Hispanic Acculturation Processes: Evidence Against Assimilation


Sunkyu Jun, James W. Gentry, A. Dwayne Ball, and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina (1994) ,"Hispanic Acculturation Processes: Evidence Against Assimilation", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Joseph A. Cote and Siew Meng Leong, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 80-86.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Pages 80-86


Sunkyu Jun, Sung Kyun Kwan University

James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

A. Dwayne Ball, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina, The Gallup Organization

Most marketers in the United States assume implicitly that an assimilation model will exist, that minority cultures will move somewhat linearly toward the host culture. We argue that alternative patterns exist, that a number of factors determine the form of adjustment (if any) for the ethnic group, and that other factors can explain the acculturation mode for the individual member of the ethnic group. In a national phone survey of Hispanic-Americans, we find that one's acculturation level varies over time in a non-linear fashion and that its relationship with the adoption of financial products depends on how it is measured.

Andreasen (1990, p. 847) has developed the term "cultural interpenetration" to represent the exposure of members of one culture (or subculture) to another through direct experience and/or indirectly through the media or the experiences with others. He suggests that, while the phenomenon has been little explored, it is destined to grow significantly in the next quarter century given that much of the fragmentation observable throughout the world is resulting from ethnic conflicts. One step needed currently is to increase understanding of the acculturation process, so that the transition faced by acculturating people may be less stressful.

While the United States has long been described as a "melting pot," acculturation processes in the 1990's are somewhat different than those observed in earlier decades. Andreasen (1990) points out that patterns of immigration are changing in the U. S., as the most current immigrants are no longer coming from cultures similar to that which predominates here. For example, as late as the 1960's, immigrants from Western Europe comprised 37% of all immigrants and Asians 13%. In the period 1981 to 1986, 11% were from Western Europe and 47% from Asia. Hispanic and Asian immigration has resulted in drastically increased population revisions for the United States in the coming century (Bremner and Weber 1992). For example, 39% of the population growth in the U. S. between 1980 and 1990 was accounted for by immigration. Early next century, Hispanic Americans will overtake African Americans as the largest minority group and are expected to represent 21% of the U. S. population by 2050 (Bremner and Weber 1992).

The purpose of this paper is investigate further the acculturation processes of Hispanic-Americans; specifically we will investigate whether acculturation is a smooth assimilation process, as has typically been assumed by marketing managers and academics in the U. S. (Penaloza 1993), or whether it is a more cyclical one. For clarification purposes, we use the terminology given in Berry (1990), which specifies that assimilation (the movement from the culture of the home country to the adoption of the host culture) is but one form of acculturation. [The Berry model will be discussed in detail later in the paper.] However, the assimilation form of acculturation has dominated Marketing thought (Penaloza 1994). In addition, we will discuss the multidimensional nature of acculturation. Finally, we will explicate the relationship between acculturation and the adoption of financial products by Hispanic-Americans, in order to investigate whether different operational definitions of "acculturation" yield different findings.


Marketers have several reasons to be concerned with the problems associated with cultural interfaces. Acculturating people are frequently under high levels of stress. Berry and Annis (1974) list examples of stress behaviors such as lowered mental health status (especially confusion, anxiety, and depression), feelings of marginality and alienation, heightened psychosomatic symptoms, and identity confusion. From a social responsibility perspective, marketers should be concerned with how they can ease the transition.

Besides the altruistic reason for concern, there are also profit-oriented reasons for concern. Helping people in times of transition may result in the development of strong brand loyalties over time. Another reason for concern is the growing number of immigrants in these times of global uncertainty; further, a number of these of groups constitute a viable market segment on arrival (i.e., the Hong Kong Chinese in Canada) or develop into an upscale segment fairly quickly (i.e., Asian-Americans). It is our premise that a better understanding of the acculturation process will be needed to reach the new markets successfully.

An additional reason for studying acculturation processes is given by Andreasen (1990, p. 848): it allows us to study in "stark relief basic consumer behavior processes that are difficult to see in the slower moving, less dramatic evolution of our typical middle class 'native' subjects." An example is Sheth's (1968) study of brand preference learning among foreign students. By using subjects unfamiliar with American brands, Sheth was able to avoid the necessity of using camouflaged or hypothetical brands.


