Revisiting Environmental Belief and Behavior Among Ethnic Groups in the U.S

  • Citation: Medina, Vincent, Alyssa DeRonda, Naquan Ross, Daniel Curtin, and Fanli Jia. “Revisiting Environmental Belief and Behavior Among Ethnic Groups in the U.S.” Frontiers in Psychology 10 (2019): 629–.
    • Topics:
    • Transnational Issues
    • Keywords:
    • ethnicity
    • human acts
    • human behavior
    • beliefs
    • opinions and attitudes
    • ethnic groups
    • environmental belief

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1970) depicts a simple, five-part pyramid with fundamental needs on the bottom and secondary needs near the top. The environmental hierarchy of needs theory, which pulls from Maslow’s hierarchy, has commonly been used to suggest that ethnic groups hold less environmental concern and action than their White counterparts (Van Liere and Dunlap, 1980; Taylor, 1989; Mohai, 1990; Sheppard, 1995). The logic is as follows: sociological demographics suggest that minority populations tend to have lesser wealth and education. Therefore, minorities are more likely to focus on physiological needs necessary for survival, and in turn generally have less time and resources to allocate toward other problems. Environmental protection naturally becomes a secondary concern. This style of thinking was first popularized in the 1970s, with one widely cited study conducted by Hershey and Hill (1977). They found that there was a gap between White and African American students on their concerns for the environment. However, many of the cross-ethnic environmental studies conducted in the following decades have produced highly conflicting evidence with regard to the conceptualization of pro-environmental behaviors in different ethnic groups (for a review, see Head et al., 2018). In this article, we first review past studies on environmental belief and behavior selectively from both national surveys and regional representative samples (excluding convenience samples), paying attention to the emergence of ethnicity. These studies generated inconsistent answers to the question of how ethnic minorities respond to the environmental issue. Then, we argue that past studies overestimated the individual level of analysis, such as individual norms and beliefs, but underestimated the power of contextual analysis such as group norms, cultural orientations, and economic factors. We support our viewpoint by identifying conceptual and methodological issues that are important to consider for future research.

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