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Education May Boost Fortunes of Second-Generation Latino Immigrants
By Richard Fry
Pew Hispanic Center
As the US-born children of Latino immigrants reach adulthood, new data suggest
that they will fare better than their immigrant peers thanks to pursuing
education before work. However, this success initially comes as a tradeoff, as
young immigrant Latinos fare better in the labor market than their native-born
counterparts, with the native born pulling ahead in adulthood.
The Growing Second Generation
Much of the US Latino population's growth in past decades has been fueled by
international migration. However, recent projections indicate that while the
number of Latinos will continue to grow rapidly, the sources of growth are
For the foreseeable future, much of the growth will be among US-born
as the large US-born second generation of Latinos matures. The fortunes of
Hispanics will increasingly depend on the success of the US-born children of
these immigrants. The US Census Bureau projects that the population of
working-age Latino immigrants will reach 13 million by 2025, an increase of
about four million people. The accompanying native-born Latino population of
working age is projected to reach 24 million in the same timeframe, an increase
of 14 million.
The great size of this Latino second generation has stimulated a substantial
body of research on the health and well-being of the children of immigrants
(see, for example,
Rubén Rumbaut's article in The Source's May 2002
issue). However, the Latino second generation is now moving beyond adolescence
and maturing into young adulthood. The Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington,
DC-based think tank devoted to improving understanding of the Latino population
in the US, has been investigating labor market activities and outcomes, as well
as educational attainment and school enrollment, for Latino adults by
generational status, using the
US Census Bureau's Current Population Survey
(CPS) as the major data source.
The center's May 2002 Work or Study report concentrated on comparing and
contrasting the differing labor market fortunes of Latino generations during
their teen years and prime working years. During the late adolescent years,
young people make critical choices and tradeoffs regarding further schooling
versus work experience. Interestingly, young Latinos are pursuing radically
different activities, depending on their nativity, and the evidence suggests
that the differing focus will have clear implications for adult success during
their prime working years.
Prior research shows that the outcomes of immigrants' lives are associated with
their age-at-arrival in the United States. The center distinguishes between
Latino immigrants who arrived in the US after age 13 ("generation 1.0") and
those who arrived in the US by age 13 ("generation 1.5"). Arrival by age 13
is associated with a markedly different schooling and earnings trajectory than
arrival after age 13. Some of the center's findings include: Among 25 to 44-year-olds, 55 percent of Latino immigrants that arrived after age 13 had not
finished high school. Among similar immigrants who arrived by age 13, 38
percent had not completed high school. In terms of pay, the typical earnings
of 25 to 44-year-old immigrants who arrived after age 13 is $340 per week.
Their peers who arrived in the US by age 13 have average earnings of $400
Immigrant Latino Teens Earn Most: Among teens age
first generation of Latinos fare much better in the labor market than their
second-generation counterparts. Immigrant Latino teens outperform white
teenagers on some key labor market indicators. First-generation Latino teens
are the highest-paid members of their age group, earning more than either white
or black teens (see Figure 1). The median wage for first-generation Latino
teens was $260 per week in 2000, three-quarters more than the $150 median wage
paid to white and black teens. The Latino 1.5-generation teens averaged $209 per
week; in contrast, median wages for the second-generation Latino teen were about
$180 per week. The favorable earnings outcomes for first-generation Latino
teens are also apparent in a variety of other labor market indicators.
School vs. Work: Much of the apparent earnings success of
Latino teens can be traced to their different orientation toward work and
education, when compared with their native-born counterparts.
Pursuing education appears to be a subsidiary activity for immigrant Latino
teens, whereas it is the primary endeavor for most native-born US teens,
whether Latino, African-American or white. Thirty-eight percent of immigrant
Latino youth work full-time (more than 34 hours of work per week). The
proportion is even higher for youth of Mexican descent. Forty-four percent of
first-generation Mexicans in the 16-19 age bracket work full-time. Less than 13
percent of their second-generation counterparts work full-time, similar to the
14 percent of white youth who work full-time and nine percent of black youth
who work full-time.
