Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Second-Generation Americans, by the Numbers

U.S.-born adult children of immigrants–the second generation–are better off than immigrants on key measures of socio-economic well-being, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data. Among Hispanics and Asians, the second generation is more likely than the immigrant generation to think of themselves as a “typical American,” according to survey data cited in the same report.

“Second-Generation Americans: A Portrait of the Adult Children of Immigrants” is a data snapshot of the 20 million adults born in the U.S. who have at least one immigrant parent. Using data mainly from the 2012 Current Population Survey, it compares their circumstances with those of nation’s immigrants (the first generation) and with the total adult population.  The adult second generation is young (median age 38, compared with 46 for U.S. adults overall) and has no racial or ethnic majority group. Most were born since the onset of the nation’s most recent four-decade wave of immigration, mainly from Latin America and Asia.


Among the key measures on which the second generation U.S.-born adults are better off than immigrant adults: Their median adjusted annual household income and homeownership rates are higher.  They are more likely to hold a college degree. The share in poverty is lower. On all these measures, second generation adults are at least as well off as the overall adult population. The report also includes detailed data, by immigrant generation, for Hispanic, Asian-American, white and black adults.

In terms of attitudes, the new Pew Research report uses survey data on a wide range of topics to compare Hispanic and Asian-American adults by generation. The second generation of both groups is more likely than immigrants to think of themselves as a “typical American” and to say their group gets along with other groups, as well as to have friends or spouses from outside their ethnic or racial group. Compared with the overall population, second-generation Hispanics and Asian Americans are more likely to call themselves liberal and less likely to identify with Republicans.

Pew Research population projections show that the first and second generations will play a large role in the nation’s future growth, making up virtually all of the increase through 2050 in the nation’s working-age population. By 2050, the combined two generations, including adults and children, are projected to grow to 160 million, from the current 76 million, and make up a record 37% of the population.

It is important to keep in mind that this report does not attempt to assess generational progress–to answer the question of whether the children of immigrants are doing better than their parents. As the report states:

Second-generation adults in the U.S. today are not necessarily the children of immigrants in the U.S. today. Although today’s second generation includes some adults who are the children of today’s immigrant population, it also includes some whose parents arrived more than a century ago and are no longer living so are not in the data. The reverse also is true: Today’s immigrants are not necessarily the parents of the adult second generation. The U.S. first generation includes some immigrants who have no children or whose children are not yet adults. Furthermore, because generational progress occurs over years or decades, a true comparison between the first and second generations would show today’s second generation compared with their parents at a similar stage of life. That would require historical data not available here.



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