2nd- and 3rd-Generation Mexican-Americans

The primary focus of this report has been the impact of Mexican immigrants on the United States. The analysis indicates that the welfare use, income, educational attainment, health insurance coverage, and other measures of socio-economic status for Mexican immigrants lag far behind natives and other immigrant groups. This is true even for those Mexicans who have lived in the country for many years. So far in this report we have not examined persons of Mexican ancestry who themselves were born in the United States. Since the Current Population Survey asks respondents where their parents were born as well as ancestry for persons who are Hispanic, it is possible to examine by generation what is often referred to as the Mexican-origin population. Examining progress over generations is important because it may provide some insight into how the children of today’s Mexican immigrants will do when they reach adulthood.

Native-Born Mexican-Americans Lag Far Behind Other Natives. Figure 20 reports educational attainment, welfare use, and rates of poverty/near poverty for Mexican immigrants and second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans. Turning to educational attainment first, the figure shows significant progress between the first generation and second generation. Second-generation Mexican-Americans are much more likely to have completed high school than Mexican immigrants. This is also true for the third generation. However, relative to other natives, second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans have much higher dropout rates. They also have much lower rates of college graduation than other natives. Perhaps even more troubling is that there is no evidence of progress between the second and third generation. About one-fourth of second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans have not completed high school. At the high end of the education distribution, there is some evidence of progress between the first, second, and third generations. But despite progress, even third-generation Mexican-Americans are much less likely than other natives to have completed a four-year college degree.

Turning to welfare use, the figure indicates that second-generation Mexican-Americans are somewhat less likely to use welfare than Mexican immigrants. However, there seems to be no progress in lowering their use of welfare between the second and third generation. In fact, welfare use rises in the third generation, making them as likely to use welfare as Mexican immigrants. Moreover, even the second generation is still much more likely to be on welfare than are natives in general. The rate of poverty/near poverty follows a very similar pattern. There is significant progress from the first to the second generation and then a deterioration among third-generation Mexican-Americans. As with welfare use, poverty seems to increase slightly between the second and third generations. And of course, in comparison to other natives, native-born Mexican-Americans, both second and third generation, lag far beyond.

While it is beyond the scope of this study, it is likely that several factors — including discrimination and culture — explain why persons of Mexican ancestry remain well behind other natives. One factor that is likely to have contributed to the pattern in Figure 20 is the low skill level of Mexican immigrants who entered the country in decades past and whose children are represented by the second and third generations. Figure 20 indicates that many of their children have found it very difficult to close the gap with other natives. Research by George Borjas indicates that those immigrant groups that arrive with fewer skills tend to remain poorer than those groups who arrive better educated. He concludes that, "differences in skills and labor market outcomes may persist across generations and need never converge."30 Whatever the reasons for the results in Figure 20, it is clear that Mexican-Americans have not been able to reach the same socio-economic status as other natives. If this trend continues, many of the children of current and even future Mexican immigrants may also find it difficult to reach parity with other Americans. Thus the low skill level of Mexican immigrants now entering the country may have significant long-term consequences for Mexican-Americans over much of this century.


End Note

30 George J. Borjas. February 1992. "Ethnic Capital and Intergenerational Mobility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics. p. 148.