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Maslow's Need Hierarchy and the Adjustment of Immigrants

Author(s): Seymour Adler


Source: International Migration Review, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Winter, 1977), pp. 444-451
Published by: The Center for Migration Studies of New York, Inc.
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Need

Maslow's

Hierarchy
of

Adjustment

and

the

Immigrants

Seymour Adler
Tel-Aviv University
paper uses the need hierarchy theory of Abraham Maslow
(1970) to describe the stages in the adjustment process of new
immigrants. This notion is then developed and applied to interpret?
ing some longitudinal data on the changing needs of immigrants to
Israel during the first two years after their arrival.

This

THE

NEED

HIERARCHY

THEORY

Maslow outlined a motivational


hierarchy consisting of five
in
order: physiological?
of
human
needs
ascending
arranged
categories
for a
basic needs satisfied by such stimuli as food and sleep; security?need
and love
safe environment free from immediate threat; social?affiliative
for enhancement and
needs; a desire for social acceptance; esteem?need
for full realization of
acceptance of self; and self-actualization?striving
in the model is that
The
notion
key
unique characteristics and potentials.
in
becomes
the hierarchy
as a need category lower
satisfied, its determina?
need
and
the
next
tion of behavior diminishes
category becomes
higher
in
Maslow (1970).
is
available
A
detailed
more
explanation
prepotent.
Some have argued that the need hierarchy may unfold over a lifetime
and Bridwell:
1975; Wahba
1976). Progress up the hierarchy
(Deci:
health and the
toward
movement
to
a
Maslow,
psychological
represents,
self-actualizer represents the ultimate in psychic functioning. Partly, this
reflects the fact that the theory is largely based on the observation of
Maslow of stages in the improvement of mental patients in therapy.
According to Maslow as well as other humanist writers like Erich Fromm
and Carl Rogers, man has an essential striving toward growth that is
conditions from reaching fulfillment
prevented only by sociocultural
Abraham

(Cofer and Appley: 1964).


The need hierarchy theory has been criticized for its conceptual
imprecision and its lack of empirical support (Berkowitz: 1969; Cofer and
Appley: 1964; Deci: 1975; Wahba and Bridwell: 1976). What little research
has been conducted to test the theory to date indicates, at best, only partial
support, though none of these studies is free from serious methodological
flaws. Further, the theory, as stated by Maslow, is so imprecise as to be
444

IMR

Volume

11 No. 4

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MASLOW'S NEED HIERARCHY

445

rendered virtually untestable. Thus, despite the contrary evidence, the


in many circles, such as management
theory still enjoys popularity
and Donnelly:
literature (Gibson, Ivancevich,
1976), and for many it
retains an intuitive appeal.
I should like to propose using the need hierarchy model to describe the
immigrant adjustment process. It is suggested that immigrants undergo a
state of impaired psychological
functioning upon their arrival in a new
no
and
matter which level of the hierarchy their
That,
country.
by
large,
had
reached
personality development
prior to emigration,
they are
factors
toward
the
of
the
various
bottom
pushed by
hierarchy. In other
words, their prepotent concerns after arrival will be in the physiological
and security area. Thereafter, with basic satisfaction of these needs (what
constitutes "basic satisfaction'' remains problematic
and certainly in?
volves individual differences), social needs come to dominate. That is,
concern for social contacts with members of the new society may not
emerge until the immigrant finds adequate shelter for himself and his
family. Until the immigrant feels somewhat socially secure, he may not
evidence a concern for challenging or interesting work. The final stage is
reached when all of these basic needs are gratified and the individual has
adjusted to his new environment. At each stage, gratification activates the
next level on the hierarchy. Lack of gratification at a level impedes
progress toward adjustment.
Although these stages may not emerge for each immigrant in the order
specified, this precise pattern will be manifested on the macro-level for
total groups of immigrants.
THE

"CRISIS

SUBSEQUENT

OF

IMMIGRATION"

AND

ADJUSTMENT

Immigration is a major disruption in the life pattern of an individual.


The move makes severe behavioral demands on the individual (for an
excellent summary see Taft: 1976) and is almost invariably accompanied
by various manifestations of emotional disturbance which Oberg (1960)
has termed "culture shock".
Ben-David has called the arrival of an immigrant in a new country a
"personality crisis", the stress of the experience creating an "impoverish?
ment of the immigrant's ego" (1970:370). He notes that, as a result of the
relative disorganization
of the ego, biological
needs in their primitive
form are likely to assume a central place in the personality structure.
Thus, in the face of immense stress and frustration, a regression to lower
levels of the need hierarchy may take place (Barker, Dembo, and Lewin:
1941).

