Socioeconomic Integration of U.S. Immigrant Groups over the Long Term: The Second Generation and Beyond

Report Author: 
Brian Duncan & Stephen J. Trejo
Original Date of Publication: 
March, 2018

Large-scale immigration raises questions about the social and economic progress of new arrivals, their U.S.-born children and the third generation. Some observers suggest that the sheer size and geographic concentration of recent immigration could hinder immigrants' social and economic integration. The authors of this paper examine some of the available data on this question, as well as methodological problems associated with the data. The Current Population Survey (CPS) has nativity questions about the respondent and her/his parents that may be used to assess generational change. CPS data show that nearly all second-generation groups have markedly higher education and income than their immigrant parents. There is variation, however, by immigrant group. Although second-generation Mexicans and Central Americans, for example, surpass their parents' income and education, their status lags behind that of other second-generation groups. Because the parents of the Mexican and Central American second generation have extremely low education and income, their children may need more time to show comparable upward mobility. CPS data also show little education and income improvement between the second and later generations of Mexicans and Central Americans. According to the authors, this finding may reflect methodological problems. The CPS does not identify the third generation specifically, and instead combines third and later generations. Another problem facing generational measures is "ethnic attrition." As many as 30 percent of third-generation Mexican children may not be identified as Mexican by the Hispanic origin question of the CPS. There is evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1997), which more accurately identifies third generation Hispanics, that they are making much more substantial gains from the second to the third generation than what may be suggested by the CPS. However, the authors conclude that "it may take longer for their descendants to integrate fully into the American mainstream than it did for the descendants of the European immigrants who arrived near the turn of the twentieth century." (Rob Paral, Rob Paral & Associates)

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Duncan, B., & Trejo, S. (2018). Socioeconomic Integration of U.S. Immigrant Groups over the Long Term: The Second Generation and Beyond (No. w24394). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

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