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New Book Examines Young Children of Black Immigrants from Caribbean & Africa, Assessing their School Readiness, Health Outcomes and Well-Being Compared to Other Child Populations
Press Release
Friday, December 14, 2012

New Book Examines Young Children of Black Immigrants from Caribbean & Africa, Assessing their School Readiness, Health Outcomes and Well-Being Compared to Other Child Populations

Under-Examined Group Forms Growing Share of U.S. Black Child Population

WASHINGTON — Immigration has been a key driver of the rapidly changing demographics of the child population in the United States, with nearly one in four U.S. residents under age 18 the child of an immigrant. Latino, Black, Asian and multiracial children are nearing a majority of the nation’s child population, already accounting for more than half of those under age 1.

While significant research has focused on the children of Latino and Asian immigrants, far less attention has been given to the young children (birth through age 10) of Black immigrants. This research gap comes amid rapid diversification of the country’s Black population over the past two decades as a result of increased levels of immigration from Africa and ongoing migration from the Caribbean. The 1.3 million children in Black immigrant families account for 11 percent of all Black children in America.

A new major volume released today by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Young Children of Black Immigrants in America: Changing Flows, Changing Faces, examines demographic and other characteristics of young Black immigrants, comparing them with peers from other races, ethnicity and nativity across health, well-being and school readiness indicators as well as academic achievement. The book, featuring research by a distinguished group of interdisciplinary scholars, seeks to fill the gap in knowledge about the well-being and development of these young children. It results from MPI’s two-year Young Children in Black Immigrant Families research initiative, which was supported through a grant from the Foundation for Child Development.

“It has long been known that parental economic, social and other resources are critically important for development during early childhood. These resources vary considerably among the Black immigrant population, which is strikingly diverse in its origins, languages, patterns of integration and cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds,” said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, who co-edited the volume. “As a result, when viewed in the aggregate, young children of Black immigrants often come out in the middle on indicators of development and well-being when compared with children in other demographic groups, born to natives and immigrants alike. They do have widely varying outcomes, however, based on country of origin, mode of entry, and generation.”

The research in the volume finds a number of protective factors for children in families headed by immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean, including high rates of parental education and workforce participation, high rates of English proficiency, strong parental support for education and healthy maternal behaviors (such as lower rates of smoking and higher rates of breastfeeding). One striking and consistent finding across a number of the chapters is the high rate of center-based child care among children of Black immigrants.

Yet the news is not all positive. “There are two areas in particular where children of Black immigrants overall face greater risks than other children of immigrants: family structure and housing,” said volume co-editor Randy Capps, an MPI senior policy analyst. “They are significantly more likely to live in single-parent families than children of Hispanic, Asian or white immigrants. And they are less likely than non-Hispanic white and Asian children to live in homes that their parents own, and more likely to live in crowded housing.”

Among other findings in the book:

  • Advanced education and predominance of English: African immigrants are substantially more likely than the U.S. population overall to hold a four-year college degree or higher (38 versus 27 percent). Seventy-five percent of Black immigrants speak English fluently compared to 48 percent of immigrants overall. Educational attainment and English proficiency represent important advantages for Black immigrant parents in promoting early child development — factors associated with higher earnings and better socioeconomic status in America.
  • Poverty rates vary: Overall, poverty rates among children of Black immigrants (19 percent) are lower than those for children of native Blacks (35 percent), but nearly twice as high as those for children of native non-Hispanic whites (10 percent).
  • Struggles in academic achievement: Studies of two of the nation’s largest urban school districts (New York City and Miami-Dade County) suggest that Black immigrant students face significant hurdles to strong academic performance — including English language proficiency and school segregation. The studies focus on first-generation students, who may not have had the advantages of center-based child care and other early childhood supports that U.S.-born children of immigrants often receive.  

The volume’s findings suggest the importance of sustained support for a robust refugee resettlement policy (29 percent of refugees during the 2000s were of African nationality), one with the ability to track the progress of children of refugees in the long term. And with Black immigrants concentrated in a relatively limited number of states, including New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and Florida, the immigrant integration policies of those states are likely to have a significant impact on the well-being and life trajectories of their children.

The findings also make clear the significance of the contested Diversity Visa program to flows of African migrants, who receive about half of all such visas.

To learn more about the Young Children in Black Immigrant Families research initiative undertaken by MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/cbi. For members of press interested in arranging interviews or obtaining a review the book, contact Michelle Mittelstadt at 202-266-1910 or [email protected].

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. Its National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for policymakers, state and local agency managers, local service providers and others seeking to respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities. For more on MPI, please visit  www.migrationpolicy.org.