College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-22-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Antonio Polo, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kathryn E. Grant, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Alexandra Novakovic, Ph.D.


Latino youth are members of an ethnic group that shares similar values, customs, beliefs, and, often, the Spanish language, that serve as protective factors for some youth. The extent to which these factors are protective across neighborhood contexts has yet to be explored. The present study adds to the literature on contextual correlates of mental health symptomatology in Latino adolescents by examining individual cultural dimensions as protective factors, and environmental risk and protective factors through the lens of the person-environment fit theory (Caplan, 1987). Specifically, the person-environment fit theory is evaluated by proposing that the fit between a Latino youth’s cultural dimensions (affiliative obedience and Spanish language use) and their neighborhood’s Latino immigrant density influences the degree to which neighborhood socioeconomic status (SES) and violence are associated with Latino youths’ mental health. The present sample comprised 1,023 5th – 7th grade Latino students ranging in age from 12 to 15 years old (53.8% female) from three large metropolitan areas (Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles) in the United States. Multilevel modeling methods indicate that higher neighborhood SES and lower individual affiliative obedience are associated with higher youth externalizing and internalizing problems. Furthermore, neighborhood violence moderated the relationship between Spanish language use and internalizing problems, such that higher Spanish language use was associated with higher youth internalizing problems, but only in neighborhoods with higher levels of violence. Finally, higher individual affiliative obedience, combined with a higher neighborhood Latino immigrant density, protects against youth externalizing problems but only among those residing in higher SES neighborhoods. The results support the value of considering context beyond the individual and family levels, of applying a theoretical framework, and of including cultural variables to understand protective and risk