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446

INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION REVIEW

Adjustment, then, can be seen as a recovery process in which the


moves
back up the hierarchy toward selfimmigrant
gradually
the
actualization.
Progress up
hierarchy involves people overcoming
loneliness,
overcoming self-confusion, in other
insecurity, overcoming
words, recovering from a temporary state of disability known as "culture
shock".
SUGGESTIVE

EVIDENCE

Since researchers in the area of immigration have not used the need
hierarchy model, there is no direct evidence for the notion being advanced
here. Some of the data reported in the literature, and some of the data
from the survey on immigrants to Israel that will be described below, can
be interpreted as partial evidence for the validity of the need hierarchy
model in describing immigrant adjustment. A program of more direct
research is obviously required.
Richardson (1957) studied British immigrants to Australia and found
that their initial stage of adaptation was characterized by social isolation.
Conformity to social norms was found generally to begin only after seven
months in Australia and often later.
A study by Shuval (1973) included 1,866 immigrants to Israel who had
arrived during the firstyear after the nation's independence and who were
living in transit camps. She found, among other things, that the desire to
engage in autonomous
activity to improve one's situation was relatively
low soon after arrival and increased over time. In addition, she found the
rate of this increase greater for those with greater education, and that
This suggests that
were more active than non-Europeans.
Europeans
coping resources acquired through education or through membership in
a more advanced culture may facilitate the adjustment process and speed
passage through the hierarchy.
Also looking at immigrants to Israel, Weinberg (1961) related their
to general adjustment or integration. The
satisfaction with occupation
of
satisfaction
for adjustment or integration was
importance
occupational
lower for the first group interviewed, at which time most subjects had
been in the country less than one year, than for a follow-up group
interviewed four years later. Occupational
satisfaction, then, may not
as
a
determinant
of
emerge
significant
adjustment until several years after
arrival, at which point the immigrant has successfully overcome lowerorder hurdles.
Another relevant finding emerges from a study on Hungarian intellec?
tuals who emigrated to Australia
(Taft: 1973). At one point in the
adjustment process it became important to the Hungarian immigrant to

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MASLOW'S NEED HIERARCHY

447

establish informal social relations with Australians. Later in the process,


however, these social relations decreased in importance and cultural and
professional opportunity was seen as critical.
In reflecting on the pattern of results emerging from studies on
immigrants to Israel conducted by the Research Seminar in Sociology of
Hebrew University, Eisenstadt (1970) suggested that certain personality
factors may affect the adjustment capacity of new immigrants. These
personality factors, most centrally ego-strength, frustration tolerance, and
tolerance of ambiguity, may intervene in determining the rate and degree
of completeness at which the immigrant passes through the hierarchy.
A STUDY

OF

IMMIGRATION

TO

ISRAEL

Data which provide a somewhat more direct, although still imperfect, test
of the need hierarchy as descriptive of the immigrant adjustment process
were extracted from a large-scale study of immigrants to Israel. This study
is being conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics of the Israeli
government under the direction of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption
of the Israel Institute for
and had, in its early phases, the participation
Social
which
the
data
Research
provided
reported below.
Applied
of
more
than 1,000 adults,
since
1969
representative samples
Every year
each selected from the immigrants arriving that year, have been inter?
viewed and reinterviewed at several points in time. Questions included
information, background
demographic
prior to emigration, status in
Israel, and also several rating scales of satisfaction with specific aspects of
life in Israel and general satisfaction with being in Israel.
Most relevant are the questions concerning satisfaction with housing,
social life and work in Israel, and the relationship between these specific
concerns and general satisfaction.
Monotonicity correlation coefficients (Levy and Guttman: 1975) were
obtained between specific and general satisfaction for four periods of time
after arrival on a sample of 1,270 immigrants who arrived between
September 1969 and April 1971 (Bar and Guttman:
1975). The time
periods were two months, six months, one year, and two years after
arrival.
The assumption
here is that housing satisfaction reflects security
needs, social satisfaction reflects social needs, and work satisfaction
reflects esteem needs. The fit between the conceptual need categories and
the specific questions asked in this research is far from perfect, most
notably in the case of work satisfaction. Perhaps, since those interviewed
were specifically asked about salary satisfaction, their answers to the
question of work satisfaction reflect an intuitive factoring-out of lower-

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INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION REVIEW

448

TABLE

THREE SPECIFICSATISFACTION
BETWEEN
AND
MONOTONICITY
COEFFICIENTS
FACTORS
General Satisfaction over Four Points in Time

2 Months
Housing
Satisfaction
Social
Satisfaction
Work
Satisfaction

Time AfterArrivalin Israel


6 Months
12 Months

24 Months

.64

.54

.50

.50

.54

.68

.59

.59

.63

.69

.58

.72

order concerns

and a focus on issues of autonomy, achievement, and


responsibility on the job.
The correlation between specific and general satisfaction is interpreted
as reflecting the importance of that factor as a determinant of general
satisfaction, or its importance in the adjustment process.
Table 1 presents the monotonicity coefficients between general satis?
faction and housing, social, and work satisfaction for the four time
periods. To make the results a little clearer regarding their relation to the
need hierarchy model, the coefficients were ranked for each time period
and are presented in Table 2.

