Academic journal article Demographic Research

A Summary Period Measure of Immigrant Advancement in the U.S

Academic journal article Demographic Research

A Summary Period Measure of Immigrant Advancement in the U.S

Article excerpt


This paper proposes a method for summarizing the pace of advancement of the foreign-born population in a given period. The method standardizes for variations in the duration of residence or age composition of immigrant groups, attainments possessed by different groups when first observed after entry, and other temporal effects on measured advances, forming an index of Expected Lifetime Advance based on the pace of change in a period. The measure is applied to Mexican and Asian immigrants. Between the 1980s and the 1990s, the rates of advancement for Mexicans accelerated in six out of seven social, economic, and civic outcomes. Rates of advancement for Asians were similar in both decades. A worked example of the calculation of the index can be found in an Excel workbook published with the paper.

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1. Introduction

The status attainment of immigrants to the U.S., including their pace of advancement while resident in the U.S., is a source of continuing debate. Despite a large volume of detailed research, surprisingly little is known about the general pace of advancement, how it varies between groups, and how rates of advancement among immigrants have varied between decades. Assessments of changes over time are subject to substantial biases due to variations in the composition of groups along major temporal dimensions, including age, length of residence, and age at arrival. In order to correct for these biases, this paper proposes a summary measure of immigrant advancement based on techniques of standardization and commonly available data.

The new measure of immigrant advancement proposed in this article summarizes the advances of immigrants at all ages and stages of the settlement process in the period between two censuses or surveys. Separate estimates are prepared for each of several outcome criteria, thus yielding a profile of immigrant advancement in different life domains. An essential feature of the proposed measure is that it distinguishes between attainment levels and incremental rates of advance in the intercensal period, thus separating out the cumulative effects of initial endowments and advances in prior periods. Rates of advancement are observed for distinct cohorts and are combined into a standardized index that is net of compositional effects, such as changes in age distribution, recency of arrival, and age at arrival. We call this index the Expected Lifetime Advancement (ELA) index. A separate index is compiled for each criterion variable of interest for immigrants' status attainment or progress.

As a demonstration of the new measure, we estimate the advances of immigrants to the U.S. from two geographical regions over two decades. Advances are measured for seven indicators of cultural, educational, economic, and civic status. Taken together, the measured advances in different domains create a much fuller picture of the overall progress of first-generation immigrants than can be obtained from looking at any single outcome, and the differences observed between the decades illustrate how variable the pace of advancement can be in different periods.

The chief advantage of using the proposed measure is that our understanding of immigrants' advances over time has been impeded by a confounding of multiple time dimensions and temporal variables. A wealth of empirical studies have yielded a multitude of specific measurements of immigrant status attainment and advancement. Temporal biases are especially problematic when one temporal dimension-e.g., period, age, duration of U.S. residence, or age at arrival-is controlled for, but others are not. In addition, many studies have focused on a single domain of inquiry, a single time period, and sometimes even a single cohort. The result has been a plethora of disjointed and inconsistent results that yield little information about the overall progress made by immigrants. We are thus unable to answer the most basic questions, including ". …

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