Acculturation can occur on two levels-at the level of the culture or ethnic group and at the individual level. At the population level, observed changes involve social structure, economic base, and political organization. At the individual level, changes involve individual behavior, identity, values, and attitudes. Graves (1967) coined the term "psychological acculturation" to refer to the changes that an individual experiences as a result of being in contact with other cultures and participating in the process of acculturation that one's culture or ethnic group is undergoing. The focus of this paper is on psychological acculturation.

Modes of Acculturation

Berry (1990) identified four modes of acculturation (see Figure 1) and has suggested that they will be associated with different levels of adoption of the host culture. Berry (1990) suggests that those wishing to assimilate (as is generally expected of ethnic minorities in the U. S.) will not care about maintaining their traditional culture, while cultural maintenance is a very real concern of those who are wishing to integrate. Thus, what is referred to in the U. S. as "integration" is actually assimilation in the Berry framework, as the host Anglo culture in the U. S. expects minorities to absorb the behaviors of the white middle class and often resents attempts on the part of minorities to maintain their own culture. Thus, integration is a bi-directional process, which acknowledges that both cultures change over time, while assimilation is unidirectional, towards the dominant group. Penaloza (1994) notes that the assimilation model has emerged as the dominant conceptual scheme guiding studies of subcultural influences. She criticizes the assimilation model for glossing over other options which must be taken into consideration if one is to explain the increasing diversity of U. S. consumer behavior.



Berry (1980) noted that acculturation may be "uneven" across domains of behavior and social life. O'Guinn and Faber (1985) also noted that individuals may be at different levels of acculturation for the different roles they assume. Stayman and Deshpande (1989) showed that consumer acculturation varies depending upon the situation. Kim, Laroche, and Joy (1990) argue that consumer research concerning ethnicity is overly simplistic because of its use of a dichotomous (host and ethnic minority) perspective, rather than a continuous perspective. Further, Berry, Trimble, and Olmedo (1986) state that acculturation should be viewed as a fluid, never-ending process.

Thus, we conclude that the acculturation process starts from the "home" culture but does not head linearly for the "host" culture, as it may progress rapidly on occasion or it may move backward at any time during the process. Oberg (1960) and Penaloza (1989) discuss a more cyclical process, in which the immigrant is initially fascinated by the endogenous culture (the honeymoon stage) and then experiences a rejection stage as he/she finds that the new culture may not be accepting or that he/she does not like several aspects of the new culture. Eventually there is a tolerance stage, followed by an integration stage.

During the honeymoon stage, an individual is greatly attracted to the behaviors of the new culture, and the adoption of the new behavioral patterns may lead one's attitude toward the new culture to be positive. During the rejection stage, one's rejection of the new culture may stem from the hostility experienced with members of the host culture or from one's own dissatisfaction with the new culture. During the rejection stage, one's cultural identity moves closer to that of the culture of origin. This change in one's attitude may lead him/her to give up some of the newly adopted behavioral patterns, and increase the use of traditional behavioral patterns. However, in many cases the maintenance of traditional behavioral patterns is not possible as many ethnic products are not available in the new cultural environment. An individual may experience the honeymoon and rejection stages more than once, and it is expected that those two stages alternate until the person (or, if the process takes generations, the person's family) is ultimately melted into the host culture.

The processes portrayed in Figure 1 also operate in cultures other than those of North America. Consider Thailand, where many different ethnic groups are acculturating in distinctive ways. Chinese immigrants to Thailand are regarded as the most likely to assimilate the Thai culture: they change their names, learn the Thai language, and have their children marry Thais. The traditional stereotype has been that a majority of the descendants of Chinese immigrants in each generation merge with the Thai society and become indistinguishable from the indigenous population to the extent that fourth generation Chinese are practically non-existent (Skinner 1957). More recent evidence (Bun and Kiong 1993), however, has questioned the belief that Chinese Thais assimilate in a one-way, linear fashion. While Chinese Thais are Buddhist, they are mainly Mahayana Buddhists while the Thais are Theravada Buddhists. The Thais have no ancestral duties, while the Chinese Thais are duty-bound to carry out such rituals. While Thais tend to move toward careers in the military, politics, teaching, and civil service, Chinese Thais are more successful as business people and merchants, restaurant owners, and doctors.

