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Family-Based Achievement in Culture, Psyche, and Practice

April Leninger

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 24


The work-family organization of immigrant families in the United States is centered around “family based achievement,” a sociocultural complex in which education and work are done in the service of the family (e.g. Caplan, Choy, and Whitmore 1991; Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 1995). This paper contributes to an understanding of family based achievement by examining the manifestations of cultural values in experience and practice that constitute family based achievement among dual-earner Vietnamese immigrant families. First, results from the Cultural Values Questionnaire show the similarities and differences in Vietnamese Americans’ vs. non-immigrant U.S. Americans’ values. Principal components analysis and mean level comparisons of clustered value items provide evidence for a Vietnamese American value organization in which family and hard work are linked, and for Vietnamese Americans’ emphasis of Social Obligation over Personal Freedom. These quantitative findings are then placed in the context of qualitative analyses of participant observation and interview data, which provide evidence that Social Obligation values make a causal contribution to Vietnamese immigrant families’ economic adaptation through the felt shouldness these values invoke and through their psychological power to lead individuals to abandon wishes that have the potential to disrupt the family as an economically viable unit. Based on this analysis, it is argued that to comprehend work-family formations such as the family based achievement complex, we need a portrait that encompasses family members’ micro-level practices (daily routines), macro-level practices (life choices), and psychological experiences and processes of enacting and abandoning desires.

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