Ages, Life Stages, and Generational Cohorts: Decomposing the Immigrant First and Second Generations in the United States
International Migration Review, Vol. 38, No. 3, pp. 1160-1205, Fall 2004
47 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2011
Date Written: 2004
Many theoretical questions have been raised about the incorporation of children of immigrants: their “coming of age” in the United States, their modes of acculturation, ethnic identity, ethnic group formation, patterns of language use and shift, and social, residential, reproductive, marital, educational, occupational, economic, civic and political trajectories into adulthood. All of these are open empirical questions, but each of them presupposes a clear operational definition of what is meant by “second generation” vis-à-vis the “first generation,” and even of something as basic as the ethnicity of first- vs. second-generation persons. While the import of intergenerational analysis for the study of the long-term impact of immigration is clear, there is no consensus on the meaning and measurement of “generations.” This article focuses on problems with the definition and empirical identification of immigrant “first” and “second” generations in the United States. These aggregates are decomposed into a typology of distinct generational cohorts (1.0, 1.25, 1.5, 1.75, 2.0, 2.5) defined by age and life stage at migration for the foreign-born, and by parental nativity for the U.S.-born. Differences in educational and occupational attainment, language and other aspects of acculturation are then examined to consider whether the practice of “lumping” these generational cohorts together, or “splitting” them into distinctive units of analysis, is empirically supported by available evidence. The paper concludes with some thoughts on data needs and methodological considerations in the study of immigrant generations.
Keywords: Immigration, generational cohorts, life stage, age at arrival, first and second generations, 1.5 and 2.5 generation, educational and occupational attainment, language acculturation, identity, criminal justice
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