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The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure

A New Scale for Use With Diverse Groups

Jean S. Phinney
California State University at Los Angeles
Ethnic identity is an important component of the self-concept and, like other aspects of
identity, can be particularly salient during adolescence. Most research on ethnic identity
has focused on the unique elements that distinguish particular ethnic groups. However,
it is importafll as well to study and compare ethnic identity and its correlates across
groups. This article presents a questionnaire measure of ethnic identity based on the
e/emellls of ethnic identity that are common across groups, so that it can be used with
all ethnic groups. The questionnaire was administered to 4 I 7 high school students and
I 36 college students from ethnically diverse schools. Reliability, assessed by Cronbach s
alpha, was .81 for the high school sample and .90 for the college sample. The relationship
of ethnic identity to various demographic variables and to self-esteem was e:mmined.
The measure can be used to e:mmine similarities and differences in ethnic identity and
its correlates among youths from different ethnic groups.

Ethnic identity is an aspect of a person's social identity that has been

defined by Tajfel (1981) as that part of an individual's self-concept that
derives from his or her knowledge of membership in a social group (or
groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that
membership. The importance of ethnic identity to the self-concept has been
well documented for members of diverse ethnic groups, including African
Americans (e.g., Cross, 1978), Hispanics (e.g., Arce, 1981 ), Asians (Makabe,
1979), and various White ethnic groups (e.g., Driedger, 1976; Rosenthal &
Hrynevich, 1985). Ethnic identity became an issue of increased social
importance during the civil rights movement of the 1960s (Laosa, 1984) and
has gained increasing attention because of changing demographics throughout the world. As ethnic minorities increase as a proportion of the population
This research was supported in part by PHS Grant RR-08101 from the MBRS Program Division of the National
Institutes of Health and by Grant 1 R15 HD23349-01Al from the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development. The author wishes to thank Rita Englehart for her assistance with the statistical analyses.

Journal of Adolescent Research, Vol. 7 No. 2, April 1992 156-176

1992 Sage Publications, Inc.


from the SAGE Social Science

All Rights Reserved.
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of the United States (Wetzel, 1987), the issue of ethnic identity is likely to
become more salient for both members of ethnic minority groups and
members of the White majority.
As an aspect of identity, ethnic identity can be expected to be of particular
importance during adolescence and to be of concern to developmental
psychologists. Identity formation is widely acknowledged as one of the
central tasks of adolescence (Erikson, 1968; Marcia, 1980; Waterman, 1985),
and psychological research on identity formation has explored a number of
ideological and interpersonal areas in which adolescents must resolve issues
about the self in order to arrive at the stable sense of self that Erikson (1968)
described as an achieved identity.
However, as it deals with ethnicity, ethnic identity has been of interest to
social scientists from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, and social welfare, among others. Because of the differing
perspectives of these disciplines, ethnic identity has been defined and studied
using a wide range of theoretical approaches and research methods (see
Phinney, 1990, for a recent review). In attempting to measure ethnic identity,
researchers have generally focused on specific groups and tried to identify
and assess the key components of ethnic identity within those ethnic groups.
Measures have been developed for use with many different groups, such as
African Americans (Parham & Helms, 1981), Mexican Americans (Garcia,
1982), Jewish Americans (Zak, 1973), Greek Americans (Constantinou &
Harvey, 1985), and Chinese Americans (Ting-Toomey, 1981), to name a few.
These studies have included many aspects of ethnic identity, such as selfidentification, language, social networks, religious affiliation, endogamy,
positive attitudes, and many varied cultural traditions and practices. These
components have varying importance for different groups; for example,
political attitudes are important in measures of Black identity, language is
salient in Mexican-American measures, and cultural attitudes play a major
role in Asian-American identity (see Phinney, 1990, for a complete review
of these components).
Because of the diversity in approaches to measuring ethnic identity and
differences among ethnic groups, results from studies focusing on these
varied elements cannot be compared and contrasted. Furthermore, these
differences raise the fundamental conceptual question of whether it is possible to measure and study ethnic identity as a general phenomenon with
commonalities across groups or whether the uniqueness of each group make
generalizing impossible. Although most research has focused on unique
aspects, theoretical and conceptual discussions have typically treated ethnic
identity as a general phenomenon that is relevant across groups (e.g., Alba,

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1985; Dashevsky, 1976; DeVos & Romanucci-Ross, 1982; Tajfel, 1981).