Compared to their immigrant counterparts, second-generation Latino youths are
much more likely to be in school. Two-thirds of second-generation Hispanic
teens are enrolled in school (similar to the 70 percent of white and black
youth). Only 23 percent of first-generation Latino teens are enrolled in
US Census Bureau's Current Population
The CPS is the nation's most authoritative monthly social survey of about
50,000 US households. Collected by the US Census Bureau and the US Bureau of
Labor Statistics, since 1994 the CPS has routinely ascertained the respondent's
nativity and the parents' place of birth. It provides information on
generational outcomes and behaviors for the nation's major racial and ethnic
The CPS, which has been conducted for over half a century, is the primary
source of information on the labor force characteristics of the US population.
The sample is scientifically selected to represent the civilian
non-institutional population. Respondents are interviewed to obtain information
about the employment status of each member of the household 15 years of age and
older. However, published data center on those ages 16 and over. The sample
provides estimates for the nation as a whole and serves as part of model-based
estimates for individual states and other geographic areas.
From the CPS, it is possible to obtain estimates in areas including employment,
unemployment, earnings, hours of work, and other indicators. They are available
by a variety of demographic characteristics including age, sex, race, marital
status, and educational attainment. They are also available by occupation,
industry, and class of worker. Supplemental questions to produce estimates on a
variety of topics including school enrollment, income, previous work
experience, health, employee benefits, and work schedules are also often added
to the regular CPS questionnaire.
Teens to Adults -- The Second Generation Surpasses the Immigrant
Compared to their first-generation counterparts, second-generation youth display less advantageous labor market outcomes during their teenage years. They earn less, have much higher unemployment rates, lower job holding, and work fewer hours per week. In the long run, however, they
typically benefit from their focus on schooling during their teenage years.
Schooling leads to additional education, and the US labor market highly rewards
The center is currently comparing second-generation 25 to 44-year-olds to other
groups of 25 to 44-year-old workers. If today's youth fare as well as today's
25 to 44-year-old adults are faring, then it is probable that second-generation
youth will come out far ahead of their first-generation counterparts in terms
of both educational attainment (high school completion and college education)
and labor market outcomes, including weekly earnings, job holding, and lower
Adult Latinos of the 1.5 generation are immigrants, but by definition they
arrived in the US by age 13. By age 25, the 1.5 generation has been here a long
time, been educated in US schools, and had the benefit of exposure to US norms,
institutions, and language during their formative childhood years.
By adulthood, second-generation Latinos are significantly ahead of their
foreign-born 1.5-generation counterparts who have been in the US for a long
time. Among 25 to 44-year-old adults, about 20 percent of the second
generation lacks a high school diploma (versus seven percent of the comparable
non-Hispanic whites). But nearly 40 percent of the Latino adult 1.5 generation
have not finished high school. Second-generation Latinos are also significantly
more likely to have gone on to college than their 1.5 counterparts.
These investments in education tend to be rewarded in the labor market. The
median pay of second-generation Latino adults in their prime working years
substantially exceeds that of the 1.5 generation in their prime age, even
though both are born of immigrants and the sole substantive differences between
them are where they were born and where they spend their early childhood.
While prime-age second-generation Latinos are more successful in the labor
market than their 1.5 counterparts, they still trail white 25 to 44-year-olds.
The median earnings of 25 to 44-year-old second generation Latinos was $500 per
week in 2000, compared to $600 per week among whites and $461 per week
In short, the economic progress of first-generation Latino teens appears
confined to their early work life. By age 25, second-generation Latinos are
substantially ahead of their immigrant counterparts, including 1.5-generation
immigrants who have been in the US for a very long time. Immigrant Latino teens
are focused on work and have little involvement with formal schooling.
Second-generation teens are more marginally attached to the labor market and
are much more engaged with formal schooling.
The Growing, Changing Latino Adult Population
The large group of second-generation children of Latino immigrants is now
maturing and changing the fortunes of the Latino population. Researchers are
currently turning their focus from K?12 education outcomes to college
enrollment, early family formation, young adult behaviors, and the career
prospects of the children of immigrants. Early labor market evidence suggests
that the native-born children of Latino immigrants fare much better in
adulthood than their immigrant peers, but still remain far from parity with the
white majority on average. This is a conjectural conclusion from available
data, and much should be learned as the "new second generation" matures.
Richard Fry is a Senior Research Associate at the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, DC. The May 2002 Work or Study report can be obtained at http://www.pewhispanic.org/.
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