place during the past several decades. This issue is fundamental to understanding the nature of family life among Hispanics as well as links between changing family processes and family members’ access to social and economic resources. As noted by Vega (1995, p. 6), “Changing family structures, including marital disruption and cohabitation, could represent the most important issue for Latino family theory and research in the decade ahead.”
A second issue addressed in the chapter is generational variation in family patterns within Hispanic subgroups. Our descriptive analyses demonstrate that Hispanics—like other racial/ethnic groups—exhibit many behaviors that are consistent with what some scholars call “family decline” (Popenoe, 1993). At the same time, Hispanics (especially Mexican Americans) are typically described as oriented toward family well-being, rather than individual well-being (Sabogal, Marin, Otero-Sabogal, VanOss Marin, and Perez-Stable, 1987; Valenzuela and Dornbusch, 1994; Vega, 1995). To the extent that such “familism” remains alive among U.S. Hispanics, one would expect it to reduce the erosion of traditional family patterns or to contribute to new family forms in which family support remains high. However, it is possible that the process of assimilation reduces familism and encourages the individualism that some have argued is at the heart of recent changes in family behavior. After describing racial/ethnic differences in the characteristics of family households and the living arrangements of individuals of various ages, we focus on differences within Hispanic groups by generational status. Our comparisons of the family patterns of the first generation (foreign-born), the second generation (native-born of foreign parentage), and the third or higher generations (native-born of native parentage) will shed light on the dynamics of assimilation with respect to family patterns.
A third topic considered in the chapter is racial/ethnic mixing in sexual partnerships of various types, including marriage, cohabitation, and parenthood. Intermarriage is a long-standing theme in the study of assimilation. It has been considered both an indicator of assimilation and a means by which assimilation is achieved (Gordon, 1964; Lieberson and Waters, 1988). According to the classic assimilation theory, intermarriage between an immigrant group and the dominant population reduces social boundaries and eventually leads to a reduction in the salience of an ethnic identity. Because the offspring of intermarried couples may opt out of defining themselves as members of an ethnic group, intermarriage may affect the future size and shape of an ethnic population. Among Hispanics, intermarriage with non-Hispanic whites or non-Hispanic blacks may ultimately lead to a blurring of racial/ethnic boundaries. At the same time, intermarriage between members of different Hispanic subgroups may strengthen pan-ethnicity, or the adoption of a “Hispanic” identity instead of an identity as