NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 16, 2008

The nation's immigrants are adopting American ways just as quickly as they were in 1990 despite a doubling in their numbers, according to a new report from the Manhattan Institute that measures how well immigrants fit in with native-born Americans on three fronts: economic, cultural and civic.

Mexicans and other Latin Americans are assimilating slowly, while other groups assimilate more rapidly, according to Jacob Vigdor, a Duke University professor.

The level of assimilation typically drops during times of high immigration because there are more newcomers who are different from native-born Americans.  It happened between 1900 and 1920, when the immigrant population grew 40 percent -- a much slower rate than the recent wave. Yet the rapid growth since 1990 has not caused as dramatic a decline in assimilation, explains Vigdor.

Measuring assimilation is challenging because it is difficult to define.  Vigdor uses characteristics that can distinguish immigrants from U.S. natives: economic (employment, occupations, education, homeownership); cultural (ability to speak English, marriage to natives, number of children); civic (naturalization, military service).  He finds:

  • Some immigrants, such as Canadians, fit in well culturally but not in civic involvement because they don't seek U.S. citizenship.
  • Mexicans assimilate better culturally than Vietnamese but rank lower economically.
  • Mexicans have the lowest civic assimilation of any immigrant group, the report says.

Vigdor also finds that immigrants:

  • Who arrive in the United States as children are almost indistinguishable from native-born.
  • From developed countries do not necessarily assimilate better than others.
  • Who speak English don't necessarily do better economically than those who don't.

Source: Haya El Nasser, "Some Immigrants Assimilate Faster," USA Today, May 13, 2008; based upon: Jacob L. Vigdor, "Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in the United States," Manhattan Institute, No. 53, May 2008.

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