Mexican Ancestry, Immigrant Generation, and Educational Attainment in the United States

Stephen L. Morgan, Dafna Gelbgiser

Sociological Science, September 29, 2014
DOI 10.15195/v1.a23

After introducing alternative perspectives on assimilation and acculturation, we use the 2002-2012 waves of the Education Longitudinal Study to model differences in educational attainment for students sampled as high school sophomores in 2002.  We focus on patterns observed for the growing Mexican immigrant population, analyzing separately the trajectories of 1st, 1.5th, 2nd, and 3rd+ generation Mexican immigrant students, in comparison to 3rd+ generation students who self-identify as non-Hispanic whites and students who self-identify as non-Hispanic blacks or African Americans.  The results suggest that the dissonant acculturation mechanism associated with the segmented assimilation perspective is mostly unhelpful for explaining patterns of educational attainment, especially for the crucial groups of 1.5th and 2nd generation Mexican immigrant students.  Instead, standard measures of family background can account for large portions of group differences in bachelor’s degree attainment, with or without additional adjustments for behavioral commitment to schooling, occupational plans, and educational expectations.  The broad structure of inequality in the United States, as well as the rising costs of bachelor’s degrees, should be the primary source of concern when considering the prospects for the incorporation of the children of recent Mexican immigrants into the mainstream.

Stephen L. Morgan: Johns Hopkins University and Cornell University.  E-mail:

Dafna Gelbgiser: Cornell University. Email:

  • Citation: Morgan, Stephen L. and Dafna Gelbgiser 2014. “Mexican Ancestry, Immigrant Generation, and Educational Attainment in the United States.”Sociological Science 1: 397-422
  • Received: June 19, 2014
  • Accepted: July 14, 2014
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Olav Sorenson
  • DOI: 10.15195/v1.a23

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