Children of Immigrants Are More Educated Than Their Peers

PHOTO: Students cheer during commencment ceremonies at Columbia University May 18, 2005 in New York City. This is the 251st class to graduate from Columbia.Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Students cheer during commencment ceremonies at Columbia University May 18, 2005 in New York City. This is the 251st class to graduate from Columbia.

The kids are doing all right.

At least that's the case for the adult children of immigrants who were born and raised in the United States, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center. The comprehensive report shows that in many ways, second-generation Americans are not only more successful than foreign-born residents of the United States, but they're doing better than the overall population of the country.

They are less likely than both the foreign-born and general populations to live in poverty and they are more educated. They have virtually the same rate of homeownership and the same median household income as the general population, and they beat first generation immigrants on all of those markers.

Second-generation immigrants will play a pivotal role in the political and cultural future of the United States, and nearly all of the growth of the country's working-age population over the next 35 or so years will be accounted for by immigrants and their U.S.-born children, Pew projected. By 2050, the nation's first- and second-generation immigrants will account for nearly 40 percent of the nation's population.

There are currently around 20 million U.S.-born adult children of immigrants in the country, and about half are Latinos and Asian Americans. Many came after a law passed in 1965 that effectively opened the nation's borders to non-Europeans at about the same rate as Europeans. Half of all immigrants who have entered since then have come from Latin America, and slightly more than a quarter have arrived from Asia.

Predictably, second-generation immigrants are more likely to speak English, have friends and spouses outside their ethnic group, and to think of themselves as "typical" Americans than first-generation immigrants. Pew found that they also "place more importance than does the general public on hard work and career success."

In many ways they are more optimistic about what's to come than other demographics.

Second-generation immigrants have an overriding sense of faith in the American Dream. Nearly 80 percent of Hispanics and more than 70 percent of Asian Americans said that "most people can get ahead if they're willing to work hard."

Only 58 percent of the overall adult population feels the same way. That may have something to do with the fact that most second-generation immigrants feel they have a better standard of living than their parents had at the same stage of life, and second-generation Hispanics think their own children will do even better. By comparison, less than half of all American adults feel the same way.

Just more than half of second-generation Latinos and slightly less than two-thirds of Asian Americans say their group gets along well with all other major racial and ethnic groups in the country. About 15 percent of married second-generation adults have a spouse of a different ethnicity, nearly double the eight percent of immigrants and the population overall who fall into the same category.

While second-generation immigrants are overwhelmingly confident that the U.S. offers better opportunities to get ahead than their ancestral country, they don't think it's a better place to maintain strong family ties. More than 40 percent of second-generation women who recently had babies were unmarried, including 52 percent of Hispanics.

It's worth bearing in mind that there are variations among second-generation immigrant groups, as with any population. Eighty percent of Hispanics say they speak Spanish, but only forty percent of Asian Americans say the same thing about their parents' native language. Far more Asian-Americans – 55 percent – than second-generation Latinos – 21 percent – have a bachelor's degree or more.

While Pew cautions against the blanket idea that there has been uniform upward mobility between immigrant children and their parents, it's a strong indictor that many of the immigrants who came to the United States hoping for opportunity and a better life for their children have succeeded in raising adults who now perform as well if not better than their immigrant and non-immigrant peers.

"[W]hile large gaps remain between groups," read the report, "it is also the case that within each group, the second generation is doing better than the first on most key measures of economic success."

The comprehensive report was put together using both Census data and Pew's own surveys.