This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Do Immigrants Contribute to Inequality in America? It Depends

The 2010 US Census found that 13 percent of people in this country were foreign-born, so we're pushing up to the nearly 15 percent foreign-born back in 1910. Since immigrants tend to be young people who are of reproductive age, a disproportionate share (one in five) of children under age 18 in this country have at least one parent who is foreign-born. What does this mean for the educational attainment of those children? That is a question that many have examined, and is taken up in a paper just published in the latest issue of Demography. The paper is open access, so you can check out the details for yourself. The authors, Renee Reichl Luthra & Thomas Soehl, set up the story this way:
Although the distribution of immigrants in terms of human capital is bimodal, it is especially the large group of immigrants with little formal education that raises concerns about the impact of immigration on social inequality. With the children of immigrants currently composing more than 20 % of the U.S. population under age 18, the extent to which this population will inherit the educational characteristics of their parents is significant for the immediate and long-term future of ethnic stratification in the United States.
Their concern is that much of the previous research on this topic has used aggregated data, rather than data that relates individual children to their own parents. As is true in so much social science research (ask me how I know!), the individual level data can tell a somewhat different story than data that are aggregated at the group level. As it turns out, they were able to tap into four large surveys that provided educational attainment data for children and their parents.

Three of these surveys sampled second-generation respondents in four different metropolitan areas in the United States: the Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA) survey; the Immigrant Second Generation in Metropolitan New York survey (ISGMNY); and the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey (CILS), which surveyed the children of immigrants in San Diego and Miami. In addition, we rely on the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), which provides nationally representative samples of several na- tional origin groups.
The results do show that for the majority of immigrant groups the children achieve higher levels of education than their parents. Some groups, of course, such as Indians and Filipinos (and increasingly immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa) come to the US as documented immigrants with English language skills, higher than average education and higher status jobs. Their children are likely to do well, and are unlikely to contribute to growing inequality. For those children whose parents came as undocumented immigrants, the educational level in the family is low to begin with, and it is harder for those children to get ahead without extra-familial resources. Just advancing beyond their parents does not necessarily make them competitive with the children of native-born parents nor with the more privileged immigrant groups. They need more resources. This research is in line with policies aimed to provide extra assistance to children of certain immigrant groups who are at a real disadvantage in society. There is resistance to spending such funds, but the payoff is going to be a more productive next generation and that's good for everyone. 

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