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Asian Americans as an Example of a Second-Generation Immigrant-Descent Minority

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Throughout the long history of immigration waves to the U.S., the typical pattern has been that over time the second generation (i.e., the children of immigrants) surpasses the immigrant generation in key measures of socio-economic well-being and assimilation, such as household income, educational attainment and English fluency.

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Second-generation Americans—the 20 million adult U.S.-born children of immigrants—are substantially better off than immigrants themselves on key measures of socioeconomic attainment, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S

Census Bureau data. They have higher incomes; more are college graduates and homeowners; and fewer live in poverty. In all of these measures, their characteristics resemble those of the full U.S. adult population. Hispanics and Asian Americans make up about seven-in-ten of today’s adult immigrants and about half of today’s adult second generation. Pew Research surveys find that the second generations of both groups are much more likely than the immigrants to speak English; to have friends and spouses outside their ethnic or racial group, to say their group gets along well with others, and to think of themselves as a “typical American.” The Pew Research surveys also find that second-generation Hispanics and Asian Americans place more importance than does the general public on hard work and career success. They are more inclined to call themselves liberal and less likely to identify as Republicans. And for the most part they are more likely to say their standard of living is higher than that of their parents at the same stage of life. In all of these measures, the second generation resembles the immigrant generation more closely than the general public.

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Historically, much of the socioeconomic mobility achieved by U.S. immigrant families has taken place across rather than within generations (Neidert and Farley 1985; Borjas 1994; Perlmann 2005). When evaluating the long-term integration of immigrants, it is therefore important to analyze differences not just between the foreign-born and U.S-born, but also across generations of the U.S.-born (Farley and Alba 2002; Card 2005; Smith 2006). The ideal data set for such an analysis would include information about the family tree of each individual, enabling us to identify which individuals have ancestors who immigrated to the United States from a particular country and how many generations have elapsed since that immigration took place. Information of this sort would also allow us to characterize the complexity of each individual’s immigrant roots in some detail, accounting for factors such as the specific national origins of an individual’s immigrant ancestors, whether the same national origins show up on both the paternal and maternal sides of the family tree, and how far removed from the current generation are the immigrant ancestors.

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To sum up, the U.S. Asian population overall does well on measures of economic well-being compared with the U.S. population as a whole, but this varies widely among Asian subgroups. The median annual household income of households headed by Asian Americans is $73,060, compared with $53,600 among all U.S. households. But these overall figures hide differences among Asian origin groups. Four groups have household incomes well below the median household income for all Americans: Bangladeshi ($49,800), Hmong ($48,000), Nepalese ($43,500) and Burmese ($36,000). By contrast, Indian households have the highest median income ($100,000), followed by Filipinos ($80,000), Japanese and Sri Lankans (each $74,000). Asians overall were also less likely than the general U.S. population to live in poverty in 2015 (12.1% vs. 15.1%). But again, there are large differences between Asian subgroups. Eight of the 19 Asian groups analyzed had poverty rates higher than the U.S. average

Hmong (28.3%), Bhutanese (33.3%) and Burmese (35.0%) had the highest poverty rates among Asian groups, while the lowest rates were among Filipinos (7.5%), Indians (7.5%) and Japanese (8.4%).

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Neidert Lisa J, Farley Reynolds. Assimilation in the United States: An Analysis of Ethnic and Generation Differences in Status and Achievement. American Sociological Review. 1985 Dec;50(6):840–50.

Borjas George J. Long-Run Convergence of Ethnic Skill Differentials: The Children and Grandchildren of the Great Migration. Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 1994 Jul;47(4):553–73.

Perlmann Joel. Italians Then, Mexicans Now: Immigrant Origins and Second-Generation Progress, 1890–2000. New York: Russell Sage Foundation; 2005.

Farley Reynolds, Alba Richard. The New Second Generation in the United States. International Migration Review. 2002 Fall;36(3):669–701.

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