Furthermore, cross-cultural psychologists who have discussed the problem
of generalizing across groups (e.g., Jahoda, 1980; Poortinga & Malpass,
1986) stress the need to consider both universal and culture-specific issues.
Campbell (1964) pointed out that cultural differences are interpretable only
against a background of assumed similarities.
Therefore, the focus in the present study is on ethnic identity as a general
phenomenon that is relevant across groups. It is clear that each group has its
unique history, traditions, and values; yet the concept of a group identity, that
is, a sense of identification with, or belonging to, one's own group, is common
to all human beings. General aspects of ethnic identity can therefore be
examined by focusing on those components that are common across groups.
To study and compare the role of ethnic identity in development, including
its precursors, correlates, and influences on behavior and attitudes, a measure
of ethnic identity is needed that can be used with diverse populations. In
response to this need, this article presents a measure of those aspects of ethnic
identity that are applicable to all groups. The measure can be used to gain
understanding of ethnic identity and its role in the lives of youths from all
Common to the ethnic identity of all ethnic group members are selfidentification as a group member, a sense of belonging, and attitudes toward
one's group (Phinney, 1990). In addition, there is evidence that a single model
describes the process of ethnic identity formation for diverse groups
(Phinney, 1989, 1990). The following sections present a discussion of those
elements that are common to a wide range of ethnic groups and that form the
basis for the new measure.


Self-Identification and Ethnicity

Self-identification refers to the ethnic label that one uses for oneself. It
must be distinguished from one's ethnicity (objective group membership as
determined by parents' ethnic heritage) and, in fact, may differ from ethnicity
(Singh, 1977). Self-identification as a member of an ethnic group is a
necessary precondition for ethnic identity and should be explicitly assessed
in order to avoid confounding ethnic identity with ethnicity.
The proposed measure includes an open-ended question to elicit a spontaneous statement of one's chosen ethnic label (self-identification) and

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close-ended questions that require choice of an ethnic group for oneself and
both parents. This allows for comparison among subjects of varying ethnicity
(parental background) and permits identification of cases where ethnicity and
self-identification differ or where individuals of mixed backgrounds identify
themselves as members of a single group. It also permits assessment of the
implications of differing self-labels; it has been shown, for example, that the
choice of particular labels can have varying psychological and political
correlates (Buriel, 1987).
However, individuals who use a given ethnic label may vary widely in
their sense of belonging to their group, their attitudes toward the group, their
ethnic behaviors, and their understanding of the meaning of their ethnicity.
These aspects of ethnic identity are the essential elements assessed in the
Ethnic Behaviors and Practices

The majority of existing measures of ethnic identity have focused on

ethnic behaviors and practices specific to particular groups in an effort to
determine the key components of ethnic identity for that group (Phinney,
1990). As discussed earlier, this approach is valuable for studying individual
ethnic groups in particular settings and times, but it limits the ability to draw
general conclusions about ethnic identity. A review of the types of items used
in measures with many different groups (Phinney, 1990) suggests that there
are two aspects of ethnic practices common to most groups: involvement in
social activities with members of one's group and participation in cultural
traditions. These two aspects, phrased in general terms, are included in the
present measure. Language usage, another widely used indicator of ethnic
identity, has different salience with various groups (and virtually none for
some) and thus cannot be included in a general measure.
Affirmation and Belonging

Key aspects of ethnic identity that have been included in most previous
studies are a feeling of belonging to an ethnic group and attitudes toward the
group. A wide variety of items have been used to tap these feelings (Phinney,
1990). The term "pride" has frequently been used - especially since the civil
rights movement - to refer to positive feelings toward one's group.
The proposed measure assesses ethnic pride, feeling good about one's
background, and being happy with one's group membership, as well as
feelings of belonging and attachment to the group. Other existing measures

