Hispanics study tests assumptions
20th-century Latinos, Europeans equal in climbing economic ladder
Tucson, Arizona Friday, 23 May 2003
By Deborah Kong
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants move up the economic and
educational ladder in the United States as
quickly as generations of European immigrants did, a new study says.
The finding contrasts with prevailing beliefs that Latin American immigrants
haven't mirrored Europeans' generational advances because they make less of an
effort to assimilate, take frequent trips back to their home countries and have
faced discrimination, said James Smith, an economist at RAND, a nonprofit
research group in Santa Monica, Calif.
Smith wrote the study, which appears in the May edition of the American Economic
"There's a widespread view among both scholars and the general public that the
Latino immigrant experience has been very different than the European experience
and the Asian experience," Smith said Thursday.
"That view is just wrong. Across generations, Latinos have done just as well as
the Europeans who came in the early part of this century, and in fact slightly
Smith said previous research has used data from a very limited time period. In
his study, Smith examined census and other material to measure the progress of
Hispanic men and their descendants over more than a century, up to those born in
The study found Hispanic immigrants born between 1905 and 1909 had just a
fifth-grade education. But their sons completed ninth grade and their grandsons
graduated from high school. Those gains are even higher than European immigrants
born during the same time period, Smith said.
Immigrants born during those same years earned 75 percent as much as U.S.-born
white men over their lifetimes, according to the study. Their sons earned about
79 percent as much, and their grandsons almost 83 percent as much.
"Second- and third-generation Hispanic men have made great strides in closing
their economic gaps with native whites," Smith writes in the study.
In general, third-generation Hispanics' income is only about 10 percent behind
U.S.-born whites, taking into account educational differences, he said.
However, by the third generation, educational gains appear to drop off as
Hispanics begin to look much like the rest of the U.S. population, the study
Smith's study only looks at men, but his research on Hispanic women shows a
similar pattern, he said.
Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a research group, cautions
against making projections based on trends in the study.