Study sheds light on how young adult children of immigrants assimilate

Largest, longest study of children of immigrants reveals certain groups are left behind

Irvine, Calif., Oct. 4, 2006 -- While the vast majority of young adult children of immigrants experience upward economic and social mobility, a new study finds that a significant minority are suffering from lower levels of education, lower incomes, higher birth rates and higher levels of incarceration. Furthermore, it is the U.S.-born children of Mexican, Haitian and West Indian immigrants who experience these problems in the largest proportions.

The study, led by sociologists Rubén G. Rumbaut of UC Irvine and Alejandro Portes of Princeton University, appears online this week in the Migration Information Source. The largest and longest-running study of children of immigrants yet conducted, the study also confirms the critical importance of education.

"The greatest educational disadvantage is found among children of Mexican immigrants and Laotian and Cambodian refugees in our sample – close to 40 percent of whom did not go beyond a high school diploma," said Rumbaut. "Education is the key to successful upward mobility among children of immigrants, so the discrepancies that emerge in educational achievement among immigrant groups tend to persist in trends for income, employment and incarceration."

The researchers also point to the influence of human capital (the skills and education of immigrant parents) as well as family structure, racial prejudice and government policies toward certain immigrant groups – particularly the undocumented – that influence this "downward assimilation" process.

The researchers found that children of Laotian and Cambodian Americans as well as Haitian Americans had the lowest median annual household income at just over $25,000. They were followed closely by Mexican American families, which had a median annual household income of about $30,000. On the other end of the spectrum, children of upper-middle-class Cuban exiles in Southern Florida reported a household income of more than $70,000, and Filipino Americans in Southern California had more than $64,000, followed by Chinese immigrants.

Furthermore, the study found that the most educationally and economically disadvantaged children of immigrants were most likely to have children of their own at a young age, compounding their difficulties at pursuing higher education. When surveyed at the average age of 24, none of the Chinese Americans had children, while in contrast 25 percent of Haitians, West Indians, Laotians and Cambodians did, as did 41 percent of Mexican American young adults.

Differences in arrest and incarceration rates are also noteworthy, particularly among second-generation, U.S.-born, males. While only 10 percent of second-generation immigrant males in the survey had been incarcerated, that figure jumped to 20 percent among West Indian and Mexican American youths.

"Unfortunately, these trends perpetuate the racial and ethnic stereotypes that contributed to their situation in the first place," Rumbaut said. "On the positive side, we see that children of immigrant families with little money and low human capital can move forward positively in American society. But there is clearly a minority segment among the native-born children of some immigrant groups that is getting caught in a cycle of downward mobility, and we need to understand the trends that drive this process."

There are more than 30 million U.S.-born children of immigrants. Rumbaut is continuing to explore the major events influencing the social outcomes of the immigrant second generation, focusing on early childbirth for women and incarceration among men.

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About the Study

The surveys were conducted over more than 10 years with random samples representing 77 different nationalities originally drawn in 1991 in San Diego, Calif., and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., of more than 5,000 respondents who were then in junior high school. The most recent surveys were conducted from 2001 to 2004 when the respondents were between the ages of 23 and 27. The surveys are part of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study, which was designed to examine the in-depth interaction between immigrant parents and their children and the evolution of the young from adolescence into early adulthood. Results from the CILS surveys provide the most compelling current evidence to date of how the second generation adapts – from education and income to unemployment, family formation and incarceration. The study was funded with support from the Russell Sage Foundation. More: www.russellsage.org.

About the University of California, Irvine

The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,400 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.3 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

Television: UCI has a broadcast studio available for live or taped interviews. For more information, visit www.today.uci.edu/broadcast.

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UCI maintains an online directory of faculty available as experts to the media. To access, visit www.today.uci.edu/experts.


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