Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Katelyn F. Romm, Carolyn Barry. Ph.D., Beth A. Kotchick, Ph.D., Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D., Jeffrey Barnett, Psy.D., ABPP

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Parental Psychological Control and Identity Development during Emerging Adulthood: The Moderating Roles of Parental Warmth, Ethnicity, and Family Income

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Identity development provides a clear sense of self and well-defined values to navigate through emerging adulthood successfully. The primary task for parents of emerging adults is the recentering of the parent-child relationship, in which they support their children through this period of exploration, while providing them with the independence they need for a successful transition to adulthood (Côté & Levine, 2002). Researchers have paid increasing attention to the role of parental psychological control in emerging adults’ well-being, as high levels of control can interfere with their emerging-adult children’s autonomy and identity development (Turley, Desmond & Bruch, 2010).

To date, researchers have focused primarily on upper-middle class, European-American families when examining the role of parenting during emerging adulthood. However, in collectivistic cultures, parents tend to exhibit higher levels of psychological control over their children to maintain family harmony; this control is viewed by emerging adults as an expression of warmth, rather than as harsh or manipulative (Triandis, 1995). With regards to income, individuals from higher-income homes have greater financial resources and fewer economic stressors, allowing them to place greater emphasis on parenting than individuals from lower-income homes (Pinderhughes et al., 2000). As identity exploration and subsequent commitment have been found to be associated with higher levels of self-esteem, autonomy, and psychological well-being, the current study sought to better understand the role of parental psychological control on emerging adults’ identity development by exploring the potential moderating roles of parental warmth, ethnicity, and family income. 

 Undergraduate students (N =675; Mage =19.61, SD=1.86) from four universities across the U.S. participated in an online survey. Participants completed scales on their parents’ psychological control (Barber, 1996) and warmth (Grolnick et al., 1991), as well as a self-report measure on identity exploration and commitment (Balistreri et al., 1995). 

A hierarchical regression analysis on identity exploration was conducted with ethnicity, income, gender, and site (step 1), parenting variables (step 2), interactions of psychological control with each variable (step 3), interactions of psychological control x warmth with ethnicity, income, gender, and site (step 4), and interactions of psychological control x warmth x income with gender and site, as well as interactions of psychological control x warmth x ethnicity with gender and site (step 5). Asian-American emerging adults reported lower levels of identity exploration than did European-American emerging adults (β=-.09, p<.05). Psychological control (β=.17, p<.01) and warmth (β=.12, p<.05) positively predicted identity exploration. The interaction terms were not significant.

A hierarchical regression analysis on identity commitment was conducted with the same variables as stated above. Identity commitment was positively predicted by warmth (β=.13, p<.05) and negatively predicted by psychological control (β=.10, p<.05). Psychological control x parental warmth x family income was a significant interaction, F(9, 666)=11.56, p<.001. Lower-income emerging adults reported higher levels of identity commitment and when parental warmth was lower, emerging adults reported lower levels of identity commitment regardless of family income. Additionally, when parental warmth was lower, emerging adults from lower-income families reported higher levels of identity commitment when parental psychological control was lower. However, when parental warmth was lower, emerging adults from higher-income families reported lower levels of identity commitment when parental psychological control was lower. 

These results clarify the role of parental psychological control and warmth on the identity development of emerging adults, while taking ethnicity and family income into account.