Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Mexican Americans' Lucky Few and Baby Boom Cohorts: How Is Relative Cohort Size Related to the Likelihood of Being Out-of-Poverty?

Academic journal article Sociological Focus

Mexican Americans' Lucky Few and Baby Boom Cohorts: How Is Relative Cohort Size Related to the Likelihood of Being Out-of-Poverty?

Article excerpt

Generational cohorts influence individuals' economic life chances. Retrospective analysis has found that the "Lucky Few" generation had better life chances than previous generations. We focus on Mexican Americans in the United States and offer a prospective analysis to explore how relative cohort size plays a role in the odds of their being out-of-poverty. Using Public Use Microdata Sample files from 1990, 2000, and 2010, we test the hypothesis by comparing Early Baby Boom (those born between 1946 and 1955) and Late Baby Boom (those bom between 1956 and 1965) cohorts to the Lucky Few (born between 1936 and 1945) cohort. Models predicting the odds of being out-of-poverty during the peak wage-earning years indicate that belonging to the Lucky Few cohort affords Mexican Americans no economic advantage. Our findings demonstrate that the relative cohort size hypothesis may not always be generalized to Mexican American minority samples.

Grouping individuals by shared historical (i.e., period) experiences has been used in analyses of various outcomes by social demography researchers. In general, it is found that an individual's cohort membership influences his/her life chances (Evans, Schoon, and Weale 2012). In the much acclaimed The Lucky Few (2008), Carlson made a case for the influence a person's generation has on his/her economic and health status during adult years. Carlson explained that the Lucky Few (those bom between 1929 and 1945; they are sometimes referred to as the Silent Generation) started at the onset of the Great Depression and ended as the United States concluded their participation in World War H. A notable distinction in the Lucky Few is that their group reached only about 40 million people by the time it matured into adulthood. Carlson argued that the Lucky Few benefited from several factors, including their small population size, the post-WWII economic boom during their early adulthood, and low unemployment.

Members of the Lucky Few generation experienced early economic prosperity not only from having so many in their group gainfully employed, but also because their members managed to increase their wages and advanced quickly up the career ladder (Carlson 2008). Their early financial success was later augmented when their adult children left the home, and Lucky Few mothers entered the labor force in large scale-contributing to sustained economic prosperity. Carlson argued that the Lucky Few advantage became obvious in late life as they drew unprecedented levels of pensions and extended their longevity with better health than any previous generation. These findings support the relative cohort size hypothesis, which posits that large cohorts exhibit lower levels of economic and health well-being relative to smaller cohorts, all else being equal.

The idea that cohort size matters has been discussed for decades (Easterlin 1968, 1978; Ryder 1965). For example, early research provided evidence that large cohorts depress wages (Welch 1979) . Subsequent work also showed that relative cohort size has an adverse supply effect on the wages of individuals belonging to large cohorts (Easterlin 1980; Katz and Murphy 1992; Murphy and Welch 1992). More recent research on European populations found cohort size to have a large negative effect on earnings for those between the ages of 35 and 54 (Brunello 2010). This line of research lends validity to the argument that macro-level demographic factors, such as belonging to a large population cohort, negatively influence an individual's lifetime wages. Simply put, "fat cohorts tend to get low rewards" (Higgins and Williamson 1999:4).

Relative cohort size analyses primarily focus on how cohort size impacts life opportunities and social development-suggesting that because population size fluctuates faster than social structures, the latter is unable to adapt to the changes. This lagged effect then differentiates how social resources and life opportunities differ by cohort size-where small cohorts benefit from the surplus created until social structures adapt to the new population base. …

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