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A multicultural family in a park.

U researchers are trying to uncover the elements that contribute to a good quality of life for families of color in Minnesota.

Completing the picture of Minnesota life

By Kate Tyler

From eNews, February 10, 2005

Martha Rueter might have been spotted at cafes all across the Twin Cities the past three years, but she wasn't just sampling salads and sandwiches. Rueter, an associate professor of family social science, was meeting with community leaders to lay the groundwork for The Minnesota Diverse Families Project--an unprecedented study of what it takes for families to live a good life in a diverse Minnesota.

Rueter is part of an interdisciplinary and multicultural research team from the College of Human Ecology--along with family social science colleagues Jean Bauer, Kathryn Rettig, William Turner, and Virginia Zuiker--that is probing what quality of life means to African American, American Indian, Asian American, and Hispanic families who call Minnesota home. Can a working-class Hispanic family living on the West Side of St. Paul enjoy as satisfying a quality of life as an affluent African American or Asian American family in southwest Minneapolis? How about an impoverished Native American family in Red Lake compared to a middle-class European American family in Bloomington? The answers probably are far from simple, suspects Rueter, who notes that "almost all quality-of-life assessment tools used today were developed to look at individuals, not families--and most were created by white researchers studying European Americans."

"We have a lot of snapshot information about [overall] quality of life [in the state]," Rueter says. "[But] we know almost nothing about how quality of life is defined and experienced among minority racial and ethnic groups in Minnesota--even though the nonwhite population is now about 12 percent of our population and growing. And most important from a policy perspective, we don't know much about long-term quality of life [for those groups]--what improves or lessens it over time."

What the researchers have learned, thus far, is that "the things traditionally associated with a high quality of life may not necessarily be in the same place on the list--or on the list at all--for families from nonmajority cultures," says Rueter.

For example, "spiritual beliefs play a really important role in how [many ethnic] families experience quality of life," she explains. Among Southeast Asians, particularly the Hmong, "having a lot of children may be a more important indicator of quality of life than other indicators, such as income. Discrimination and other forms of oppression also may play a major role in shaping the quality-of-life experiences of minority families, she adds. For example, Native American community leaders describe "historical grief" as a likely impact on their quality-of-life perceptions.

Once the researchers have established these significant quality-of-life components, they will conduct annual interviews with 25 families from each community to track "how and why families' quality of life shifts over time, including the 'little things along the way' that precipitate bigger shifts."

Rueter says the study, "Tracking Changes in Quality of Life among Minnesota's Diverse Families," will help policymakers better meet the safety, health, and educational needs of the changing state population. The 2000 U.S. Census reports that Minnesota is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, and the State Demographic Center projects that by 2020, Minnesota's minority populations will increase to 15 percent of the total population, up from 6.3 percent in 1990.

To read the complete story about this project, which is part of the President's Interdisciplinary Academic Initiative on Children, Youth, and Families, see "Completing the Picture."

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