Working Paper No. 215 | November 1997

Achievement and Ambition among Children of Immigrants in Southern California

The influx of immigrants to the United States after 1965 has reached levels not seen since the early part of the century. The ability of these recent immigrant groups and their children to succeed in the American economy has been hotly debated but, until recently, little studied.

Rubin G. Rumbaut, a professor of sociology at Michigan State University and a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, summarizes the results of a study designed to examine the educational performance and social, cultural, and psychological adaptation of children of immigrants. Since 1991, the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS) has followed the progress of a large sample of teenage youths in Florida and California. In 1992, researchers interviewed over 5,200 eighth- and ninth-grade students in the San Diego, Dade County, and Broward County school districts. In 1995 and 1996, a second survey of the same group was conducted, supplemented by in-depth interviews of a stratified sample of their parents. The respondents were divided into seven groups by national/ethnic origin: Mexican, Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Hmong (a cultural and linguistic minority group in Laos), and others. About three-fourths of respondents had parents who were co-nationals. The rest were classified by their mother's origin unless the mother was US born, in which case they were classified by their father's nationality.

In many respects the patterns for these children of immigrants are much like the patterns for children of nonimmigrant, nonminority parents. Factors that appear to be associated with success in school are low-conflict and intact families, higher socioeconomic status, ambitious parents and peers, safer schools, and less television. Factors that significantly add to the developmental challenges faced by the children of immigrants include low competence in English, contextual dissonance, foreign birth and recency of arrival, entry into minority experiences and expectations of discrimination, and the acculturative stress and intergenerational conflict that accompany assimilation and discrimination.

Associated Program:
Rubin Rumbaut

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