New Pew Study on Adult Children of Immigrants

A new Pew Research Center study concludes that the 20 million adult United States-born children of immigrants are largely better off than their parents, with higher incomes, more college graduates, and a lower poverty rate.

Although the report focused on Hispanic and Asian American second generation adults, there were many interesting conclusions that were drawn about the American immigrant experience as a whole (the conclusions from Pew were analyzed from the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data). On the subject of household income, for example, second generation immigrant adults are earning an average of $58,000 to their parents’ generation $46,000 – a marked difference.

The section on education was interesting as well. Thirty-six percent of second generation adult children held college degrees (versus 29 percent of first generation immigrant adults), with only 10 percent failing to finish high school (compared to 28 percent from their parents’ generation). The 36 percent holding at least a bachelor’s degree is impressive, especially when compared to the national average: only 31 percent of all American adults can say the same.

As I am currently working on a report about parenting in Congolese American immigrant families, I was particularly curious about the section raising children in the United States. “Seven-in-ten second-generation Asian Americans and eight-in-ten (81%) second-generation Hispanics say that conditions for raising children are better in the U.S. than in their parents’ country of origin.” The report says in a later chapter that 31 percent of Asian Americans give “family reasons” as the main explanation why they immigrated (and 23 percent of first-generation Hispanics give the same reason). For Hispanics, family reasons were second only to economic reasons (56 percent).

However, “Less than half of both generations rate the U.S. as better than their ancestral country as a place to maintain strong family ties.” From this it seems that second generation immigrants are happy with the opportunities for their current, more immediate family, but find it more difficult to maintain relationships with extended family than it was in their parents’ home countries.

It is interesting to point out that our subject, adult children of Congolese immigrants, comprises a very small percentage of the “black second generation” represented in this Pew study. Only three percent of black second generation adults, according to Pew, have immigrant parents. Because of this, it is difficult for us to make assertions from the study in terms of Congolese immigrant adult children, although the trends described in this study are indicative of immigrant children in general.

The one statistic I was able to draw from the Pew study that concerned specifically the black second generation immigrant population concerned living arrangements. Among the age group of 25- to 34-year-olds, fully 42 percent of black children of immigrants lived in multi-generation family households. This is much higher than than the national average for immigrants in general (26 percent) and for the American population in general (28 percent).

Despite the fact that the study is concerned mostly with Asian Americans and Hispanics, Congolese immigrants and their children should still care about the results: the projected impact of immigrant children is growing rapidly. According to Pew, “the adult second generation will grow 126% from 2012 to 2050, more sharply than the first generation (103%) or the adult population overall (42%). By 2050, the second generation will account for 16% of adult Americans, compared with about 8% in 2012.”

The proportion of black immigrants to America, in particular, is growing quickly: from 2008 to 2009 1.1 million immigrants came from Africa (second only to immigrants from the Caribbean at 1.7 million). “Immigrants from Africa were among the fastest-growing groups within the U.S. foreign-born population from 2000 to 2009. If current trends continue, some analysts predict that Africa will replace the Caribbean by 2020 as the major source of black immigration to the U.S.,” reads the Pew study.

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