Integration of Immigrants into American Society

An often-heard criticism is that immigrants do not adapt to American society and culture, thus balkanizing the American population. The idea of a common society in which all members are fully incorporated and socially equal has been more of an ideal than a reality in American history. America has always been characterized by variations in socioeconomic and cultural status associated with groups defined by national origin and color as well as by great variation even within national-origin groups. A more realistic concept, then, might be integration into the "normal" diversity of American society.

Issues of immigrant assimilation are important for several reasons in this report. Chapter 3 noted that some immigrants, particularly those from Latin America, have higher fertility. Our analysis suggests that the initial higher fertility among Hispanic immigrants will decline for their native-born descendants. These fertility declines possibly reflect the integration of Hispanic immigrants and their children into a society with lower childbearing norms. The assimilation of immigrants in the labor force may have repercussions for the pattern of geographic mobility as well as for their economic success. These, in turn, affect the labor market and the fiscal impacts discussed in previous chapters.

Social and Spatial Mobility

Immigrants tend to cluster in certain geographic areas and occupations. Since they usually depend on the assistance of kin and others in their primary networks, ethnic neighborhoods and enterprises are often essential stepping stones for their social and economic adaptation. Even when government policy tries to disperse new arrivals around the country, as with the case of Cuban refugees in the 1960s and Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, secondary migration has led to a reconcentration of immigrants. Since ethnic areas often tend to look, sound, and smell different from other areas, some of the native-born population will see immigrant neighborhoods as evidence that new immigrants are not adapting to American society. The historical evidence makes clear, however, that ethnic residential concentrations and ethnic economies are initial efforts by the first generation to get a foothold in American society. Most historical and contemporary research shows that assimilation is a generational process (Lieberson, 1980, 1996). Immigrants who arrive as adults are sometimes slow to learn English, and many older immigrants continue to have close attachments to the countries of origin long after their arrival. In contrast, the second generation, including immigrants who arrive as children or adolescents, typically become "American" in language, behavior, and outlook.

Between the two world wars, the children of immigrants from Southern, Eastern, and Central Europe made significant socioeconomic gains, particularly in educational and occupational attainment (Lieberson, 1980; Perlmann, 1988;

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