In the last 30 years immigration rose quickly in the United States. Immigrant families bringing their children with them and children being born in the U.S. have now lead to these children making up one fifth of the total population of American children. Experts are now concerned how this large and diverse group of children will adapt to society on grounds of education, psychological and behavioural adjustment. Research shows these children are adapting very well, which goes against all expectations.
Patterns of Adjustment
In several studies immigrant children seem to adapt remarkably well. Moreover, they seem to be doing better than their American born peers. For instance, their grades are equal or even higher than the grades students from American born parents receive. Less is known about the behavioural and psychological adjustment of these children. However, evidence indicates children from immigrant families show healthier adjustment, compared to peers from American-born families. First and second-generation adolescents are less likely to use drugs, to be in poor health and engage in other delinquent behaviour. The first-generation shows fewer problems and a better health compared to the second-generation immigrants.
They also show an equal or higher self-esteem compared to native-born children, even though they are in less favourable circumstances. One study found no differences in depressed feelings and psychological well-being, other studies found that immigrant adolescents show fewer psychosomatic problems and less psychological distress than those from native-born families.
The psychological well-being is equal or higher than that of youths from native-born families of the same ethnic group.
It is important to note that differences in adjustment exist within the population of immigrants. Families from Europe show more academic success than Latin American families, while children from Chinese families show less behavioural problems and a better health. Also, Latin American students have more problems with graduating from school, compared to the other groups.
The overall positive picture of adjustment remains however.
How comes these children are doing so well adjusting to a new society? One explanation is that these children come from relatively advantaged backgrounds, with highly educated parents getting a better job in the U.S. But socio-economic factors alone don't explain the differences in adjustment. Generational differences remain when these factors are removed, meaning that immigrant children do better than would expected given their backgrounds. Taking into account the socio-economic status, immigrant children show more positive well-being and less distress compared with peers from American-born families.
Certain psychosocial factors seem to motivate immigrant children to succeed in school, while being protected from bad influences and behavioural problems.
Value of education
For immigrant families education is the best way to succeed in America. Therefore parents place great importance on doing well in school. For instance, parents want their children to be able to go to college. These children internalize their parents ideas and spent more time studying for school, aspire higher levels of educational attainment, which lead to higher grades for immigrant students.
Because the children focus so much on school, they tend to have a better psychological well-being and are better protected from risky behaviour. All this helps them to grow accustomed to a new society.
Many immigrant families come from collectivistic traditions, that emphasize family obligations and responsibilities. The children assimilate more easily in a new society and can help their parents with the demands of a new culture. They feel a sense of duty and obligation towards their family. Through school they can best assist their families, getting a good job and being able to support the family financially later. Because of these obligations, these children come less in contact with risky activities. The obligations provide children with integral roles, giving a set of expectations, such as protecting the honour of the family.
However, very high obligations towards the family can have a negative influence on the children. For instance, they have to drop out of school to provide for their family. This may also affect the broader psychological and behavioural adjustment.
Many immigrant children retain their original cultural identities, despite the pressure from society. These identities can help children keep away from adopting 'undesirable' American attitudes such as materialism. They also want to distance themselves from the negative stereotypes associated with American ethnic groups. Children associating themselves with their parent's culture tend to be more attached to school and do better than their peers with a more American culture. Distancing themselves from ethnic labels may help the children to avoid the negative stereotypes that act to depress the achievements of minority students.
The children do well, because of several factors that provide a clear direction: a responsible role and a strong cultural identity to help them stay clear of risky activities. It is not clear whether these adolescents maintain this successful adjustment into adulthood. But if these successfactors remain constant throughout life, it may help overcome problems through their lives, or the culture will affect the children and lead them to acculturate the less favourable activities and values of their peers.
The process of immigrant assimilation is mostly seen as a linear process, with migrants becoming more similar to the dominant group over time. Recent studies however,show a different picture, where immigrants and their children show a deterioration of outcomes over time when it comes to assimilation.
Assimilation means taking over the identity from the host country, so in the case of this article, to become 'American'. According to critics assimilation would lead to more sociocultural similarity and socioeconomic success. Gordon (1964) broke down the assimilation sequence into seven stages, with 'identificational assimilation' i.e. self-image as an American – as the end stage. After years of problems with this point of view, the study of assimilation started to focus on the ethnic group and ethnic resilience. The aim of this article is to test the linear process of assimilation leading to improved immigrant outcomes in the U.S., to unmask ethnocentric pretensions and identify areas in need of refinement.
