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Study: Mexican-Americans Most Successful Among Second-Generation Immigrants


Monday, August 11, 2014

Shaking up notions of what makes an immigrant “successful,” a study by two University of California professors finds that second-generation immigrants from Mexico outpace all other second-generation groups in the United States. According to sociology professors Jennifer Lee, of UC Irvine, and Min Zhou, of UCLA, this is because their study measures success by how far an immigrant group has come rather than where individuals in the group have finished. 

Looking at immigrant groups in the Los Angeles area, the report issued from the study --“The Success Frame and Achievement Paradox: The Cost and Consequences for Asian-Americans” -- reinforces stereotypical notions that Asian, particularly Chinese, immigrants exceed other groups as far as educational outcomes are concerned. For example, 64 percent of second-generation Chinese immigrants attain an undergraduate-level education, compared with 46 percent of U.S.-born whites. Twenty-two percent of second-generation Chinese-Americans go on to earn graduate degrees.

The point of the study, according to Professor Lee, was to reframe the debate about what success means.

The authors argue, though, that the success of Chinese-Americans is due, in large part, to the advantages with which they start. The parents of both Asian-American and Mexican-American students place a high value on education. But Asian-American kids tend to also have strong educational role models, as well as family and community support for their schooling. The parents of second-generation Asian immigrants also tend to be well-educated themselves, seek good schools for their kids and push them to do well.
 
Key to Chinese-Americans’ overall level of success is their parents’ level of education. Chinese immigrant parents were by far the most highly educated in the study—in L.A., 60 percent of Chinese immigrant fathers and 40 percent of Chinese immigrant mothers had at least a bachelor’s degree. A Pew Research Center study, in fact, notes that 61 percent of recent Asian immigrants, aged 25 to 64, have a bachelors degree. That is more than twice the national average in the U.S.
On the other hand, because many Mexican parents have a relatively low level of education, they were not as well-equipped to help their children succeed as Chinese-American parents. Mexican-Americans had the lowest level of educational attainment in the study. Eighty-six percent had graduated from high school, compared to 100 percent of the Chinese-Americans. Only 17 percent of the Mexican-Americans in the study had earned a college degree.

However, Mexican-Americans’ high school graduation rate was more than twice their parents’, while their college graduation rate more than doubled that of their fathers’ and tripled that of their mothers’. Professor Lee feels it’s clear that,  when success is measured as inter-generational progress, Mexican-Americans come out on top.

The study’s authors “wanted to understand how parents’ position and parents’ immigration status, how their level of education, how all of these factors then shape how the second generation frames success…  to reframe the debate about success.” 

According to Professor Lee, Mexican-Americans “come [to the U.S.] much more poorly educated than the average American, they have a lot more catching up to do just to get to where the average American is.” What their children achieve is tremendous educational and economic progress.


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