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have included negative ethnic attitudes, such as wanting to hide or change

one's ethnicity, or preferring another group or culture over one's own, as
negative evidence of ethnic identity (Phinney, 1990). However, preliminary
studies, to be described later, indicated that negative items showed very little
variance; few respondents agreed, even "somewhat," with statements that
implied rejection of their ethnicity. Such items may have too strong a social
desirability component or imply too intense a personal rejection for the
responses to be well distributed. Therefore, they were not included in the
final measure.
Ethnic Identity Achievement
The process of ethnic identity development has been studied less than the
previously discussed components, but there is increasing recognition that
ethnic identity is not a static phenomenon. Rather, it varies with development
and experience and with changes in the social and historical context (Atkinson,
Morten, & Sue, 1983; Cross, 1978; Parham & Helms, 1985; Weinreich,
1988). As a developmental process, it can be compared to the more widely
studied area of ego identity formation. Ideally, ego identity is achieved during
adolescence through a process of exploration of specific identity domains,
leading to a commitment or decision in major areas of life, such as occupation
and religious and political preference (Waterman, 1982, 1985). Identity
achievement is the secure sense of self that is the optimal outcome of the
identity formation process; an unsuccessful resolution of identity issues
results in identity diffusion, indicated by lack of clarity about oneself and
one's place in society (Erikson, 1968). Similarly, the process of ethnic
identity formation appears to involve an exploration of the meaning of one's
ethnicity (e.g., its history and traditions) that leads to a secure sense of oneself
as a member of a minority group (Phinney, 1989; Phinney & Alipuria, 1990).
A recent longitudinal study shows a consistent movement toward ethnic
identity achievement between the ages of 16 and 19 years (Phinney & Chavira,
in press).
Research on ego identity development has faced measurement questions
about whether to conceptualize the process as consisting of distinct stages or
statuses or to view it as continuous and about the use of interviews versus
questionnaires to assess it (Craig-Bray & Adams, 1986; Matteson, 1977).
Interviews allow in-depth exploration and open-ended expression of identity
themes; they generally result in assignment of subjects to distinct identity
statuses (Marcia, 1980). However, they are expensive and time consuming.
A questionnaire can be used easily with large samples; it yields quantitative
results that permit a wide range of statistical analyses (Adams, Bennion, &

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Huh, 1987). Ethnic identity achievement has been assessed by both interviews (Phinney, 1989; Phinney & Taiver, 1988) and questionnaires (Parham &
Helms, 1985; Phinney & Alipuria, 1990).
In the proposed questionnaire measure, the process of ethnic identity
achievement is conceptualized as a continuous variable, ranging from the
lack of exploration and commitment (low interest and awareness and little
clarity concerning one's ethnicity) to evidence of both exploration and
commitment, reflected in efforts to learn more about one's background and a
clear understanding of the role of ethnicity for oneself. A low score is indicative
of ethnic identity diffusion; a high score, of ethnic identity achievement.


Attitudes toward other groups are not part of ethnic identity, but they may
interact with it as a factor in one's social identity in the larger society. For
minority groups in particular, one's orientation toward the dominant society
is likely to have important implications (Berry, Trimble, & Olmedo, 1986).
However, in a general measure to be used with both minority and majority
cultural groups, it is impossible to assess attitudes toward the majority group
because for majority group members, ethnic attitudes and attitudes toward
the dominant culture overlap. Instead, the proposed measure includes assessment
of attitudes toward, and interactions with, ethnic groups other than one's own.

The proposed scale has been developed over the past 5 years. Following
the model of the Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status (Adams et al.,
1987), an initial version of the scale was developed to assess ethnic identity
search and commitment and was administered to 60 college undergraduates
as a trial measure (Phinney & Ambarsoom, 1987). The scale was extensively
revised and was then administered to 196 American-born undergraduates,
18-23 years of age, from one of the following four ethnic groups: Asian
American, Black, Mexican American, or White. Cronbach's alpha was
calculated to assess reliability of the exploration and commitment scores; the
reliabilities were .69 and .59, respectively (Phinney & Alipuria, 1990). The
questionnaire was again revised on the basis of item analysis and was given
to 206 Hispanic and White students on a different university campus
(Lochner & Phinney, 1988). Reliability coefficients of .80 for ethnic identity
exploration and .66 for ethnic identity commitment were obtained.

