Ethnic Mobility and Inequality in Southern California

Project Date:
Nov 2008
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

More immigrants have settled in Southern California since the 1960s than in any other metropolitan region in the world. Los Angeles County, which in 1960 had the smallest proportion of immigrants of any large city in the U.S.—eight percent—now counts ethnic minorities as 71 percent of its total population, making it the largest ethnic-minority population in the country. Indeed, all the counties of Southern California have a so-called minority majority, with populations that are more than 50 percent minority residents—most of them immigrants or children of immigrants. The U.S.-born second generation now has a median age of 12; when this group reaches adulthood in the coming decades, it will do so in a climate of profound social and economic transformation. California’s future will be fundamentally shaped by how the new second generation reaches adulthood and is incorporated in the region’s economy, polity and society.  

Sociologist Rubén Rumbaut asserts that virtually every aspect of that incorporation will be influenced by the nature and extent of second-generation immigrants’ access to and attainment of post-secondary education. Population forecasts suggest that in the coming two decades, immigrants and their children will account for most of the growth in the United States labor force, with the fastest growing occupations requiring college degrees. Yet in California there are already not enough eligible college graduates to meet demand. 

Rumbaut will write a book with a special focus on education, at both individual and institutional levels of analysis. Rumbaut’s book will include an analysis of how the education of immigrants is associated with such variables as their occupation, income, health, acculturation, incarceration, family formation and early childbearing. He will also examine the influence of religious, political, ethnic, and racial identities.  Information on these variables will be derived from two projects funded by the Russell Sage Foundation: the 2004 Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA) survey and the third wave of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS-III).   

Rumbaut will systematically analyze the social mobility of the second generation as they become young adults. He will focus on nine ethnic groups with distinct modes of incorporation, comparing them to native-born peers (white, black, and Mexican American) and examining the inequalities that are being produced and enlarged by the incorporation process. Preliminary analyses show that among groups comprising immigrant laborers (Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans) and refugees (Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians), both fathers and mothers, on average, had less than a high school education. In contrast, immigrant Filipino, Chinese, and Korean parents are far more likely to be college graduates. Some are much more likely than others to grow up in unstable residential contexts, in poorer and more dangerous neighborhoods. Nonetheless, compared to their parents, nearly all groups seem to show intergenerational educational progress, albeit at very different rates. Rumbaut will measure these rates at both poles of educational attainment, and seek to explain their determinants while contrasting regional patterns to national ones.


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