The Difference a Generation Makes: Numbers Behind Ascending Children of Immigrants

U.S.-born adult offspring of immigrants are richer, more educated, and consider themselves more assimilated into U.S. culture than their parents, according to a new report released by the Pew Research Center.

"This is the American story," Paul Taylor, Pew's executive vice president, told the New York Daily News.

Historically, newcomers have gained in financial, educational, or social status at a step above their forebearers.

{{ BIZOBJ (photo: 25757) }}The more recent Pew research, collected over several years and integrated with Census Bureau data, shows that in the modern era the majority of second-generation adults consider themselves a "typical American," are more likely to speak English, and are more likely to socialize with people outside of their racial group.

As a group, second-generation citizens also place higher values on education and hard work and consider themselves more liberal than the general U.S. public, an indication that this generation, while deeply entrenched in the American melting pot, also retains deeply held values long associated with immigrants.

(Related Story: Immigrant Share of the Population Could Reach Huge 1900 Levels)

Of the 20 million U.S.-born second-generation adults, nearly 70 percent are Hispanics and Asian-Americans, and together with native-born children and first-generation immigrants total nearly 76 million or about a quarter of the U.S. population.

Pew expects this number to swell to 160 million by 2050, for a total share of 37 percent. Even more impressive: Almost all growth, 93 percent, of the U.S. working-age population for the next 37 years will be largely attributed to the same immigrants and their native-born offspring.

{{ BIZOBJ (photo: 25758) }}Second-generation adults tend to be younger, with a median age of 38, than both their immigrant parents at 43 and the general U.S. population at 46. They're also more diverse, with no racial or ethnic group holding majority status. Whites, at 46 percent, have the largest share, with Hispanics close behind at 35 percent. Asians make up the third largest share at 12 percent.

On nearly all accounts, second-generation adults appear to be better off or equal to the general public and faring better than their immigrant parents. Close to 65 percent of the nation's residents are homeowners, compared with 64 percent of second-generation adults and 51 percent of first-generation adults. While the poverty rate hovers around 13 percent for the U.S., just 11 percent of second-generation adults are in poverty, compared with 18 percent of first-generation adults.

Overall, the data seem to support the idea that these adult offspring are doing well, appearing to satisfy the goal of many who say they emigrate to the U.S. to find a better life for their children.

In mid-2012, a Pew report on upward mobility of Americans found that 84 percent of all adults have a higher income than their parents at the same age. But like any aggregated set of data, that varied widely when dissecting by race and ethnicity and poverty status. Blacks and those born in lower-income brackets had a much more difficult time ascending than others.

Most second-generation Americans in the report are children of early 20th-century immigrants, not today's immigrants — an important distinction, Pew notes. That distinction makes it difficult to ascertain whether upward mobility has occurred for second-generation adults.

In any event, the sentiment, at least, is there: Three-quarters of second-generation Asian-Americans and 67 percent of Hispanics say their standard of living is higher than their parents. In comparison, just 60 percent of the U.S. population feels the same.

While it's difficult to predict whether second-generation adults will wholly surpass the phenomenal success associated with early immigrants from the 19th and 20th centuries, "What we can say with certainty is that members of the second generation will have a major impact on this nation's destiny for decades," the report states.