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To broaden the measure to include the major components of ethnic

identity that have been assessed in other research, existing literature was
reviewed (Phinney, 1990). At the same time, a series of interview studies of
ethnic identity was conducted to examine adolescents' spontaneous comments indicative of different aspects of ethnic identity (Phinney, 1989;
Phinney & Tarver, 1988). On the basis of the interviews and the review, the
questionnaire measure of ethnic identity development was further revised.
Items were added to assess ethnic attitudes (belonging, affirmation, and
denial) and ethnic behaviors, and wording of items was modified to reflect
the kinds of statements made by students in interviews. The measure was
administered to 134 college students in lower division courses at an ethnically diverse urban campus. Items were revised on the basis of item analysis
to arrive at the final version used for the present study.


In addition to examining the reliability of the proposed measure, several
other questions were addressed in the study. A central question is whether the
conceptually distinct components are independent aspects of ethnic identity
or rather comprise a single factor. Previous studies that used a variety of
measures have been inconsistent, reporting from one to six factors (Phinne,y,
1990). Factor analysis was used in the present study to address this question.
A second question concerns age-related changes in ethnic identity. Ethnic
identity achievement, by analogy with ego identity formation, has been
assumed to be a central developmental process during adolescence, and there
is some longitudinal data showing the expected change with age (Phinney
& Chavira, in press). Therefore, it was expected in the present study that older
subjects would have higher scores than younger subjects on ethnic identity
achievement. However, attitudes toward one's group and a sense of belonging appear to be influenced more by one's parents (Phinney & Nakayama,
1991) and by the community (Rosenthal & Hrynevich, 1985) and thus may
be less likely to differ with age.
A third question pertains to the relationship of ethnic identity to selfconcept and self-esteem. Although theorists have often assumed that ethnic
minority status has a negative impact on self-esteem (e.g., Lewin, 1948;
Tajfel, 1978), empirical findings do not support this assumption (Rosenberg,
1986b). Ethnic identity may be an intervening variable that accounts for the
maintenance of positive feelings about one's own group, even in the face of

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negative stereotypes (Phinney, 1989). Writers from a variety of fields agree

that members of ethnic minority groups must resolve questions regarding
retention of their own cultural heritage, relationships with the dominant
culture, and experience with prejudice and discrimination (e.g., Arce, 1981;
Atkinson et al., 1983; Dashevsky, 1976; DeVos & Romanucci-Ross, 1982;
Yancey, Ericksen, & Juliani, 1976). Arce (1981) pointed out that "for minority group members, identification with others who share their origins and
traditions is critical in developing both a positive personal identity and
feelings of self-esteem and efficacy, rather than self-blame and powerlessness" (p. 182). Several recent articles have pointed out the role of ethnic
identity in healthy psychological functioning (Mendelberg, 1986; Parham &
Helms, 1985; Phinney, 1991; Phinney, Lochner, & Murphy, 1990; Phinney &
Rosenthal, in press). Therefore, in this study, the relationship of ethnic
identity to self-esteem was examined.
A final question concerns whether a strong positive sense of one's own
ethnicity is reflected in more positive attitudes toward other groups. Programs aimed at reducing ethnic tensions have been based on an assumption
of such a relationship, but there has been little evidence to support this claim.
In summary, the purpose of this study was (a) to establish the reliability
of a new measure of those aspects of ethnic identity that are common to all
members of ethnic minority groups and (b) to determine the correlates of the
construct as measured. The goal in developing the measure was to produce
a scale that could be used with diverse samples of adolescents and young
adults and that would permit assessment and comparison of ethnic identity
and its correlates both within and across groups.

High School Participants and Procedure
The 417 high school participants (182 males and 235 females) attended
an urban school with an ethnically diverse student body. The sample, comprising all those who completed usable questionnaires, included 134 Asian
Americans, 131 African Americans, 89 Hispanics, 41 students with mixed
backgrounds, 12 Whites, 1 and 10 other. (The proportion of subjects from each
group approximated the ethnic distribution of the school's student body.)
Subjects ranged in age from 14 to 19 years, with a mean of 16.5 years. The
participants were from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, as indicated by
self-report: professional, 157; white-collar or skilled, 171; unskilled, 61; or

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missing data, 28. Subjects were surveyed during a single period on one day
from a wide range of classes. Eighteen students declined to participate, and
26 questionnaires were discarded because they were incomplete or appeared
not to be valid (e.g., used a fixed pattern of responses).

