Identity in South Africa: examining self-descriptions across ethnic groups

27 June 2014

We examined identity indicators in free self-descriptions of African, Coloured, Indian, and White ethnic groups in South Africa. Based on trait theory, independence-interdependence, and individualism-collectivism, we predicted that the individualistic White group would have more independent and context-free identity descriptions than the other, more collectivistic groups. We did not expect differences across the four groups in terms of Ideological, Religious, Spiritual and Ethnic aspects of identity. Loglinear analyses of the coded self-descriptions largely confirmed expectations for the African and White groups, but less so for the Coloured and Indian groups. Overall, the study found a large number of cross-cultural similarities with independent, individualistic, context-free and Dispositional Descriptions prevalent in all groups. The most salient difference between the African and White groups was that the African group was more likely than the White group to specify target persons in relational self-descriptions. This suggests a stronger in-group-out-group distinction in the African group.