The Immigration-Data Conundrum

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.

By The Atlantic
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