Friday, April 07, 2006

Immigrant Education: A Query

One of the responses to my previous post cited Samuel P. Huntington, a scholar who argued in a recent article against Mexican immigration. Looking at the article, I was struck by an oddity in his statistics. He gives figures for educational attainment of first, second, third and fourth generation Mexicans, as of 1990. The odd thing is that overall educational attainment rises from first to second and from second to third, but then drops substantially for fourth generation Mexicans.

Elsewhere in the article, the author gives figures for the foreign born population of the U.S. as of 1960. He lists the five most common ethnicities--and Mexican is not one of them. Fourth generation Mexicans would be descendants of immigrants from considerably earlier than that--sometime before 1930--which suggests that there may not be very many of them and their circumstances might be quite different from those of later immigrants. Checking an old stat abstract, there seem to have been about 1.4 million Mexicans in the U.S. in 1930, or about 1% of the population. I don't know how many were foreign born.

Does anyone have data on who fourth generation Mexicans were as of 1990 and why, assuming Huntington's figures are correct, their educational attainment is relatively low?


Marco said...

I am married to a second generation Mexican-American. Her family moved to northern California when she was two or three years old. Her father had previously moved there illegally and had worked very hard to save enough money so he could bring his family over. This would have been impossible if he had lived in the expensive accommodation provided by his employers, so he lived in a nearby cave together with a group of like minded immigrants. To protect themselves they had guns they had smuggled over from Mexico. A few years after my wife moved over she started attending school. During weekends and vacations she and her siblings had to work in the strawberry fields with her parents, whose income was not sufficient to support the family. When she was about 10 they were able to legalise their position. At the age of 17 she won a scholarship to study at a good university and from that point on became financially independent. Her younger brother (born in the US) also has a university degree. On the other hand the siblings who were already in their teens when they emigrated couldn't get much of an education and are still working in the fields. Of course now they are eligible for welfare, and don't have to work as much as they used to.

Regarding your question, I have the following hypothesis: the statistics may be flawed because those Mexicans who do integrate often end up marrying people from other ethnicities and the children are no longer Mexican. Two of my wife's closest friends from university have Mexican fathers and 'white' mothers. My wife herself married a non Mexican (me) she met at university. The ones who drop out of school on the other hand probably tend to stay in ghetto-like communities.

By the way, I don't know what Huntington means by ethnicity, but until 1980 or so the "Hispanic" category didn't exist. I remember reading it was introduced in the 1980 census, but I'm not sure about this.

Synova said...

The fourth generation Mexicans might be the ones who live in places like southern New Mexico. They never immigrated, the border moved. But the economy is very poor here and the education levels of the population is apalling. The joke is that down by White Sands people are either rocket scientists or high school drop-outs with nothing in between. The reason it's funny is that it's true.


David Friedman said...

Marco writes: "By the way, I don't know what Huntington means by ethnicity, but until 1980 or so the "Hispanic" category didn't exist. I remember reading it was introduced in the 1980 census, but I'm not sure about this."

Statistical abstracts are available on the web, going way back. I looked at the 1934 one. It had figures for Mexican population for 1930 but not for earlier years.

Marco's account of his family reminds me of Rueben, one of my best students--one of the two to whom my Price Theory text was dedicated. He originally came to the U.S. as an illegal immigrant--South American, not Mexican. Later the family moved to Canada and came back to the U.S. legally. Rueben eventually went to Harvard Law School; last I heard he was practicing law in southern California.

Anonymous said...

i recommend angela valenzuela's book, subtractive schooling. it is an ethnography of a school in houston. in it, she conducts interviews with mexican origin students of various generations.

Anonymous said...

You have seen this, right? There is an economist alternative to Huntington's racist theories.

JER said...

I'd consider myself a fourth generation mexican descendent. And while I can't give a qualitative explanation for the statistics, I can give some insight into what I think might be disrupting the data. I think the data is probaby unreliable, so unreliable in fact that it appears strange. One of the other commentors said something about how 'hispanic' did not exist until 1980. I agree with this and believe it to be true. My Mexican great grandparents came to the US as migrant workers in the 1920s from Aguascalientes. My grandmother was born in Ludlow, CA. My mother was born in San Bernardino, CA. I was born in Riverside, CA and my father is of European descent.
What I think is interesting in this context has to do with what my mother told me about what it was like to grow up 'Mexican' in the US. First of all, my grandparents Anglicized their first names completely, with the intention of sounding more American. I have relatives and close family friends who went so far as to adopt English surnames that were near to their Spanish ones. It was also a common practice to NOT teach your children Spanish during the 50s 60s 70s so that they would be more American. I am basing all of this on what my parents and grandparents told me. Today, the situation is different, as you can hope to receive benefits from being a minority. Back then, there were incentives to not being a minority, and to, if you could, assimilate as best as you could. My Mexican family chose to assimilate.
The consequence of all this is that the data that they guy is using here is being taken from a population that I believe had a great incentive to be dishonest about themselves. Especially when you think about how fourth generation Mexican decendents would have had 2nd and 3rd generation predecessors who were living in the US at a time when they were still marginalized. And also keep in mind that, while they are technically a 'latino people,' the barriers to keeping them out of white american society are not so difficult for them to overcome. Its my belief that with these factors in mind, a lot of the data is probably unreliable and inaccurate to the point that it looks incorrect.
A lot of the 4th gen mexicans are probably not claiming that they are mexican anymore and have probably forgotten by now. And those that do remember, probably have remained in marginalized neighborhoods, but then again, I don't really know. This is all speculation based on my own family history.

jomama said...

Could it have something to do with "3 generations from coveralls to coveralls" ...or 4 now?

Anonymous said...


I wonder whether or not what is going on is a "regression to the mean" effect. Supposeably, voluntary immigrant families are highly motivated and generally come from the middle or higher stratum of the source countries. You would expect increasing participation and achievement in later generations as long as the family motivational level remains constant. However, once family discouragement sets in, you would expect lower achievement relative to available resources. This hypothesis can be studied by comparing achievement by different populations.