Immigration and Adult Transitions

The Future of Children, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 43-66, Spring 2010

24 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2011  

Rubén G. Rumbaut

University of California - Irvine - Department of Sociology

Golnaz Komaie


Date Written: 2010


Immigration, a transformative force, has produced striking demographic changes in the American population over the past few decades, especially among its young adults. As recently as 1970, only 4 percent of the approximately 48 million young adults (aged 18 to 34) in the United States were foreign born – the lowest proportion since the U.S. Census Bureau began keeping records on nativity in 1850. But by 2008, when the number of young adults had grown to more than 68 million, almost 30 percent of them were either foreign born or of foreign parentage. These new first and second generations of immigrant origin are steadily growing and changing the ethnic composition and stratification of the nation’s young adult population. What is more, their transitions to adult roles – leaving the parental home, finishing school, entering into full-time work, getting married, having children – not only differ significantly by generation and ethnicity, but often stand in marked contrast to patterns observed among their native counterparts who are conventionally assumed to set societal standards. This article sketches a comparative portrait of young adults in the United States in the first years of the twenty-first century, focusing on new patterns of ethnic diversification and of widening socioeconomic and legal inequalities in early adulthood. We focus on generational differences between the foreign-born first and “one and a half” generations and the U.S.-born second generation (of foreign parentage), who are mainly of Latin American and Asian origins, compared with native-parentage young adults, who are overwhelmingly non-Hispanic blacks and whites. We consider structural barriers faced by sizable segments of immigrant youth, especially the undocumented and the less educated poor, in their transitions to adulthood, and discuss possible policy options.

Keywords: transitions to adulthood, immigration, first and second generations, 1.5 generation, ethnic diversity, ethnic inequality, public policy

Suggested Citation

Rumbaut, Rubén G. and Komaie, Golnaz, Immigration and Adult Transitions (2010). The Future of Children, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 43-66, Spring 2010. Available at SSRN:

Rubén G. Rumbaut (Contact Author)

University of California - Irvine - Department of Sociology ( email )

3151 Social Sciences Plaza A
Irvine, CA 92697-5100
United States

Golnaz Komaie


No Address Available

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