The importance of housing concerns is greatest at the two-month


mark and declines thereafter. Social concerns are relatively unimportant
initially, increase in importance by the six-month mark and decline in
importance thereafter, although at the one-year point they are, by a slight
concern. Finally, work satisfaction is an
margin, the most dominating
important determinant at all four points in time, perhaps reflecting its
TABLE

Rank Order of Importance of Specific Satisfaction Factors as Determinants of


General Satisfaction over Time

2 Months
Housing
Satisfaction
Social
Satisfaction
Work
Satisfaction

Time AfterArrivalin Israel


6 Months
12 Months

13

12

24 Months
3

12

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MASLOW S NEED HIERARCHY

449

"impurity" regarding the Maslow categories, and is most dominant at the


six-month and two-years points.
Thus, the early emergence of housing concerns and their subsequent
decline in importance, the later emergence of social needs and their
subsequent decline, and the dominance of work at the end of two years
conform to the predictions of the need hierarchy notion as it is used here.
As Wahba and Bridwell (1976) have pointed out, Maslow did not
intend his need classification system to imply that the need categories were
fully independent of one another. In fact, there is the direct implication in
Maslow's theory that the categories do overlap and that adjacent catego?
ries overlap more than nonadjacent
categories.
The order of the needs in the hierarchy (security; social; esteem)
suggests that the relation between security and esteem needs should be
lower than the relation of social needs with each of the other two.
The data provided by the Israel Institute of Applied Social Research
from the immigrant study generally supports this notion. The intercorrelations are presented in Table 3.
For the first three time periods, the intercorrelations between housing
and work satisfaction, presumed to reflect the nonadjacent
categories of
are
lower
than
intercorrelations
between the
and
esteem
needs,
security
other adjacent factors. At the two-year point, the nonadjacent
overlap is
to
less
than
other
one
and
the
correlation
reflecting
adjacent
equal
categories. These results, then, can also be interpreted as largely support?
ing the need hierarchy approach.
CONCLUSIONS
The present paper is built around a theoretical model borrowed from
motivational
psychology which might clarify some of the empirical
findings in the area of immigrant adjustment. The evidence reviewed thus
TABLE

Intercorrelations (Monotonicity Coefficients) between Specific


Satisfaction Factors over Time

Time AfterArrival
in Israel

Housing
with
Social

Social
with
Work

Housing
with
Work

2 Months
6 Months
12 Months
24 Months

.36
.44
.20
.32

.49
.41
.35
.38

.31
.18
.07
.32

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450

INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION REVIEW

far is merely suggestive. The data are open to other interpretations and
clearly a more carefully planned program of research to test the notion is
recommended. In general, this entire area of immigrant absorption could
research and such research should
use a good deal more longitudinal
reach beyond the two-year mark used here. It would also be important to
relate the changing needs of immigrants to changes in overt behavior
rather than just to attitudes. For instance, to what extent do new
immigrants actually seek out social contacts at various points after
arrival? To what extent do they refuse secure jobs and choose to wait for
more interesting work, and does this behavior change over a period of
time? Again, following the lead of Eisenstadt (1970), to what extent do
personality and cultural factors affect the pattern and speed of these
changing needs and behaviors?
If the model comes to be, in some way, a reasonable description of the
process, absorption agencies may be able to adapt their resources to the
unfolding hierarchy, provide need gratification at the appropriate time,
and thus facilitate adjustment. Perhaps these agencies could have ade?
quate housing and a secure job prepared for the immigrant upon his
arrival, and worry about challenging
work, social integration, and
cultural programs later. Some of the institutions dealing with immi?
into account at present. One
grants may be taking these considerations
from
has
the
Israeli
thing
government's
clearly emerged
large-scale
longitudinal
study described earlier. Immigrants who have difficulty
overcoming early adjustment hurdles soon become less firm about their
intentions to stay, and overwhelmingly they do, in fact, leave. In Israel, at
least, the emigration of immigrants is a serious concern and any approach
to somewhat reduce this loss would be beneficial.
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1975 Changes in the Adjustmentof the New ImmigrantDuring the First Two Years in
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MASLOW'S NEED HIERARCHY

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