College Participants and Procedure

The 136 college participants (47 males and 89 females) were enrolled in
five different sections of a lower division introductory psychology class at a
large urban university with an ethnically diverse student body. The sample
included 58 Hispanics, 35 Asians, 23 Whites (see Note 1), 11 Blacks, 8 of
mixed backgrounds, and 1 American Indian. Subjects ranged in age from 18
to 34 years (mean = 20.2; mode = 19). Their socioeconomic backgrounds,
based on self-report of parental occupation, were professional (48), whitecollar or skilled (46), unskilled workers (31), or missing data (11). Seven
students declined to participate; five questionnaires were discarded because
they were incomplete or erratically completed.

The Multigroup Measure of Ethnic Identity (MEIM) consists of 14 items
assessing three aspects of ethnic identity: positive ethnic attitudes and sense
of belonging (5 items); ethnic identity achievement, including both exploration and resolution of identity issues (7 items); and ethnic behaviors or
practices (2 items). Items are rated on a 4-point scale from strongly agree to
strongly disagree. Scores are derived by reversing negatively worded items,
summing across items, and obtaining the mean; scores range from 4 (indicating high ethnic identity) to 1 (low). In cases where subjects have missing
items, means are calculated on the nonmissing items. Additional items, not
part of the score, assess self-identification and ethnicity of parents.
Also included in the questionnaire are six items assessing other-group
orientation. Although attitudes and orientation toward other groups are
conceptually distinct from ethnic identity, they may interact with it as an
aspect of one's social identity in the larger society. These items are also
included to provide contrast items to balance the ethnic identity items. The
MIEM is shown in Appendix A, with scoring procedure shown in Appendix B.
In addition, participants completed the 10-item Rosenberg (1986a) SelfEsteem Inventory and answered questions regarding their gender, age, parental occupation, and grade point average.

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Reliability coefficients (Cronbach's alpha) were calculated for each sample separately for the measure of ethnic identity and two of its subscales, as
well as for the measure of other-group attitudes. Overall reliability of the
14-item Ethnic Identity Scale was .81 for the high school sample and .90 for
the college sample. For the 5-item Affirmation/Belonging subscale, reliabilities were .75 and .86 for the high school and college samples, respectively.
For the 7-item Ethnic Identity Achievement subscale, reliabilities were .69
and .80, respectively, for the two groups. No coefficients were given for the
third subscale, Ethnic Behaviors, because reliability cannot be calculated
with only two items. However, separate analyses showed that the ethnic
behavior items increased the overall reliability of the measure.
The separate 6-item scale for other-group orientation showed lower
reliability than the Ethnic Identity Scale: .71 for high school students and . 74
for college students. For all scales and subscales, reliability was consistently
higher for the college sample than for the high school sample.

Factor Analysis
Principle axis factor analysis was conducted using squared multiple
correlations as estimates of commonalities. For the high school sample, using
the proportion criterion, three factors were indicated. However, two of the
factors were subfactors of the first factor and were highly correlated (.52).
On the basis of examination of the items involved, these two subfactors were
not easily interpretable and were therefore combined, resulting in a twofactor solution. The factor loadings are shown in Table 1. The first factor
includes all the items designed to assess ethnic identity and accounted for
20% of the variance explained. The second factor includes the items assessing other-group orientation; it accounted for 9.1 % of the variance explained.
For the college sample, using the proportion criterion, five factors were
indicated. However, three of these were highly intercorrelated (.58, .58, and
.59), and the remaining two appeared to be subfactors of the Other-Group
Orientation Scale. A two-factor solution was therefore chosen. The factor
loadings, shown in Table 1, are very similar to those for the high school
sample. One factor includes all the ethnic identity items; the other reflects
other-group orientation. The two factors accounted for 30.8% and 11.4%,
respectively, of the variance explained.

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Factor Structure: Ethnic Identity and Other-Group Orientation

High School Sample

Ethnic identity

Other-group orientation


College Sample

Factor 1


Factor 1










The results from the two samples combined suggest a single factor for
ethnic identity and a distinct factor for other-group orientation.2 This interpretation is supported by the correlations among components reported later.
Developmental Trends and Interrelationships Among Components

To examine developmental trends, comparisons of the components between the two samples were calculated. The means and standard deviations
of the ethnic identity score and its three components for the two samples are
shown in Table 2. There were no statistically significant differences between
high school and college students on affirmation and belonging, ethnic behaviors, or the total score. However, the college students scored higher than the
high school students on ethnic identity achievement (t = 2.18, p < .05).
Pearson product:moment correlations among the components were calculated within each sample (see Table 3). Correlations among the three

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Means and Standard Deviations for Ethnic Identity, by Samples

High School (N = 417)

Ethnic identity
Ethnic identity achievement*
Ethnic behaviors
Other-group orientation

College (N = 136)








*Statistically significant difference between high school and college scores (p < .05).


