“Are Mexicans the most successful immigrant group in the U.S.?”

Two sociologists argue that looking at where they start when they immigrate compared to their children’s outcomes, Mexicans may be the most successful immigrant group:

Like Chua and Rubenfeld, we found that the children of Chinese immigrants exhibit exceptional educational outcomes that exceed those of other groups, including native-born Anglos. In Los Angeles, 64 percent of Chinese immigrants’ children graduated from college, and of this group 22 percent also attained a graduate degree. By contrast, 46 percent of native-born Anglos in L.A. graduated from college, and of this group, just 14 percent attained graduate degrees. Moreover, none of the Chinese-Americans in the study dropped out of high school.

These figures are impressive but not surprising. Chinese immigrant parents are the most highly educated in our study. In Los Angeles, over 60 percent of Chinese immigrant fathers and over 40 percent of Chinese immigrant mothers have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In turn, their children benefit from their parents’ human and financial capital, giving them a boost in their quest to get ahead…

At what seems to be the other end of the spectrum, the children of Mexican immigrants had the lowest levels of educational attainment of any of the groups in our study. Only 86 percent graduated from high school—compared to 100 percent of Chinese-Americans and 96 percent of native-born Anglos—and only 17 percent of graduated from college. But their high school graduation rate was more than double that of their parents, only 40 percent of whom earned diplomas. And, the college graduation rate of Mexican immigrants’ children more than doubles that of their fathers (7 percent) and triples that of their mothers (5 percent)…

A colleague of mine illustrated this point with a baseball analogy: Most Americans would be more impressed by someone who made it to second base starting from home plate than someone who ended up on third base, when their parents started on third base. But because we tend to focus strictly on outcomes when we talk about success and mobility, we fail to acknowledge that the third base runner didn’t have to run far at all.

It sounds like measuring mobility rather than just outcomes leads to different conclusions. And, of course, the starting points for all groups when they come to the U.S. are based on long histories and social conditions and groups can receive very different receptions in the U.S.

I wonder how these findings would go over with the average American citizen: Mexicans are the most successful immigrant group? You wouldn’t suspect this with a lot of the rhetoric out there…

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