Latino and Asian adolescents who face racial or ethnic discrimination are more likely to experience depression, poor self-esteem, lower academic achievement, substance use and risky sexual behavior, according to a new meta-analysis published in the journal American Psychologist.

The findings reveal that young people of Asian and Latino backgrounds were at greater risk for these factors than African-American youth. In addition, the impact of discrimination on Latino youth’s academic performance was more pronounced than in African-American adolescents.

The study is the first to investigate the impact of perceived racial and ethnic discrimination on adolescents using meta-analyses.

“Much of what we know about the pernicious effects of racial/ethnic discrimination is based on adult populations. Our work represents the first efforts to quantify in a meta-analytic frame the strength of effects of racial and ethnic discrimination on adolescents’ academics and risky health behaviors,” said lead author Aprile D. Benner, Ph.D.

“The consistent relations we identified are of particular concern, given the long-term linkages between depression, anxiety, substance use, aggression, hostility, and poor academic performance and engagement with an individual’s risk of illness or early death,” said Benner, who is an associate professor of human development and family sciences and a faculty research associate at the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

For the analysis, the researchers looked at 214 peer-reviewed articles, theses and dissertations comprising 91,338 adolescents. They identified 11 distinct indicators of well-being.

Awareness of racial and ethnic differences begins very early in life, the study noted. Babies as young as 6 months can sense it, and children begin grouping themselves by race or ethnic background as early as the preschool years.

Recognition of cultural stereotypes tied to skin color or ethnicity emerges in middle childhood, and by age 10, many children can identify both open and hidden discrimination, according to previous research.

Overall, the new findings show that perceived racial/ethnic discrimination is consistently associated with poorer mental health, lower academic achievement and more engagement in risky or negative behaviors.

The study also found that Latino youth tend to exhibit higher levels of depression than their white and African-American peers in response to discrimination, and that discrimination is more detrimental to Latino males’ academics, compared with Latinas and African-descent males.

The researchers hypothesize that Latinos may experience a type of discrimination in which they are viewed as “perpetual foreigners.” Additionally, they suggest that African-American youth may benefit from their families’ use of socialization strategies to prepare their children for the biases they may face in their daily lives.

“The psychological, behavioral and academic burdens posed by racial and ethnic discrimination during adolescence, coupled with evidence that experiences of discrimination persist across the life course for persons of color, point to discrimination as a clear contributor to the racial and ethnic disparities observed for African-American, Latino and Native American populations compared with their white counterparts,” Benner said.

“While the past three decades have seen a major increase in attention to issues of racial and ethnic discrimination in adolescence, we have identified substantial gaps that should be addressed in future research.”

These include thinking more critically about how the field measures racial and ethnic discrimination in these populations; studying and clearly reporting factors that might protect young people from the adverse effects of discrimination; and placing a greater focus on the intersection of discrimination tied to race or ethnicity with mistreatment linked to other social identities that are more susceptible to stigmatization.

Source: American Psychological Association