture and more opportunities to model and internalize the values, behaviors, and customs of the ethnic group. Likewise, as reported by Lee and Quintana (2005) and Yoon (2001), ethnic socialization in childhood and adolescence play an important role in the ethnic identity development of adopted Korean Americans. Later ethnic socialization, such as during early adulthood and in college, also may contribute to the ethnic identity development of adopted Korean American adults (Song & Lee, 2006). Thus, it remains possible that the ethnic identity of adopted individuals will increase as they continue to explore what it means to be Korean in their lives.

Interestingly, there were no group differences in ethnic identity between adopted Korean Americans and Korean international students. This was an unexpected finding given that international students were born and raised in South Korea, although it is consistent with one other study comparing the ethnic identity of Asian international students and Asian American college students (Yasuda & Duan, 2002). In some respect, this group should have the highest level of ethnic identity, even compared to U.S.-born/immigrant Korean Americans. However, it is possible that ethnic identity, as it was measured, is less salient for international students because ethnicity, or what it means to be Korean, is a more inherent aspect of their overall identity or is viewed more in terms of nationalism or cultural characteristics (Kim et al., 2004). Consistent with social identity theory (Brewer, 1991), international students may have a lower need to report identifying as Korean in every day life because this need for belonging is already satiated, whereas U.S.-born/immigrant Korean Americans may feel a stronger need to belong and thus identify more strongly. If ethnic identity was measured in terms of national ideology or specific cultural characteristics, it is possible that international students would have reported the highest levels of ethnic identity. Unfortunately, our measure of ethnic identity did not assess this dimension of ethnicity.

Although ethnic identity scores were lower for adopted Korean Americans, it remains possible that the adopted Korean American college sample have comparable levels of ethnic identity on some dimensions, such as behavioral engagement. In their study of adopted Korean American adults, Lee et al. (2004) found that adopted individuals who were attending a Korean adoption conference had similar levels of behavioral engagement in Korean culture as non-adopted Korean Americans (i.e., interest in learning more about Korean culture) but lower levels of ethnic centrality and private regard (i.e., the extent to which ethnicity is a central part of your identity and the amount of pride and belonging felt as a member of the ethnic group). It also is possible that adopted Korean Americans may identify more uniquely as both adopted and Korean (e.g., as a Korean adoptee, not as Korean or Korean American). Hübinette (2004) has argued that internationally adopted individuals may seek to develop a third space in identity formation which is anchored in neither adoption status nor ethnic status, but in-between. From this perspective (Bhabha, 1994), a third-space identity is created by the individual or group that transcends and is not subject to the categories and definitions prescribed by society. Another possibility is the conflation of ethnicity and race. These two terms and their respective identity formation are inextricably intertwined and can vary substantially in meaning depending on the sociocultural environment of the individual. Perhaps, the association between Korean and racial phenotype is stronger for transracial adopted Korean Americans because of the frequent reminders of their racial minority status and infrequent opportunities for ethnic socialization (Kim et al., 2004). Our study measure of ethnic identity does not adequately account for these variations or dimensions in ethnic identity.

We also hypothesized that ethnic identity would be correlated with subjective well-being across all three groups and found partial support for this hypothesis. Namely, ethnic identity was correlated with positive affect for all Korean samples and with negative affect for only international students. The former results are consistent with studies on Asian American youth and college populations (Lee & Yoo, 2004; Rivas-Drake, Hughes, & Way, 2008; Tsai et al., 2001; Yoo & Lee, 2008) and support the notion that ethnic identity serves as an important source of well-being for ethnic and racial minority groups. It also is possible that ethnic identity and positive affect correlated with each other because of shared method variance. That is, some of the items from the measure of ethnic identity had positive affect wording (e.g., pride, happy, feel good). The negative correlation between ethnic identity and negative affect for only international students suggests that ethnic identity also functions to minimize negative affect for Korean nationals. It may be that ethnic identity plays a more significant role in negative affect of Korean nationals because of unique stressors faced by many international students, including language barriers, isolation, and acculturative stress (Heggins & Jackson, 2003).

Contrary to hypothesis, the ethnic identity for all Korean samples was not correlated with life satisfaction in this study. This lack of correlation with life satisfaction differs from research by Lee et al. (2004), as well as other studies on non-adopted Asian American college populations (Lee & Yoo, 2004; Yasuda & Duan, 2002; Yoo & Lee, 2005). One speculation is that Korean American young adults in college, regardless of adoption status, are still exploring their ethnic identity and the vicissitudes of identity formation may minimize its association with life satisfaction during this period of development. This association needs to be further examined in future studies. It also would be interesting to examine if ethnic identity correlates with life satisfaction among older-aged Korean American adults, as suggested by recent research on older Asian Americans (Yip, Gee, & Takeuchi, 2008).

These study results need to be interpreted in light of methodological limitations that restrict generalizability beyond the study population. First, we surveyed a relatively small college student population of ethnically identified Koreans who were recruited primarily from courses and organizations that focused on Korean or Asian American culture. It is likely that this group of adopted and non-adopted individuals is more attuned to, as well as more likely to be exploring, the role of ethnicity in their lives given their participation in such activities. Second, our data was drawn from the state of Minnesota which has one of the largest per capita populations of adopted Korean Americans in the country. Drawing upon agency adoption statistics on Korean adoption in Minnesota (http://www.childrenshomeadopt.org/Korea_Adoptions.html) and U.S. Census data on Korean Americans in Minnesota (Carlson, 2002), it is estimated that as much as one-third to one-half of the Korean population in the state are adopted. Thus, adopted Koreans that grew up in Minnesota may have a relatively unique experience, compared to adopted individuals in other states where the ratio is much lower. In Minnesota, there are several long-standing organizations, events, and culture camps that are geared towards adopted Koreans and families learning more about Korean heritage and culture. Third, the study sample size was relatively small, particularly the U.S.-born/immigrant and international student groups, thereby restricting statistical power. The low power likely contributed to the lack of statistically significant correlations despite medium effect sizes between ethnic identity and positive affect. Fourth, we measured ethnic identity using a modified version of the commonly-used MEIM, developed by Phinney (1992). This measure provides a valid measure of global ethnic identity but it fails to distinguish more nuanced dimensions or aspects of ethnic identity, such as centrality, private regard, public regard, national ideology, and behavioral engagement (Ashmore, Deaux, & McLaughlin-Volpe, 2004). Fifth, our study used a correlational design to infer the importance of ethnic identity on well-being. However, it is equally possible that individuals with higher well-being are more likely to report stronger attachment towards their ethnic group, or its relationship may be accounted by a third variable. For example, some scholars have found that the relationship between ethnic identity and well-being decreases with more frequent encounters of racial discrimination (Greene et al., 2006; Yoo & Lee, 2008).

In summary, as an increasing number of adopted Korean Americans enter young adulthood, it becomes critical to move beyond the study of only pre-adoption adversity and its effects on later childhood development. In particular, there remains a need to examine how ethnicity plays a role in identity formation and subjective well-being throughout the rest of the adopted individual’s life (Lee, 2003a). These study findings add to a small but growing literature on the adult development and adjustment of internationally adopted Korean Americans. The lower ethnic identities of adopted Korean American college students, compared to non-adopted peers, and its association with positive affect suggest the need for adopted individuals, adoptive families, and adoption professionals and agencies to seriously examine the role and relevance of ethnic socialization on ethnic identity development and subsequently on subjective well-being.

Contributor Information

Hyung Chol Yoo, Arizona State University, Tempe.

Kim Park Nelson, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus.

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