What is a “TCK”?

I’ve had a series going here about TCKs – but what is a TCK and what does some of the research say about them?

“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”

What is the Origin of term “Third Culture Kid”?

Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem coined the term “Third Culture Kids” after spending a year on two separate occasions in India with her three children, in the early fifties. Initially they used the term “third culture” to refer to the process of learning how to relate to another culture;  in time they started to refer to children who accompany their parents into a different culture as “Third Culture Kids.” Useem used the term “Third Culture Kids” because TCKs integrate aspects of their birth culture (the first culture) and the new culture (the second culture), creating a unique “third culture”

What are the Characteristics of TCKs?

There are different characteristics that impact the typical Third Culture Kid:

  • TCKs are 4 times as likely as non-TCKs to earn a bachelor’s degree (81% vs 21%)
  • 40% earn an advanced degree (as compared to 5% of the non-TCK population.)
  • 45% of TCKs attended 3 universities before earning a degree.
  • 44% earned undergraduate degree after the age of 22.
  • Educators, medicine, professional positions, and self employment are the most common professions for TCKs.
  • TCKs are unlikely to work for big business, government, or follow their parents’ career choices. “One won’t find many TCKs in large corporations.
  • 90% feel “out of sync” with their peers.
  • 90% report feeling as if they understand other cultures/peoples better than the average American.
  • 80% believe they can get along with anybody.
  • Divorce rates among TCKs are lower than the general population, but they marry older (25+).
  • Military brats, however, tend to marry earlier.
  • Linguistically adept (not as true for military TCKs.)
    • A study whose subjects were all “career military brats”—those who had a parent in the military from birth through high school—shows that brats are linguistically adept.
  • Teenage TCKs are more mature than non-TCKs, but ironically take longer to “grow up” in their 20s.
  • More welcoming of others into their community.
  • Lack a sense of “where home is” but often nationalistic.
  • Some studies show a desire to “settle down” others a “restlessness to move”.
  • Depression and suicide are more prominent among TCK’s.