Correlations Among Ethnic Identity Components


High school sample

Ethnic identity achievement
Ethnic behaviors
Other-group orientation


College sample
Ethnic identity achievement
Ethnic behaviors
Other-group orientation


Ethnic Identity







*p < .05; **p < .001.

components of ethnic identity (ethnic identity achievement, affirmation/

belonging, and ethnic behaviors) were statistically significant in both samples; absolute correlations were higher in the college sample. Other-group
orientation was unrelated to the ethnic identity variables for college students.
For high school students, an achieved ethnic identity showed a low positive
relationship to other-group orientation, whereas ethnic behaviors showed a
negative relationship. These correlations provide further support for the
results of the factor analysis in suggesting a unified construct of ethnic
identity (consisting of three interrelated components) that is distinct from
other-group orientation;
Differences in Ethnic Identity by Demographic Variables

Differences in ethnic identity related to ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic

status, and school grades were examined using ANOVA and Tukey paired

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Ethnic Identity Scores, by Ethnic Group

High School











comparisons. Ethnic identity scores differed significantly among ethnic

groups in both the high school sample (F[4, 383] = 5.04, p < .001) and the
college sample (F[4, 129] = 3.18,p < .05). Mean ethnic identity scores for
each ethnic group are shown in Table 4. In the high school sample, Tukey
paired comparisons revealed higher ethnic identity scores among Asian
(p < .05), Black (p < .001), Hispanic (p < .001 ), and ethnically mixed students
(p < .001) as compared to White students, but those four groups did not differ
significantly among themselves. In the college sample, paired comparisons
indicated that the Black subjects had significantly higher ethnic identity
scores than did the White (p < .001) and Hispanic subjects (p < .05), but there
were no other differences among groups.
Comparisons by gender within both the high school and college samples showed that there were no statistically significant differences between
males and females in ethnic identity or two of its components: affirmation/
belonging and ethnic identity achievement. However, in the high school
sample only, girls had higher scores in ethnic behaviors and practices (t =
2.45, p < .05).
Analysis of differences related to socioeconomic status were conducted
using the subjects' self-report of parental occupation. The differences were
not statistically significant for the college sample but did approach statistical
significance for the high school sample (F[2, 378] = 2.94,p = .054), with the
students whose parents were unskilled workers showing the lowest scores.
Finally, analyses of differences in ethnic identity related to school achievement were conducted using subjects' self-report of academic grades. Among
the college sample, there were no statistically significant differences based
on grades. However, when the high school sample was dichotomized by
grades, students reporting average grades of A or B had higher ethnic identity
scores than those reporting C or D (t = 2.7, p < .01 ).

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Ethnic Identity and Self-Esteem

Both theory and previous research suggest a relationship between ethnic
identity and self-esteem. Correlations between ethnic identity and selfesteem (using the Rosenberg, 1986a, scale) were calculated separately for
White students and minorities of color within each sample. For the minorities,
ethnic identity showed a positive, statistically significant correlation with
self-esteem among high school students (r = .31, p < .001) and college
students (r = .25, p < .01 ). Among the White college students, ethnic identity
was unrelated to self-esteem (r = .05). However, for the 12 White high school
students, who were a small minority in their school setting, there was a
statistically significant correlation between ethnic identity and self-esteem (r =
.67, p < .05).