Assimilation and it's discontents
In 1975 a Vietnamese physician tested the cholesterol levels of Vietnamese children in the US. The results showed that their cholesterol levels increased for each year they lived in the U.S. This shows a different picture than the assimilation theory of progressive improvement in immigrant adjustment.
Epidemiological Paradoxes: Is Assimilation Hazardous to Infant Health?
Low-income immigrants from different ethnic populations show unexpectedly favorable perinatal outcomes, even though they have almost no access to healthcare and being the least 'Americanized'. In these groups total infant mortality rates matched that of the lower-risk white women. A review of literature (1991) showed that pregnancy outcomes are better for immigrant-born babies than those with native mothers. The reason for this seems to be that U.S. born women have severe biomedical, nutritional and psychosocial disadvantages compared to foreign-born women. However, as immigrants become more assimilated, these differences decrease.
Adolescent Health and Risk behavior: Patterns of Intragenerational and Intergenerational Assimilation.
Second-generation youth have poorer physical health, miss school more often and engage more in risk behavior than the first-generation. The outcomes vary for the third-generation, but overall show an increase in risk behavior and poor health. They also tend to live more with a single parent, while the second-generation families are still intact. These findings show quite the opposite of improvement over time.
Educational Paradoxes: Is Assimilation Detrimental to Academic Achievement?
Academic GPA's earned by students were compared for all the ethnic groups. Non-English minorities (primary home language is not English) outperformed English-only immigrants as well as white students. These students were classified as Limited English Proficient (LEP) and Fluent English Proficient (FEP). Studies over time showed that immigrant children outperformed district norms, although this advantage decreased over time. An explanation for immigrants having higher GPA's is that they work harder for it compared to U.S. born peers. They spend more time doing homework.
The Arrow and the Boomerang: Linguistic Assimilation and Ethnic Self-Identity.
Immigrant children show an increased preference and proficiency in English over time. At first, they prefer to speak their own language at home, but quite soon their fluency in English increases relative to their native language, due to being unable to practice their own language consequently. This rapid linguistic assimilation is constant across nationalities and SES levels.
Self-identities also changed over time, but in the other direction. The youths returned to their immigrant identity for the largest groups and to a pan-ethnic identity (for instance Asian American) among the smallest groups. Every group reported experiences of rejection and racism, leading to more pessimistic views of equal opportunities through education.
Assimilation from what? To what? For what?
Accommodation and Assimilation: A Generational Divide?
The family may be the best research site for understanding the dynamics of immigration and adaptation, as well as the long-term consequences. These families are all very different, so to make sense of the assimilation process, it's useful to look at autobiographical tracts written by immigrant children.
Socioeconomic Assimilation: Origins Shape Destinies.
Socioeconomic assimilation means achieving equality with the native majority in indicators as education, employment and income. Many Asian immigrants coming to the U.S. already exceed on these indicators, especially education. Illegal immigrants are often low-wage workers and start at a different point on SES levels. These immigrants are likely to take different pathways, one path follows the 'straight-line' theory of assimilation into white middle class, the other may lead to assimilation into downward mobility and inner-city underclass, another may combine upward mobility with heightened ethnic awareness with immigrant communities.
Cultural Assimilation: Pre-Migration Americanization and the Role of the Mass Media.
Many immigrants these days are already 'Americanized', due to the widespread American consumption patterns, lifestyle and popular culture. This is especially the case with immigrants coming from countries with whom the U.S. has close ties or having social networks of friends and family living there. The mass media (TV, internet) may shape the acculturation of post-and pre-arrival immigrants, especially the children.
Linguistic Assimilation: Pre-Migration English Proficiency?
Much of the world already speaks English as a second language, so do many immigrants before their arrival to the U.S. Non-English speaking immigrants need to acquire the English language first. Immigrants between the ages of three and early teens have a capacity to learn and speak a new language relatively easy, this declines after puberty. Bilingualism is not very popular, because it costs more of the braincapacities. But if it happens, it is often forced by the parents or the society.
Linguistic assimilation is the mostly likely to proceed as predicted by assimilation theory, as a linear function.
Political Assimilation, Emigration, Selectivity, and Other Matters.
Political assimilation, naturalization and voting patterns are an important part of immigrant lives, with applying for naturalization, dual nationalities, refugee policies or immigrants leaving the U.S. after a period of time.
Between rhetoric and reality, and beyond
The ultimate paradox of assimilation American-style may be that, in the process, what is being assimilated changes into something quite different than protagonists ever imagined or intended.
