Jonathan J. Higuera

Second generation study

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The immigration debate has certainly consumed many hours of thought and argument surrounding the contributions immigrants make to the country’s well-being. In fact, the pervasive focus on new immigrants may have stunted our consideration of how the children of immigrants fare and what they are bringing to the table.

Leave it to the Pew Hispanic Center to rectify that information gap. Its latest study on second-generation adult Americans, a group consisting of about 20 million people, found that they are “substantially better off than immigrants themselves on key measures of socioeconomic attainment.”

The study looked at Hispanic, Asian and European second-generation adults and found that they are generally doing better than their parents. It found that they:

  • Make more money, with a median household income of $58,000 versus $46,000
  • Are more likely to earn a college degree (36 versus 29 percent)
  • Have higher rates of homeownership (64 versus 51 percent)
  • Are less likely to be in poverty (11 versus 18 percent) 
  • Less likely to drop out of high school (10 versus 28 percent)

These findings seem to document what immigrants themselves intuitively know – their kids will have more opportunities than they have in the U.S, especially if they have a strong work ethic and pursue education.

But Pew researchers warn against interpreting the findings as proof positive of upward mobility for second-generation immigrants. They refrained from making that claim because the study included many second-generation adults who are not the children of the most recent immigrants from Latin American, Asian and European countries, but rather the children of earlier 20th century immigrants. They found substantial differences among subgroups.

Given current immigration trends and birth rates, virtually all (93 percent) of the growth of the nation’s working-age population between now and 2050 will be accounted for by immigrants and their U.S.-born children, according to a population projection by the Pew Research Center.

These findings raise the stakes on the current immigration debate. It’s as much about the offspring of today’s immigrants as the immigrants themselves.

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