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When it comes to love, do parents know best?: Exploring the roles of cultural identity, acculturation, and gender, in the perceived acceptability of parental involvement in young adults' romantic relationships

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posted on 2022-03-28, 02:25 authored by Anika Munshi
In Western societies young adults typically choose their mates independently, and although parents may be more or less supportive of their young adult children’s romantic relationships,the general expectation is that they are free to choose their romantic partners. However, this is not necessarily the case in non-Western societies where the expectation is that parents will play a significantly larger role in their young adult children’s mate choices (Buunk, Park, & Duncan, 2010). Research has demonstrated that for immigrant families with young adult children, an acculturation gap may occur as the children adjust more quickly than their parents to the cultural practices and norms of the new culture (Baptiste, 1987; Portes,1997). For these families, the acculturation gap may be particularly difficult to navigate when their young adult children begin dating. Here, parents from non-Western societies may expect to have greater control of their children’s mating choices than their children believe is acceptable.This in turn may contribute to intergenerational conflict and ultimately, parental rejection of their young adult offspring and their romantic partners. A large body of research has found that parental rejection and lack of support are associated with higher rates of depression, low self-worth, and other negative consequences for children (Rohner & Khaleque, 2010). However, although parental rejection is known to be detrimental to young adult children’s emotional wellbeing, there is relatively little research on the potential role this might play in influencing young adult children’s mating decisions in immigrant families from non-Westernized cultures who are adjusting to a Westernized host culture. Using a mixed-methods approach, the overall aim of this thesis was to explore the roles of cultural identity, acculturation, and gender in young adults’ perceptions of the acceptability of parental involvement in their romantic relationship choices. In Study 1, several focus group discussions were held with young adult women from a variety of cultural backgrounds residing in Canada. The 95 women were grouped according to their reported levels of acculturation to Canadian society (high, low and “in the middle”, or bicultural) and were asked to discuss a wide range of issues around parental involvement, both hypothetical and real, in their romantic relationships (including cross-cultural relationships – i.e., where the daughter becomes involves with a male from a different racial, religious, and/or cultural background). They also discussed how they would manage parental rejection of their partners and romantic relationships. The findings showed that, compared to highly acculturated respondents, low acculturated and bicultural respondents were more willing to accept parental involvement in their dating decisions, in part because they believed their parents were more experienced in such matters. They were also more likely than highly acculturated respondents to report relationship dissolution in response to perceived parental rejection of their partners, whereas highly acculturated respondents opted to employ a range of other negotiation strategies, including rebuffing their parents and attempting to change their opinions. Bicultural respondents reported experiencing the most intergenerational conflict, due to the large discrepancies between their desire to acculturate (e.g., date freely, stay out late, and other typical “Western” behaviours) and their parents’ desires to uphold their traditional ways. Studies 2 and 3 followed up a number of the qualitatively derived findings from Study1 using a hypothetical vignette approach. Study 2 investigated whether certain sociocultural factors, specifically acculturation level, cultural identity, and gender impacted young adults’ emotional and behavioural reactions towards hypothetical parental rejection of their dating partners. Hypothetical dating partners were described as differing with respect to culture,race, religion, or language, to the participants. Overall, the results confirmed Study 1’s findings,with low acculturation positively associated with likely relationship dissolution following perceived parental rejection. The study also found that cultural identity significantly impacted respondents’ attitudes towards parental rejection, with non-Westernized individuals reporting greater acceptance of such rejection than Westernized individuals. However, an unexpected gender difference emerged in Study 2, with males reporting greater negative impact from perceived parental rejection of their romantic relationship than females. They were also more likely than females to report that they would dissolve their relationship with a rejected partner. Finally, the results showed that differences in language between partners were considered the most problematic amongst the four types of potential partner dissimilarity. Study 3 investigated the same research question from the parents’ perspective. Specifically,using the same hypothetical vignettes as Study 2, participants (who were also parents) were asked whether parental rejection of the hypothetical adult children’s dating partners was justified. The results confirmed that parents’ attitudes towards the acceptability of parental rejection were also influenced by their cultural identity. As expected, non-Western parents’ views were congruent with the views of Study 2’s non-Western participants, including the particular undesirability of language dissimilarity in their children’s romantic relationships. This thesis is the first to empirically investigate whether parental involvement and rejection has an impact on the mating choices of young adults. Overall, the findings demonstrate the importance of understanding such influence, as acculturation distress and intergenerational conflict are severe consequences which threaten overall family harmony. For first and second generation young adults, whose parents are still important to young adults’ mating decisions, the growing prevalence of interracial and interethnic marriages in the United States (Le, 2008) leads to an increased need for immigrant families to navigate these new challenges together.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Study One methodology -- Chapter 3. Study One results, part 1 -- Chapter 4. Study One results, part 2 -- Chapter 5. Study One results, part 3 -- Chapter 6. Study One results, part 4 -- Chapter 7. Study One discussion -- Chapter 8. Study Two -- Chapter 9. Study Three, What do parents think? Chapter 10. General discussion -- References -- Appendices.


Bibliography: pages 250-309 Empirical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Julie Fitness

Additional Supervisor 1

Trevor I. Case


Copyright Anika Munshi 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




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