Finding the Lost Generation: Identifying Second-Generation Immigrants in Federal Statistics (Douglas S. Massey)


1. This article underscores the importance of adding a question on parental birthplace to the American Community Survey (ACS). This question was removed from the long form of the U.S. Census after 1970 and replaced by a question on ancestry. While the former provides accurate information about a demographic fact that is critical to the identification of the children of immigrants, the latter refers to a subjective social construction that has limited utility for purposes of program administration, apportionment, or governance. At the time that the parental birthplace question was eliminated, the percentage of ACS respondents who were foreign-born had reached an all-time low, and the second generation was aging and shrinking, so the loss to the nation's statistical system was not immediately apparent. With the revival of immigration in the final quarter of the twentieth century, the inability to identify and study the second generation has become glaringly apparent. Immigrants and their children now constitute a quarter of the U.S. population: their non-white racial origins and a widespread lack of legal documents among them render their prospects for integration uncertain. Our current inability to accurately measure progress between first- and second-generation immigrants now constitutes a major weakness in the U.S. statistical system.

2. Keywords: immigrants; integration; second generation; assimilation


3. How the Second Generation Got “Lost”. . Civil rights legislation covers more than just AFRICAN Americans, of course, and Hispanics also mobilized during the 1960s to advance their interests. A key element in their mobilization was the demand for the inclusion of a pan-ethnic Hispanic identifier on the decennial census, . . .

4. The addition of a Hispanic identifier triggered demands from other national-origin groups for their own identifier, notably the DESCENDANTS OF SOUTHERN AND EASTERN EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS who had experienced exclusion and discrimination earlier in the twentieth century (Higham 2002). In reaction to the political mobilization of BLACKs and Latinos, many of them were in the process of mobilizing as self-identified “white ethnics” who were defiantly “unmeltable” .

5. Among the children of immigrants in the United States today, 58 percent are Hispanic, 21 percent are Asian or Middle Eastern, and 8 percent are AFRICAN, with only 12 percent coming from Europe, Canada, or Australia. .