Ethnic and Racial Identity: Moving Toward Greater Clarity and Synergy

Research on ethnic identity and racial identity has been growing at a rapid rate over the past several decades, and this body of work suggests these constructs are central aspects of the normative development of diverse youth of color, especially over the course of adolescence and young adulthood. A great deal of research suggests that ethnic and racial identity can promote positive outcomes among youth who have been exposed to risks such as discrimination or economic hardship. In some cases, ethnic and racial identities actually mitigate the deleterious consequences of adverse life events.

From January 2012 – April 2013, I had the privilege of leading, with Adriana Umaña-Taylor, the Ethnic and Racial Identity in the 21st Century study group, which was convened to elucidate theoretical and methodological issues in the study of ethnic and racial identity in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.  Together with scholars representing very distinct traditions and approaches within this field, we evaluated the roles of ethnic identity and racial identity within a broader understanding of minority youths’ social/emotional and cognitive development.  Ethnic identity and racial identity models and research are often thought of as having very little overlap with each other.  Yet, we were able to clearly identify key aspects of ethnic and racial identity that seem conceptually comparable and which may develop in similar, or at least analogous, ways.

One key result of the study group’s discussion was the notion that some aspects of ethnic identity and of racial identity may overlap within individuals’ subjective experiences of ethnicity and race, and consequently, the term ethnic-racial identity may be useful for discussing such aspects.  Our conceptual and empirical arguments will ultimately be evident in a set of scholarly articles, including a meta-analysis, in a Special Section on Ethnic and Racial Identity in Child Development.  But another important goal of the study group was to more succinctly distill some key implications of ethnic-racial identity, and we hoped to do so in a way that would inform practitioners and researchers new to this topic. Hence, the study group produced a fact sheet1  [INSERT LINK TO FACT SHEET] listing some frequently asked questions (and clarifications) as well as some recommendations for research—reflecting areas of agreement among the study group members. I hope you find our fact sheet useful, and I invite you to join in the discussion by leaving comments below!


I’ve been inspired by working with such a wonderful and energetic group of colleagues who challenged each other to articulate ethnic and racial identity constructs, processes, and methodology more precisely and synergistically. I look forward to the important work our group has yet to do!

In addition to Adriana and me, the ERI21C study group comprises (in alphabetical order): Bill Cross, Sabine French, George Knight, Rich Lee, Carol Markstrom, Steve Quintana, Seth Schwartz, Eleanor Seaton, Rob Sellers, Moin Syed, Tiffany Yip. We are grateful for the support of an SRA Innovative Small Grant, SRCD RFP Strategic Plan Grant, APA Division 45, Brown University, and Arizona State University.


Deborah Rivas-Drake is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on the intersections of family, school, and community experiences with youths’ ethnic-racial identities as well as the implications of such identities for psychological, academic, and health outcomes. She can be reached at [email protected]


To cite the fact sheet, please use the following citation:

1 Ethnic and Racial Identity in the 21st Century Study Group (2013). Ethnic-Racial Identity Fact sheet. Available online here.

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