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Second-Generation Mexicans in the United States: Getting Ahead or Falling Behind?
Press Release
Thursday, March 2, 2006

Second-Generation Mexicans in the United States: Getting Ahead or Falling Behind?

Of the 5.7 million children of immigrants under age 10 in the United States, 37 percent of them are of Mexican origin. Because Mexican immigrants have been largely concentrated in low-wage, low-skilled jobs, some analysts contend that their children will have limited access to education and the workforce and could become part of a “rainbow underclass.” But in a new release from the Migration Information Source, Roger Waldinger and Renee Reichl from the University of California, Los Angeles find reasons for optimism.

Dr. Waldinger and Ms. Reichl note that while the absolute progress between first- and second-generation Mexicans is promising, a substantial gap remains relative to whites. Addressing this disparity – particularly in college education and the associated access to higher level jobs with greater rewards – will become increasingly important due to the significant numbers of young Mexican-Americans in the United States today. Some highlights of their research, which is based on Current Population Survey data, include:


Compared to other groups, Mexican immigrants ages 16 to 20 are the least likely to be in school, with only 40 percent enrolled (compared to 66 percent of whites) in 2000. In contrast, 64 percent of second-generation Mexicans were enrolled. Meanwhile, Mexican foreign-born youth who were not in school were the most likely of any group to hold jobs – 80 percent of Mexican male youth, compared to 72 percent of white males and 65 percent of white females.

Since it is less common for people to be in school from ages 21 to 25, and young adulthood is the prime age for migration (especially among the low skilled), enrollment in school is rare among Mexican immigrants in this age group – only 4.7 percent were enrolled full-time in 2000. Full-time enrollment jumped to 15.4 percent for second-generation Mexicans in this age bracket, behind enrollment rates of whites (at 21.7 percent).

In 1970, one in ten adults in the United States possessed a college education or higher; by 2004, this had risen to approximately one in three. For Mexican immigrants during the same period, these rates rose from 2 to 6 percent. In contrast, 14 percent of second-generation Mexicans held college degrees or higher in 2004. While a vast increase over the education levels of the first generation, it is still about half the rate of whites (at 31.7 percent).


In 1970, 46 percent of women were working; by 2004, this rate had risen to 68 percent. The sharpest gains came from second-generation Mexican women, with 39 percent working in 1970 and 70 percent working in 2004, placing them on par with white women (at 70.5 percent).

In terms of earnings, Mexican immigrants earned half as much as whites in 2000, and Mexican immigrant women had the lowest earnings of all groups. Second-generation Mexican men, who earned 76 percent as much as whites, stood at the midpoint between the earnings of the Mexican foreign-born and whites.

While two-thirds of white males received some form of health coverage from their employers in 2000, only one-third (35 percent) of Mexican immigrants did. By contrast, just over half (52 percent) of second-generation Mexican men had employer-sponsored health insurance. Mexican immigrant women were the most disadvantaged, with only 18 percent receiving health coverage, a rate that jumped to 38 percent for second-generation Mexican women (but still behind the rate for white women, at 46 percent).

In terms of pensions, just over half of white men and women were covered by pensions from employers (56.4 and 50.4 percent, respectively) in 2000. For Mexican immigrants, this dropped to one in five. However, for second-generation Mexicans, approximately 43 percent of men and women were covered by pensions.

This article in the March issue of the Migration Information Source is available at: https://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?ID=382