Gender Differences in Young Latino Adults' Status Attainment: Understanding Bilingualism in the Familial Context

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Previous studies have demonstrated that bilingualism among Latinos in the United States may not necessarily result in negative status attainment consequences. Such studies have typically overlooked gender differences in the consequences of bilingualism. Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (N = 866 females; 737 males), we analyzed gender differences in how bilingualism among Latino families (as experienced in childhood and adolescence) may affect the status attainment of young adults. Results indicated that females were more substantially affected by language use and ability in the family context than males. The findings suggest that gender roles within Latino families are interwoven with the effects of bilingualism. Practice and policy implications include how schools and educators must address the gendered nature of bilingualism.

Key Words: bilingualism, gender differences, Latino families, status attainment, young adults.

Among the numerous ethnic minorities in the United States, Latinos, in particular, have received a great deal of attention from researchers in the social sciences. The ever-increasing size of the Latino population has led many researchers, educators, and practitioners to have greater concern about the nature of bilingualism, particularly for children and young adults. Contrary to stereotyped expectations, researchers have demonstrated that bilingual Latino children do not, in fact, suffer because of their language abilities. Rather, studies have consistently shown that bilingual Latino children have higher levels of cognitive attainment (Garcia, 1992), are less likely to drop out of school (Feliciano, 2001), and have higher rates of high school completion than their monolingual counterparts (Fernandez & Nielsen, 1986; Villanueva, 1996). Although such findings suggest that bilingual abilities should be considered an asset, rather than a handicap for Latino youth, other researchers have called for greater focus on the intricate nature of bilingual abilities and the extent to which bilingualism is fostered within families (Ortiz, 1986).

This study examined the manners by which bilingualism within Latino families may affect the educational and occupational status attainment of young adult males and females. The bilingual ability and usage patterns developed within the context of the family are regarded as influencing the eventual status attainment of individuals. Given that Latino families are often thought of as having a unique set of gender roles and gendered expectations for their daughters and sons, this study separately examined the role of bilingualism in the status attainment of females and males. Based on previous studies on gender and bilingualism, it was found that the nature of bilingualism in the family (as experienced in the childhood and adolescent years) affects the eventual status attainment of young Latinas and Latinos in distinct and different manners.

Bilingualism and Status Attainment

The status of language minority groups in the United States has typically attracted a great deal of debate, particularly in regard to their inclusion in American schools (Locke, 1992). Such debates have largely focused on the impact of bilingualism on performance in school (e.g., Rumberger & Larson, 1998). Given that educational performance and attainment are crucial to the obtainment of a desirable occupation (e.g., well paying, prestigious), an understanding of the role of language within status attainment processes is absolutely essential.

Latinos are not alone in regard to their use of a non-English language, but the greater share of research on bilingualism has dealt with Spanishspeaking children and adults. Despite the stereotyped belief that bilingualism may effectively "hold children back," researchers have found evidence to the contrary. McMillen, Kaufman, and Klein (1997), in a comparison of students who spoke either Spanish at home or English at home, found no statistically significant difference in their respective drop out rates. …