Mexican educational assimilation in the US

An important concern among immigrant research and policy communities is whether Mexican Americans progressively attain higher educational outcomes over generations, as do about all other immigrant groups, or whether progress stalls. Until now, research showed that progress stalled, that 3rd generation Mexican Americans failed to achieve higher education than 2nd generation.

A new study, using a hitherto unused data source, finds that education attainment has in fact progressed. This study corrected for two biases in previous studies. The authors were able to track Mexican origins even among people with this origin who no longer self-identify as Mexican, and they sorted out 3rd generation from later generations. They thus have a more accurate picture.

According to them, 84.25% of third generational Mexican Americans graduated from high school compared to non-Hispanic whites (86.17%) and blacks (74.97%). Yet four-year college completion was low (19.74%) compared with whites (39.34%). Hispanics are known to make use of community colleges. Among Hispanics, 53.53% have some college, compared with white (65%) and blacks (52.08%).

The study is by Brian Duncan et al, New Evidence of Generational Progress for Mexican Americans. NBER, November 2017.

Excerpts from the study:

We focus on education because it is a fundamental determinant of economic success, social status, health, family stability, and life opportunities.

Mexican Americans with mixed ethnic origins are less likely to identify as Mexican or Hispanic and also display higher levels of average attainment.

Ethnic attrition takes place when U.S.-born descendants of Mexican immigrants do not subjectively identify as Mexican American or Hispanic. Previous research indicates that ethnic attrition is substantial among later-generation Mexican Americans and that such attrition typically arises in families with mixed ethnic origins….The lack of information on grandparents’ countries of birth also implies that analysts cannot distinguish 3rd-generation from higher-generation Mexican Americans.

[From a new data source] We find substantial educational progress between 2nd- and 3rd-generation Mexican Americans. For a recent cohort of Mexican-Americans, our analysis thus provides promising evidence of generational advance. In particular, for this cohort of individuals born in the years 1980-84, the high school graduation rate of 3rd-generation Mexican Americans is only slightly below that of later-generation non-Hispanic whites.

Other measures of educational attainment—completed years of schooling, college attendance, and bachelors degree completion—also show sizable gains for Mexican Americans between the 2nd and 3rd generations. In contrast with high school completion, however, for these other education measures 3rd-generation Mexican Americans maintain large deficits relative to non-Hispanic whites, despite their generational gains.

Ultimately, our findings suggest that Mexican Americans do indeed experience substantial socioeconomic progress beyond the 2nd generation, and that this progress is obscured by limitations of the data sources commonly used to look for it.

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