On the other hand, the Muslim subculture in southern Thailand is more likely to be separated, as it continues to hold on to religious values firmly and does not value greatly relationships with the Buddhist majority. The Indian minority in Thailand is more likely to integrate, as it tends to keep its traditional rituals and religion while trying to interact with the majority Thais. Burmese illegal aliens are likely to be marginalized, as they came to work for higher pay as laborers and prostitutes, and do not interact with the majority Thais nor maintain ties to their culture of origin.


Antecedents of acculturation at the population level include the similarity of the Traditional and Host cultures. Those who come from a culture similar to the new culture tend to be more assimilation oriented, while those who have much different cultural backgrounds are likely to be less assimilated (Wong-Rieger and Quintana 1987). Individual level variables include age, sex, education, language skills, generational status, income, years of residence in the host culture, ethnic density of the neighborhood, occupation, religion, and intensity of contact with the host culture (Berry 1990; Marin et al. 1987; Sodowsky, Lai, and Plake 1991; Valencia 1985; Wong-Rieger and Quintana 1987). Past findings suggest that male immigrants assimilate more rapidly than female immigrants, younger people assimilate more quickly than older people, and highly educated and higher income people assimilate more rapidly than lower educated and lower income people.




Berry (1980) discussed six possible domains for the acculturation construct: cognitive style, language usage, personality, identity, attitude, and acculturative stress. Recent work has focused on two underlying dimensions (Hui et al. 1992; Jun, Ball, and Gentry 1993; Sayegh and Lasry 1993): the individual's self- identification (whether he/she wants to retain the identification to the culture of origin) and the degree to which an individual conforms to the host culture. The former dimension is more attitudinal in nature, while the latter dimension is more behavioral in nature.

Recent empirical research (Gentry, Jun, and Tansuhaj forthcoming; Jun, Ball, and Gentry 1993) has found these dimensions to be relatively independent. Hui et al. (1992) noted that acculturation on the self-identification (attitudinal) dimension is expected to be slower than behavioral acculturation. "People may participate extensively in the host society but still maintain a strong ethnic self-identification. When self-identification is used as an indicator of acculturation, these people will be considered as largely unacculturated, even though their behavior patterns, including their consumption activities, have already been changed in favor of the host society." Reilly and Wallendorf (1984) note that many of the behavioral changes may be adopted involuntarily as the results of structural mandates.


The overall research question asks whether Hispanic acculturation in the U. S. conforms to the linear assimilation model or whether the acculturation occurs in a more non-linear form. Further, the multi-dimensional nature of acculturation is investigated, both in terms of antecedents and in terms of its role in explaining the adoption of host culture products and services (in this study, financial products). The specific hypotheses are as follows:

Hypothesis 1: Different measures of acculturation have different antecedent variables.

Hypothesis 2: The level of acculturation will not increase linearly over time.

Hypothesis 3: Different measures of acculturation will predict usage of financial products in different ways.


Marin (1992) notes the multidimensional nature of the acculturation construct, and Pryor et al. (1992) note that the search for definitions has preoccupied scholars in fields such as sociology, psychology, and anthropology for several decades. Attitudinal aspects of acculturation have been measured under labels such as cultural identification (Jun, Ball, and Gentry 1993; Mendoza 1989), ethnic identification (Tan and McCullough 1985; Valencia 1985, 1989), international relations (Sodowsky and Plake 1991), level of acculturation (Lee and Um 1992), and self-identity (Bergier 1989; Suinn, Ahuna, and Khoo 1992; Wong-Rieger and Quintana 1987; Zmud and Arce 1992).

In the process of developing the attitudinal acculturation scale, 15 focus groups were conducted with more than 120 participants in Miami, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. All participants identified themselves as being of Hispanic origin or descent, and were of all age and income groups with approximately equal numbers of males and females. All focus groups were conducted by the director of Hispanic studies for the Gallup Organization. In addition, scales such as those developed by Bergier (1986), Lee and Um (1992), Mendoza (1989), Sodowsky and Plake (1991), and Wong-Rieger and Quintana (1987) were considered in the development of the fourteen items used in our scale. As will be discussed later, we purified these items to generate the seven items shown in Table 1. The approach used here makes the fairly standard implicit assumption that there is a continuum underlying the acculturation dimension that ranges from the culture of origin to the host culture. A more systematic approach, which we advocate and plan to use in future research, is to measure identification with the two cultures separately.