The results of this study demonstrate that the Multigroup Ethnic Identity
Measure is a reliable measure with ethnically diverse high school and college
samples. The measure provides a means of examining ethnic identity as a
general phenomenon that is indicative of young people's degree of identification with their ethnic group, regardless of the unique characteristics of their
group. In contrast to group-specific measures that require preselection of
members of the group in question, the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure
has the advantage of being usable with samples that are ethnically diverse or
that are of unknown ethnicity. The measure permits comparison of correlates
of ethnic identity across diverse samples; for example, the relationship of
ethnic identity to self-esteem, as in the present study, or the relationship of
parental socialization practices to ethnic identity in various groups (Phinney &
Nakayama, 1991). For researchers wishing to study the unique aspects of
ethnic identity in particular groups as well, the measure could be supplemented with items directed at those groups, such as language usage or the
practice of specific traditions.
In the high school and college samples, ethnic identity appeared to consist
of a single factor, including three intercorrelated components: positive ethnic
attitudes, ethnic identity achievement, and ethnic behaviors. Reliability of
the measure was higher for the college sample than for the high school
sample, and correlations among ethnic identity components were higher in
the older sample. These results suggest that ethnic identity may become more

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consolidated with age. Attitudes toward other groups were found to be a

separate factor unrelated to ethnic identity.
Although reliability estimates, factor analysis, and correlations suggest a
single factor for ethnic identity, the separate components are of conceptual
interest. Specifically, ethnic identity achievement, which involves the process of exploring and resolving ethnic identity issues, was found to be higher
among the older (college) students than among the younger (high school)
students, suggesting a developmental trend. These results are in accord with
a recent longitudinal study (Phinney & Chavira, in press) that provides
evidence of progress toward ethnic identity achievement between the ages
of 16 and 19 years. On the other hand, ethnic affirmation, belonging, and
behaviors did not show differences between age groups. Family and environmental factors, rather than developmental ones, may explain variation
in the attitudes of adolescents toward their own ethnic group (Jackson,
McCullough, & Gurin, 1988; Phinney & Rosenthal, in press).
In this study, self-esteem was related to ethnic identity among the high
school students; at the college level, the relationship was statistically significant for the ethnic minority students but not for the Whites. Research with
high school students (Phinney, 1989) has shown a similar relationship
between ethnic identity and various measures of self-concept among ethnic
minority youth. In a study that included minority and majority college
students (Phinney & Alipuria, 1990), correlations between self-esteem and
ethnic identity were higher for the ethnic minorities than for the Whites.
These findings suggest that ethnic identity may play a particularly important
role in the self-concept of minority youth.
A discrepant finding in the present study was the high and statistically
significant correlation (r = .61) between ethnic identity and self-esteem for
the 12 White youths (out of a sample of 417, a proportion reflecting that of
the student body of the school). For these students, who are a very small
minority in their school, ethnic identity appears to have a relationship to
self-esteem more like that for minority youths in the culture as a whole; that
is, when Whites are in the minority, they show traits like ethnic minorities in
society. This finding has important implications in the face of changing
demographics that will make Whites a minority in many situations.
Ethnic identity in this study did not differ by gender or socioeconomic
status, as measured by report of father's occupation. These results are
consistent with earlier findings (Phinney, 1989; Phinney & Alipuria, 1990).
However, the four ethnic groups studied varied in the strength of their ethnic
identity, with minority group members consistently showing higher ethnic

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identity scores than either White or mixed subjects. In both samples, Black
subjects scored higher than other group members, a finding similar to that of
previous research (Phinney & Alipuria, 1990; Phinney & Tarver, 1988). It
appears that racial distinctiveness and the factors associated with it, including
a history of social disadvantage and discrimination, make this group more
likely to have examined ethnicity as an identity issue and to express a strong
sense of belonging.
Whites scored lower in ethnic identity than did members of the three
minority ethnic groups. As already noted, European ethnic groups are not
gene rail y salient in Southern California, where this study was conducted, and
results might be quite different in areas with larger numbers of recent
European immigrants or distinct White ethnic neighborhoods. Future research needs to look in detail at ethnic identity in European ethnic groups;
the present measure could be used for that purpose. In the setting of the
present study, ethnicity appears to be a subject about which most of the White
adolescents have not given much thought and about which they are not very
clear. Similarly, in an interview study of tenth graders in Southern California
high schools (Phinney, 1989), White subjects could not be coded as to ethnic
identity stage because of their lack of clarity about the subject. In interviews,
many White adolescents assumed that the term "ethnic group" referred only
to minority group members, not to themselves (Andrews & Lochner, 1989).
However, with the changing demographics throughout the country (Wetzel,
1987), White students are likely to become more aware of ethnicity.
In summary, this study showed that ethnic identity can be conceptualized
as a general phenomena and can be reliably measured in adolescents and
young adults from diverse ethnic groups. Although ethnic identity appears to
be of particular importance among minority youth, its significance for White
adolescents is likely to grow as the latter group increasingly is no longer in
the majority in specific settings. The proposed measure is of value in
exploring both the commonalities across groups, such as factors that influence or correlate with ethnic identity, and the differences among groups in
the development and salience of ethnic identity.

