After moving to the U.S., research has shown that some ethnic groups fare better than others. Specifically, research has suggested that Asian immigrants tend to do better once arriving in the U.S.—quickly earning college degrees and climbing the economic ladder—than Hispanic immigrants. But it’s also true that as some immigrant families become more assimilated, children and grandchildren may cease to identify with their country and ethnicity of origin. And that can make the data used to determine progress a bit more difficult to accurately interpret, according to a new paper from National Bureau of Economic Research.
The study’s authors, Brian Duncan and Stephen J. Trejo, identify this phenomenon—when future generations no longer identify with the race or ethnicity of their parents or grandparents—as “ethnic attrition.”
Most methods for evaluating how different ethnic groups are faring require only self identification and the country of an individual’s birth, with little data about the immigration status of previous generations. Thus when the children and grandchildren of immigrants don’t identify themselves as a part of a particular ethnic group, data about economic progress can be skewed. The lack of ethnic identification among descendants is pretty important because the most significant progress in socioeconomic mobility happens across generations—from parents, to children, to grandchildren—not within one individual’s lifespan.
In order to get a better picture of immigrant groups, the authors parse detailed data from the Current Population Survey, which asks individuals not only about their country of birth, but their parents as well (information not provided to other surveys such as the Census or the American Community survey). By putting together more than a decades’ worth of CPS data the authors are able to piece together a more robust three-generation portrait of families that includes the more concrete measure of country of origin, in addition to subjective identification. (The data is nevertheless limited for capturing the third generation because researchers included only biological children of married parents.)