April 25, 1996 Vol. 25 No. 31

Family splits affect fate of immigrants

By Scott Turner
Public Information

A study of Asian and Latin American immigrants shows that as groups spend more time in the United States, an increasing percentage of their children live in single-parent families, particularly Latinos, and that poverty and one-parent households go hand-in-hand.

The finding indicates how difficult it could be for future generations of some U.S. immigrants to improve their economic status. It also indicates that assimilation should no longer be viewed as a process where every segment of each succeeding generation does better.

The study was conducted by two University sociologists, Nancy Landale and Sal Oropesa, who examined 1990 U.S. census data on 1.2 million children. About 15 percent of all U.S. children are first- or second-generation immigrants. The origins of most of those children are in Asia or Latin America.

The researchers describe a striking increase in the prevalence of single-parent families across Latino generations. For example, Mexican-American children in single-parent families increase from 23 percent in the first generation to 39 percent in the third generation. Cuban-American children in single-parent families increase from about 25 percent in the first generation to 50 percent in the third generation.

This situation greatly complicates the long-term outlook of Latino immigrant children, Dr. Oropesa said. Children whose families have lived in this country for more generations may have parents with better positions and higher incomes, but access to those resources is often limited when family disruption occurs, he said.

Indeed, the researchers found that for all groups of Latinos, the percentage of third-generation children in poverty is much higher than among non-Latino whites.

The socioeconomic circumstances for Asian children generally improve with each succeeding generation in the United States..

Asian immigrants are more likely to be skilled professionals entering under employment-based visas, while Latinos are more likely to be unskilled, and sometimes undocumented, as part of manual labor migrations, Dr. Landale said.

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Last updated by Kathy L. Norris on April 24, 1996.