National Data | Children, Grandchildren Of Mexican Immigrants Fail To Close The Education Gap
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Just be patient!


That's what immigration enthusiasts have long counseled when questioned about the abysmally low education level of recent arrivals.


Over time, the enthusiasts claim, the English-speaking, U.S.-born descendents of today's immigrants will blend seamlessly into the mainstream.


Of course, the real question is why American taxpayers have to subsidize this process, especially because it creates competition for their own children.


But the evidence that this improvement is happening at all is thin.


Consider this assertion by enthusiast economist David Card:

"On the question of assimilation, the success of the U.S.-born children of immigrants is a key yardstick. By this metric, post-1965 immigrants are doing reasonably well: second generation sons and daughters have higher education and wages than the children of natives. Even children of the least-educated immigrant origin groups have closed most of the education gap with the children of natives." [David Card, "Is the New Immigration Really So Bad?," Department of Economics, UC Berkeley, January 2005.

But the graphic in Professor Card's own paper belies his assertion. It shows a stunning correlation between educational levels of immigrant fathers and their sons:





Average education levels for Mexican fathers and their U.S.-born children are at the bottom of the educational spectrum for their respective cohorts. Corresponding figures for immigrants from India are at the top.


Conclusion: As far as education is concerned, demographics is destiny. Poorly-educated immigrants have poorly-educated children.


Of course, these are averages. As any professional number cruncher will tell you, averages often conceal as much as they reveal about the true state of affairs.


In fact, the education gap between Mexican and non-Mexican natives is far larger than the averages would suggest. Consider the share of the two populations with more than a High School degree: [Table 1.]

  • 45 percent of all non-Mexicans have a post HS degree
  • 5.4 percent of first generation Mexicans have a post HS degree
  • 9.3 percent of second generation Mexicans have such degrees
  • 8.5 percent of third generation Mexicans have such degrees
  • 9.6 percent of fourth generation Mexicans have such degrees

So even in the fourth generation—after at least fifty to sixty years of "assimilation"—the descendents of Mexican immigrants display scant interest in higher education.


This is a stunning finding. It belies the expectation that college-based affirmative action programs would eventually level the education playing field.


The stubborn refusal of Hispanics to embrace education is evident at the bottom end of the educational spectrum also. [Table 2]:

  • 14.6 percent of first-generation Hispanics are High School dropouts – versus 4.6 percent of first generation non-Hispanics
  • 15.9 percent of second-generation Hispanics are High School dropouts – versus 8.2 percent of second generation non-Hispanics

Why is this happening? One argument: it's a cultural thing. Instead of encouraging their kids to continue their education, Hispanic parents tend to pressure their children to find work and contribute to the family income.


Problems learning English, often exacerbated by mandatory enrollment in bilingual education programs, make leaving school an easy decision.


But whatever the reason, these are the facts.


The assimilationist scenario may have been relevant for the Great Wave cohorts from Europe (or at least part of it).


But Mexican immigration is entirely different.


[Number fans click here for tables.]


Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.

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