Article 3: Immigration, acculturation and the paradox of adaptation in Europe (Sam, Vedder, Liebkind, Neto & Virta, 2008)
This study examines the immigrant paradox phenomenon among a group of immigrant youth in 5 European countries. The paradox is a counter-intuitive finding that immigrants often show better adaptation outcomes than their national peers, despite their poorer socioeconomic status.
In 1932 Odegaard proposed the selection hypothesis saying that people who are likely to suffer from mental illnesses were more prone to emigrate. The stress hypothesis says that immigration and the acculturation are very stressful, which could lead to a lowered mental health status, feelings of alienation, more psychosomatic symptoms and identity confusion. However, no strong evidence for these hypotheses were found.
Current studies show a more optimistic view, with immigrants adaptation being as good as, or even better than their national peers, despite their poorer socioeconomic status. This is called the immigrant paradox. Sam et al. (2006) conclude that the paradox is used to refer to three adaption outcomes: a) immigrants show better adaptation outcomes than their national peers, b) the first-generation immigrants often have higher adaptation levels than the second-generation and c) over time the adaptation may decline or converge towards the level of the nationals or surpass in a negative direction. This last point is called the convergence hypothesis.
What is paradoxical is that when immigrants become more acculturated, their socioeconomic status would improve and their adaptation levels will be better, more like the host country. But rather than improving with time, immigrant health seems to deteriorate.
This study addresses a few issues, namely 1) How well adapted are immigrant youth compared to national peers and across generations? 2) Does the adaptation of second-generation immigrants converge towards the nationals?
Socioeconomic disadvantages have often been associated with poorer health outcomes, however the extent to which immigrants are acculturated has been shown to be related to immigrants mental health positively, negatively or in a curvilinear fashion.
One study shows that although immigrants are more likely to be poor compared with their White national peers, they had fewer emotional and behavioral problems.
Also, socioeconomic status did not correlate with academic achievements, some groups even performed better. Because of the differences in the background of immigrants to countries as the U.S. and Europe, and the differences in immigration policies, it is not surprising that the immigrant paradox has been largely reported in the U.S., but much fewer in Europe. This study focuses on adolescents of first and second-generations from Finland, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden. A distinction is made between psychological (stress and coping) and sociocultural (cultural learning of social skills and interaction) adaptation. Psychological adaptation was measured focusing on life-satisfaction, depression, self-esteem, psychosomatic complaints, etc. Social-cultural adaptation focused on school adjustment and behavior problems.
The data for this study comes from the ICSEY project. The total sample of consisted of 2702 adolescents; 1479 immigrant youth and 1223 national youth (ages 13 to 18). Sampling took place in cities with high concentrations of particular immigrant groups. National adolescents were from the same cities. Most immigrant youth were second-generation. Data collection involved completion of a structured questionnaire. The questionnaire covered a wide range of issues related to acculturation and adaption, though this study limited to scales measuring psychological and sociocultural adaptions.
Results & Discussion
Based on the results the authors state that there is no clear evidence for the immigrant paradox among the immigrant youths. The paradox could be found to some extent with respect to sociocultural adaption, for psychological adaptation there wasn't any indication for the paradox among the ethnic groups. In summary, according to the paradox there is a decline in adaption, with the first-generation doing better than the second. This study found with respect to psychological adaptation that second-generation immigrants show better adaptation compared both to first-generation and national peers. This is not an immigrant paradox.
First-generation immigrants did report better sociocultural adaptation than the other two groups. Also, immigrants with lower SES reported better sociocultural adaptation than those of higher SES.
Research indicating that immigrant youth adapt as well or even better than national peers when SES is controlled for abound at present.
Regarding the convergence of second-generation adaptation towards the level of national peers, findings with respect to sociocultural adaptation show second-generation immigrant youth did not differ from national peers. However, concerning psychological adaption, second-generation immigrants appear to do better than both first-generation immigrants and their national peers.
There are several explanations for these findings. Firstly, the two forms of adaptation have different time courses and different experiential predictors. Psychological problems often increase soon after contact, but decrease over time, social-cultural adaptation often shows a more linear improvement over time. The second-generation immigrants experience less stress, leading to improved psychological adaptation compared to the first-generation. Another possibility is that the ethnic groups in this study were not very concerned with learning and acquiring the socials skills of the host society.
It is unclear why there is a gender difference in the sociocultural adaptation pattern of boys and girls, with male first-generation immigrants showing the best sociocultural adaptation.
The general absence of the immigrant paradox in the European countries may be the ethnic background and the immigration histories (guest workers, refugees, immigrants from former colonies) of the groups concerned.