In addition to the attitudinal measure, a language usage measure was included as well. Marin (1992) noted that most acculturation scales have relied heavily on changes in preferences for language usage. Language usage may not represent perfectly the multidimensional characteristics of acculturation, but changes in language-preference patterns signal more profound acculturation than do changes in other behavioral domains (Marin 1992). Further, communication in the host language is positively related to adoption of the new culture, indicating that language usage and preference may underlie the other domains of acculturation (O'Guinn and Faber 1985; Shah 1991). Berry (1980) noted that it is not uncommon for a person from a minority ethnic group to conform to the host culture by speaking the language of the majority group while still maintaining a strong identity with the minority group. Thus we expect that attitude-based measures of acculturation may have differential relationships with consumption behavior than language-based measures. Language usage was measured using the four items shown in Table 2 (its Cronbach alpha was .90). The structure of our language measure reflects the findings of O'Guinn and Faber (1986), who demonstrated the need to measure language preference across specific settings.






The data were collected in a national telephone survey of Hispanics conducted by bilingual interviewers working for The Gallup Organization over four weeks in late March and April of 1992. The study made use of a disportionate design and a probabilistic sample of 407 heads (or spouses) of households across the continental United States. The firm's design for interviewing Hispanic respondents gave disproportionate sampling probabilities to Hispanic households depending upon their geographic location, giving households located in more heavily populated Hispanic areas a higher chance for inclusion. Table 3 summarizes the location of the 407 interviews in terms of the Hispanic density of the counties where interviews took place. This sample represents the continental U. S. Hispanic population with access to a phone, which the U. S. Census estimates is about 87% of the total Hispanic population.

The respondents were classified as Mexican-Americans and non-Mexican- Hispanics, based on one's country of birth or on one's parents' country of birth. Over 57% of the respondents were born in the United States, with the rest being immigrants. The vast majority (over 80%) of the respondents were Mexican- Americans, and analyses of Mexican vs. non-Mexicans yielded no significant differences. Valencia (1989, p. 27), in a study comparing several different Hispanic groups in the United States, concluded that "a fundamental pan-Hispanic culture exists among all Hispanic people. Therefore, it is reasonable to group together the major Hispanic subgroups for marketing strategy purposes since they have similar value orientations." Consequently, our analyses also did not differentiate the various Hispanic sub-groups.

Given that the acculturation items were embedded in a much larger study of Hispanic use of financial services, the research firm shortened the questionnaire by randomly deleting certain items on each call. Included in the shortened sections were the cultural identification items, as only six of the 14 items were randomly selected for each survey. The correlation matrix for the 14 items and cluster analyses were used to select the items shown in Table 1. Only 329 respondents were asked to respond to at least two of the seven items measuring cultural identification, so the other 78 respondents were deleted from the analysis. The Cronbach alpha of the measure was .59 when those respondents who answered at least two of the seven items were included. The alpha was higher for respondents answering more than two of the seven items. We recognize that this process is far from the optimal, but the decision to rotate the cultural identity questions and to ask only six of the 14 was an operational one due to questionnaire length concerns, and it was one over which we had no control.

Antecedents of Acculturation Level

Cultural identification and language usage were regressed against a variety of socioeconomic variables. Cultural identity was influenced by income (higher income was likely to result in higher acculturation; p<.001), but was not influenced by country of birth. Usage of English was influenced by income (p<.0001), education (p<.001), and years of stay (p<.0001), and was negatively influenced by age (p<.05). Those who were born in the United States used English more than did immigrants. For immigrants, cultural identity was related to income (p<.05) but not to years of stay, education, nor age, while language usage was positively influenced by education (p<.001) and years of stay (p<.10), and negatively influenced by age at arrival (p<.001). Language usage was not related to income for immigrants. Thus, the antecedents of cultural identity are somewhat different from those of language usage, and are different depending upon the country of birth (immigrants or non-immigrants).



