According to new research by Frank D. Bean, sociology Chancellor’s Professor, pathways to legalization and citizenship appear to take on greater significance for overcoming disadvantages in Mexican American educational attainment than previously thought.

“Many of the grandparents of third generation Mexican Americans start their lives in the country as unauthorized residents,” he says. “While previous work has focused on how immigrant legal status might impact the second generation, our study assesses the degree to which this is the case and extends the inquiry into the third generation, showing that the drag on grandchildren educational attainment is significant.”

The work is based on a study he conducted with Susan K. Brown, UCI sociology associate professor, and Mark Leach, UCI sociology doctoral alumnus ’07 and currently a rural sociology assistant professor at Pennsylvania University. Using data collected in the Immigrant Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles phone survey which targeted, among other immigrant groups, persons in the first through fourth-plus Mexican American generations, the researchers found that an unauthorized grandparent status negatively influenced educational attainment of their children, the second generation, and that those effects lingered well into the third generation.

“Almost all of the educational gap between third generation Mexican-origin young adults and their non-Hispanic white counterparts can be explained as a result of their grandparents’ legal status,” he says.

Survey results indicated that, on average, grandchildren of unauthorized Mexican Americans in Los Angeles completed an average of two fewer years of schooling than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Conversely, of the third-generation Mexican Americans in Los Angeles whose grandparents could legalize, data showed that educational attainment was comparable to their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

Bean, who also directs the Center for Immigration, Population and Public Policy, presented the findings at a recent immigration conference held at Gallup World Headquarters in Washington, D.C. moderated by New York Times reporter Kirk Semple.

“Most current conventional interpretations of third-generation disadvantage tend to emphasize discrimination-based and school-based factors as explanations,” he says.

The new findings have different policy implications, he adds, as they suggest that unauthorized status – which could be a marker for discrimination and school-based factors – accounts for much of the generational education disadvantage.  

Portions of the study are published in the summer 2011 issue of the International Migration Review. Read more online.

connect with us


© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766