Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Latino and Latina Educational Attainment: An Investigation of Bi-Lingual Language Abilities and the Familial Context

Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Latino and Latina Educational Attainment: An Investigation of Bi-Lingual Language Abilities and the Familial Context

Article excerpt

Compared to other ethnic groups in the United States, Latinos have been shown to have lower levels of school performance. Researchers have often pointed to characteristics such as lower family incomes and greater numbers of children as reasons for their lower levels of academic success. Previous studies also suggest that language abilities, particularly English skills, may present barriers for Latino children to perform well in school. Using data from the 2004 Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles survey, this study directly examines the relative impact of family and language characteristics on the school performance and educational attainment of young adult Latinas and Latinos. Overall, females are shown to have higher academic performance and attainment. Family characteristics appear to have a greater impact on females' educational success, whereas males' educational success appears to be more susceptible to the influence of language characteristics, particularly with regard to Spanish language skills.

Considering the growing diversity of the US population, addressing persistent racial and ethnic disparities in educational performance and attainment has become increasingly important (Kao & Thompson, 2003; Bohon, Johnson & Gorman, 2006). Among the numerous ethnic minorities in the US, Latinos, in particular, have received a great deal of attention from researchers in the social sciences, particularly as their educational attainment has lagged behind that of other ethnic groups over the last forty years (Desmond & Turley, 2009). Latinos, and particularly those of Mexican descent, represent the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority group and the least well educated segment of the population (Bohon, Johnson & Gorman, 2006).

According to the US Census Bureau, the Hispanic origin population is expected to nearly double in size over the next several decades and will represent approximately 30.2% of the US population by 2050 (US Census Bureau, 2008). In the state of California, the country's most populous state, people of Latino descent, especially Mexican, currently make up 30% of the population (Velenzuela, 1999). Research finds that the grades and test scores of Latino students, which strongly influence their odds of obtaining a higher education, are comparatively low (Kao & Thompson, 2003). In contrast to other racial and ethnic minorities, Latinos have consistently been found to have the highest high school dropout rates and the lowest rates of college enrollment and overall educational attainment (Bohon et al., 2006). Although the number of Bache lor's degrees awarded to Latinos has increased over the last several decades, Latinos continue to be underrepresented on college campuses and less than 5% of college graduates are Hispanic (Perna, 2000).

Explanations for these ongoing disparities in the educational performance and attainment of Latinos have primarily centered on individual factors such as bilingualism and English language proficiency, as well as family demographic characteristics such as parental socioeconomic background, including education, family structure (i.e., number of siblings, marital status, etc.), and generational or immigrant status (Padilla & Gonzalez, 2001). Although outside the scope of this research, recent work has also begun to pay well-deserved attention to components of the school environment and practices such as tracking, as well as the dynamics of the surrounding community (Crosnoe, 2005; Perreira, Harris & Lee, 2006). Yet, despite the increased focus on pertinent issues surrounding the underachievement of Latino students, gender differences have been given relatively little consideration. Given that Latino families are often thought to follow traditional gender roles and to hold gendered expectations for their daughters and sons, this study will examine both the influence of language ability and family demographic characteristics on the academic performance and eventual educational attainment of females and males. …

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