National Data | Looking (In Vain) For Latino Assimilation
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Second-generation immigrants—U.S.-born individuals with at least one foreign-born parent—are the most rapidly growing segment on the nation's immigrant stock. In California they account 7 million, or 21 percent, of state population, up from 3.1 million (16 percent) in 1970.

Latinos account for over half of second-generation Californians. If the children of immigrants are assimilating, it should happen in California first.

But it isn't happening.

On the contrary, a May 2005 Public Policy of California report, "Second-Generation Immigrants in California," reveals a widening gap in the academic, economic, and linguistic achievement of second- and even third- generation Latinos and the overall population. (This probably isn't what the Public Policy Institute wanted to find, and may be why its figures cited below do not include embarrassing direct comparison with native-born whites).

Take educational attainment. [Table 1] There is significant reduction in high school dropout rates between first and second-generations Latinos—but progress appears to stall after the second-generation. Indeed, children of Latino immigrants have lost ground relative to other immigrant children:

  • 67 percent of F-G Latinos are HS dropouts versus 39 percent of all F-G Californians


  • 35 percent of S-G Latinos are HS dropouts versus 14 percent of all S-G Californians


  • 22 percent of T-G Latinos are HS dropouts versus 8 percent of all T-G Californians

College-educated Latinos of any generation are shockingly rare:

  • 7 percent of the first generation


  • 10 percent of the second-generation


  • 11 percent of the third-generation

The largest variations are not by nativity but by national origin. Case in point: Mexicans and Filipinos.

They are the two largest national groups in California, accounting for 58 percent and 6 percent, respectively, of second-generation children. Both are from poor countries.

Yet immigrants from Mexico are among the least educated in the state—while immigrants from the Philippines are among the best educated, with 55 percent having college degrees.

Those differentials persist in second and third generations.

If only the Philippines bordered California!

English proficiency is at least as important a success predictor as education. As with education, there is general improvement among second generation immigrants in California. But once again, the children of Latino immigrants lag behind the children of other immigrant groups: [Table 2]

  • 5 percent of F-G Latinos speak only English versus 11 percent of all F-G Californians


  • 10 percent of S-G Latinos speak only English versus 29 percent of all S-G Californians


  • 75 percent of T-G Latinos speak only English versus 94 percent of all T-G Californians

A Spanish-only subculture makes it impossible for the children of many Latino immigrants to reach economic parity—and leaves them prey to ethnic demagogues.

It's often said that second generation Latinos have shown a strong tendency to intermarry. Immigration enthusiast Joel Kotkin has claimed roughly 30 percent wed people from other ethnic groups.

I will investigate this in a future National Data. But if it's true, it raises questions about these generational comparisons.

Many third-generation Latinos could identify themselves as multi-racial whites or Blacks. Have they imported Latino values into those groups?

That could mean the failure of Latino assimilation is worse than these cross-racial comparisons apparently suggest.

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

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