Thursday, March 22, 2007

Seeing oneself as white faciliates assimilation: I sometimes treat American Hispanic groups as if they are all the same, but some are much more assimilated than others. Educational attainment is a nice indicator of just how far a person has entered the cultural mainstream, so using the American Community Survey I looked at mean educational levels of the different Latino groups. I wish the scores made more sense: a 7 means 12 years of education, a 6 is 11 years, and a 5 is 10 years.

Mean education score (percent white in parentheses)

Argentinean 6.80 (87.9)
Venezuelan 6.77 (74.8)
Chilean 6.63 (78.1)
Peruvian 6.55 (62.1)

Not Hispanic 6.50 (84.1)

Panamanian 6.52 (42.6)
Spaniard 6.41 (81.4)
Bolivian 6.38 (72.5)
South American 6.37 (69.8)
Columbian 6.35 (71.5)
Costa Rican 6.24 (68.5)
Cuban 6.22 (86.9)
Uruguayan 6.11 (86.6)
Ecuadorian 5.98 (57.9)
Nicaraguan 5.88 (65.0)
Central American 5.56 (44.7)
Puerto Rican 5.47 (57.8)
Dominican 5.31 (36.3)
Honduran 5.13 (54.6)
Mexican 4.82 (58.8)
Guatemalan 4.76 (51.4)
Salvadoran 4.76 (52.3)

As you can see, four South American groups are higher than the non-Hispanic average. (Keep in mind that non-Hispanics are older which lowers the mean, and the mean is further reduced by inclusion of blacks). My favorite group, Mexicans, along with two Central American countries, are at the bottom. Caribbean groups are also on the bottom half. Evidently, educational levels tend to be higher among people who've come from more distant Latin American countries.

I suspected that greater numbers of white Hispanics would assimilate, so I calculated the percent in each group that is white (shown in parentheses). Race is self-described, and it is clear that, unlike with some other minority groups, there is a bias to see oneself as white. I take this as a good sign that many Latinos identify with mainstream American society. I calculated the Pearson correlation between mean educational score and percent white: it's .62. This squares with the idea that, in general, being white faciliates assimilation in American society. Or more accurately, seeing oneself as white, rather than being seen as white, facilitates assimilation.


  1. A blood test study in the 1980s in San Antonio found a positive correlation between genetic markers for European heritage and class of neighborhood.

    Another thing along these lines, although it probably couldn't be studied from the GSS: first names correlate with assimilation. "Cameron Diaz" is a lot more likely to be assimilated than "Yesmenia Diaz."

  2. Anonymous3:14 PM

    Then again, Cameron Diaz could pass for a Sweede regardless of her name. And speaking of actors who have change names, I had no idea until a few years ago that the Sheens (Charlie and Martin) are the brother and father of Emilio Estevez. Does anyone know what their exact background? I'm guessing it isn't Dominican.

  3. Estevez is the original family name. Martin Sheen adopted his last name when he got into the movies. Their family comes from Spain, not Latin America.

  4. tommy5:28 PM

    Peru is not a very white country. Venezuela isn't particularly white either. Is our country attracting mostly the elites from both countries?

  5. According to the CIA, Peru is only 15% white. I imagine this is an objective estimate. My impression is that Venezuela is whiter. I think there is some selection here for whiter immigrants, as well as some immigrants who would be classified as mestizos by others but who think of themselves as white.

  6. Anonymous9:06 PM

    The fact that (for example) 58.8% of Mexicans self-describe as "white" is conclusive proof that the Latin American and U.S. concepts of "white" are very, very different. I would imagine that the percentage of Mexicans who would be classified as white according to U.S. standards is in the single digits.

    Iron Rails & Iron Weights

  7. The Sheen-Estevezes are Spanish on their paternal side and Irish on their maternal side.

  8. Here's a picture of Andres Martinez, opinion page editor of the LA Times until this week:

    He looks, I don't know, Latvian?

  9. Steve, he does look like one! :)

    Btw, here's how Latvian parlamentarians look (there are some Russians there though):


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