Friday, October 03, 2008

Which immigrant groups shift us toward a more educated society? The General Social Survey asked immigrants to America about their highest degree. I looked at the percent over age 25 who answered bachelors degree or higher:

Percent with bachelors degree or higher

East Indian 74.3
Chinese 71.1
Arab 60.6
Japanese 51.2
Swedish 50.0
Filipino 49.2
Russian 48.7
English 45.3
French 45.2
Polish 33.7
African 32.8

Native-born Americans 23.2

Italian 9.9
Puerto Rican 7.9
Mexican 5.4

All groups are higher than native-born Americans except for Italians (this might surprise you) and Hispanics (which shouldn't surprise you if you read this blog). Mexicans immigrants are the largest of the immigrant groups and yet produce very few college graduates. We should welcome the handful and discourage the rest.

Some people think this low number is a temporary thing: Each new generation will do much better than its parents, they claim. While it is true that some of the children of these Mexican immigrants will finish college, a large number will at most finish high school.

I looked to see how far the children of Hispanic fathers with 4-year degrees go in school. It turns out that 42.2% of them at most finish high school. That is compared to 30% of the children of whites with a bachelors and 39.0% of blacks. In other words, Latinos who have finished college are more likely than their black counterparts to have children who grow the lower class. And if educated Hispanic immigrants produce this many low achieving kids, what about all those with only a few years of school?

Seventy-nine percent of Hispanic respondents have a father who finished high school or less (40.6% and 38.4%). Of those with a father who dropped out, 20.5% didn't finish high school themselves, and 56.0% did not go to college. The corresponding numbers for people with fathers who competed high school are 5.1% and 55.6%.

Put simply, very few Hispanic immigrants go to college, and it only improves a bit for their descendants. Let's face it: Latinos can be characterized as a working-class population with a few upwardly mobile folks on the one hand, and an underclass on the other. It is unlikely to change substantially, and constant swamping by new immigrants only exacerbates the situation.

Americans and Hispanic communities themselves have been ironically blessed by the economic downturn: as USA Today tells us, fewer illegals are now coming. Maybe I'll vote for the candidate who will deepen and extend the recession as long as possible!


  1. Anonymous4:41 AM

    Thanks for the stats. Priceless. It proves just how uneducated Mexicans are. We really do not need them. Let them go home and fix the country that they love so much with their damn flags everywhere.

  2. Switching focus a bit, I would have said that the very low college numbers for Italian immigrants are attributable to the fact that many of them are elderly people who came to America as children in the last pre-WWII surge of European immigration, and grew up in America when going to college wasn't so popular. But the same would likely be true for the other European groups on the list, except perhaps the Polish, and these groups have much higher college numbers. I'm at a loss to explain the Italians.

  3. Anonymous6:27 PM

    Possible explanation: Italians stopped emigrating, while Poland is still a big people-exporting country.

    Re "England" and France: I'd bet that a huge percentage of those who immigrate to the US are not ethnic English or French and really don't have anything like the attachment to those counties that Italians tend to have toward Italy.
    Of course England is really not a place that anyone seems to have much of an attachment to anymore.

  4. Possible explanation: Italians stopped emigrating, while Poland is still a big people-exporting country.

    As I explained in an e-mail to Ron, this issue intrigues me as I'm partly of Italian descent. On further consideration, my earlier comment, about the advanced age of many Italian immigrants, probably isn't true. European immigration largely dried up in the 1920's and even people who came as children then are mostly gone today. Similarly, not many of the post-WWII Italian war brides (see The Bridges of Madison County) are still around.

    Growing up in the 1970's in a Connecticut city that long has had a big Italian-American population, I actually went to school with a handful of recent Italian immigrants. Apparently, there was a trickle of immigration in the 1960's and 1970's, sort of a last gasp. I wouldn't imagine that the numbers would be sufficient to cause the strange GSS results even if most of these immigrants weren't college material, however.

    It still remains a bit of a mystery why Italian immigrants score so poorly on the attended-college scale.

  5. The population of Italian born Americans is extremely old, average age is probably in the high 70's.

    You can see this if you look at "language spoken at home" in Census data, the number of native Italian (and German, French, and Yiddish) speakers is dropping very quickly as the last of the early 20th century european immigrants die off.

    It is also heavily female, since women outlive men.

    In summary, most Italian immigrants in the USA are women born 1915-1935. Of course average education will be very low in such a group, few native females born those years went to college either. The small number of recent immigrants from rich Western European countries is extremely educated, but they are a demographic drop in the bucket.


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