The Acculturation Curves

As noted earlier, it has been suggested (Oberg 1960: Penaloza 1989) that the change in acculturation over time resembles an inverted U-shape and that the individual goes through a honeymoon stage, a rejection stage, a tolerance stage, and an integration stage. Ideally, the patterns of the acculturation curve would be investigated via a longitudinal study; however, tracking immigrants for a period of years is not very feasible. In this study, acculturation level was plotted against years of stay for immigrants, and it showed a cyclical pattern rather than an inverted U or a straight line (see Figure 2). The plot for cultural identity indicates a generally increasing acculturation in the first few years after immigration, followed by a rejection phase, and then subsequent peaks and troughs as well. Smooth linear, polynomial, and sine-wave functions do not fit these data. Non-random variation of some sort is present in the fluctuations of cultural identity over time. On the other hand, the language usage measure does exhibit a more linear trend toward English usage over time, as the correlation between language usage and years of stay is .33 (p<.001).

Acculturation and the Usage of Financial Products

The usage of financial products was examined to see if cultural identity and language preference affect it differentially. The use of checking accounts and savings accounts were both strongly influenced by language usage (p<.001), while they were both unrelated to cultural identity. While we tend to think of these two products simultaneously in the U. S. culture, they have different meanings in Mexico, where savings accounts are the norm but checking accounts are not.

The usage of other financial products (ATMs, CDs, home mortgages, IRAs, money market deposit accounts, personal loans, safety deposit boxes, and credit cards) was directly related to both cultural identity (p<.05) and to language usage (p<.05). Language usage may be related to the usage of financial products because persons who do not feel comfortable speaking or understanding English may feel intimidated when they go to a bank. These results may be due in large part to the higher socioeconomic levels associated with both measures of acculturation; the direction of causation is unclear. The point is that acculturation level measured in terms of language usage influences the usage of common (in the host culture) financial products, while cultural identity does not. These findings indicate a need to distinguish cultural identity from language usage depending on the domain of interest in order to predict more accurately the consumer behavior of acculturating people.


This paper has investigated the rate of acculturation of Hispanic-American immigrants. The overriding finding is that the rate of acculturation would appear to be very sensitive to how the acculturation construct is measured. If the common approach of using language usage measure is taken, there is evidence for assimilation, as language usage does improve in a linear fashion over time. On the other hand, a very different pattern of results [the cyclical pattern suggested by Oberg (1960) and Penaloza (1989, 1993)] was found when cultural identity was used to measure acculturation. Further, the relationship between acculturation level and the adoption of financial products was seen to vary depending upon the operational definition of acculturation used.

The use of a broadened view of acculturation (the acknowledgment that processes other than a simple assimilation model are occurring and the separation of the dimensions of acculturation) adds to the complexity encountered when marketing to immigrant groups. The implications for marketers are that even more sensitivity is required than previously expected in terms of appealing to immigrant groups. On one hand, marketers should facilitate traditional activities by positioning them in a very culturally sensitive fashion. One recent example is AT&T's direct mail campaign to Koreans in the U. S. just prior to the Chusok holiday (the "Korean Thanksgiving"), building on Koreans' strong family ties.

Penaloza (1993) concluded that marketing segmentation strategies are not only based on cultural differences, but that they may effectively reproduce and neutralize them. By accommodating the needs and wants of Mexican immigrants, marketers help maintain consumption patterns that originated in the Mexican culture. In doing so, marketers can help to bring down the border between the U. S. and Mexico.

On the other hand, marketers should promote many products in a fashion that would encourage assimilation for those wishing to do so; perhaps portrayal of brands as being "traditionally 'host culture'" or "what every member of the host culture uses" would help the acculturating people "cultivate" their definition of what it is to be a member of the host culture. The proper selection of media can assure that the "assimilation" appeal is not forced upon someone with strong intent to maintain his/her traditional culture. For example, it might well make sense to have distinct appeals placed in the English version of an ethnically-oriented print medium as compared to the appeals placed in a medium in the language of the original culture.


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Sunkyu Jun, Sung Kyun Kwan University
James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A. Dwayne Ball, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina, The Gallup Organization,


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1994

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Matthew Philp, HEC Montreal, Canada

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How Numeric Roundness Influences Probability Perceptions

Julio Sevilla, University of Georgia, USA
Rajesh Bagchi, Virginia Tech, USA

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