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The Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure

In this country, people come from a lot of different cultures and there are many
different words to describe the different backgrounds or ethnic groups that people
come from. Some examples of the names of ethnic groups are Mexican-American,
Hispanic, Black, Asian-American, American Indian, Anglo-American, and White.
Every person is born into an ethnic group, or sometimes two groups, but people differ
on how important their ethnicity is to them, how they feel about it, and how much
their behavior is affected by it. These questions are about your ethnicity or your ethnic
group and how you feel about it or react to it.
Please fill in:
In terms of ethnic group, I consider myself to be_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __
Use the numbers given below to indicate how much you agree or disagree with each
4: Strongly

3: Somewhat

2: Somewhat

1: Strongly

1. I have spent time trying to find out more about my own

ethnic group, such as its history, traditions, and customs.
2. I am active in organizations or social groups that include
mostly members of my own ethnic group.
3. I have a clear sense of my ethnic background and what it
means for me.
4. I like meeting and getting to know people from ethnic groups
other than my own.
5. I think a lot about how my life will be affected by my ethnic
group membership.
6. I am happy that I am a member of the group I belong to.
7. I sometimes feel it would be better if different ethnic groups
didn't try to mix together.
8. I am not very clear about the role of my ethnicity in my life.
9. I often spend time with people from ethnic groups other
than my own.
10. I really have not spent much time trying to learn more about
the culture and history of my ethnic group.
11. I have a strong sense of belonging to my own ethnic group.
12. I understand pretty well what my ethnic group membership
means to me, in terms of how to relate to my own group
and other groups.
13. In order to learn more about my ethnic background, I have
often talked to other people about my ethnic group.

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14. I have a lot of pride in my ethnic group and its

15. I don't try to become friends with people from other
ethnic groups.
16. I participate in cultural practices ofmy own group,
such as special food, music, or customs.
17. I am involved in activities with people from
other ethnic groups.
18. I feel a strong attachment towards my own ethnic group.
19. I enjoy being around people from ethnic groups other
than my own.
20. I feel good about my cultural or ethnic background.
Write in the number that gives the best answer to each question.
21. My ethnicity is
(1) Asian, Asian American, or Oriental
(2) Black or African American
(3) Hispanic or Latino
(4) White, Caucasian, European, not Hispanic
(5) American Indian
(6) Mixed; parents are from two different groups
(7) Other (write in):_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __
22. My father's ethnicity is (use numbers above)
23. My mother's ethnicity is (use numbers above)
a. In administering the measure, the title is not included, and the response options are
repeated at the top of each page.

Scoring for the MEIM
Ethnic identity: The total score is derived by reversing negative items (indicated by
"R~). summing across items, and obtaining the mean (Items 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, SR, lOR, 11,
12, 13, 14, 16, 18, and 20). Subscales are as follows: Affirmation and Belonging (Items
6, 11, 14, 18, and 20); Ethnic Identity Achievement (Items 1, 3, 5, SR, lOR, 12, and
13); and Ethnic Behaviors (Items 2 and 16). Ethnic self-identification (open-ended
response), ethnicity (Item 21), and parents' ethnicity (Items 22 and 23) are not scored
but are used as background information.
Other-group orientation: Scored as above (Items 4, 7R, 9, 15R, 17, and 19).

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1. In response to an open-ended question regarding ethnicity, few White subjects in either
sample identified themselves as belonging to a distinct ethnic group, such as Polish- or
Irish-American. The numbers of Whites who considered themselves as ethnic group members
were too small to permit a separate analysis. In the geographical area where the study was
conducted, White ethnicity appears to be of little salience, perhaps because there are not large
numbers of recent European immigrants and there are few distinct White ethnic neighborhoods.
European ethnicity is likely to be more salient among recent immigrants and in areas of the
country with large European ethnic neighborhoods.
2. The commonalities for each item and correlation matrices among items for the two samples
are available from the author on request.

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Requests for reprints should be addressed to Jean S. Phinney, Department of Psychology, California State
University, Los Angeles, CA 90032.

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