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Inheriting the City

Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age

Philip Kasinitz
John H. Mollenkopf
Mary C. Waters
Jennifer Holdaway
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Inheriting the City
    Book Description:

    The United States is an immigrant nation—nowhere is the truth of this statement more evident than in its major cities. Immigrants and their children comprise nearly three-fifths of New York City’s population and even more of Miami and Los Angeles. But the United States is also a nation with entrenched racial divisions that are being complicated by the arrival of newcomers. While immigrant parents may often fear that their children will “disappear” into American mainstream society, leaving behind their ethnic ties, many experts fear that they won’t—evolving instead into a permanent unassimilated and underemployed underclass. Inheriting the City confronts these fears with evidence, reporting the results of a major study examining the social, cultural, political, and economic lives of today’s second generation in metropolitan New York, and showing how they fare relative to their first-generation parents and native-stock counterparts. Focused on New York but providing lessons for metropolitan areas across the country, Inheriting the City is a comprehensive analysis of how mass immigration is transforming life in America’s largest metropolitan area. The authors studied the young adult offspring of West Indian, Chinese, Dominican, South American, and Russian Jewish immigrants and compared them to blacks, whites, and Puerto Ricans with native-born parents. They find that today’s second generation is generally faring better than their parents, with Chinese and Russian Jewish young adults achieving the greatest education and economic advancement, beyond their first-generation parents and even beyond their native-white peers. Every second-generation group is doing at least marginally—and, in many cases, significantly—better than natives of the same racial group across several domains of life. Economically, each second-generation group earns as much or more than its native-born comparison group, especially African Americans and Puerto Ricans, who experience the most persistent disadvantage. Inheriting the City shows the children of immigrants can often take advantage of policies and programs that were designed for native-born minorities in the wake of the civil rights era. Indeed, the ability to choose elements from both immigrant and native-born cultures has produced, the authors argue, a second-generation advantage that catalyzes both upward mobility and an evolution of mainstream American culture. Inheriting the City leads the chorus of recent research indicating that we need not fear an immigrant underclass. Although racial discrimination and economic exclusion persist to varying degrees across all the groups studied, this absorbing book shows that the new generation is also beginning to ease the intransigence of U.S. racial categories. Adapting elements from their parents’ cultures as well as from their native-born peers, the children of immigrants are not only transforming the American city but also what it means to be American.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-655-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. Map of Respondents in Metropolitan New York
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction: Inheriting the City
    (pp. 1-24)

    Immigration is squarely on the American political agenda. With the influx of migrants continuing at high levels, it is destined to remain there. Although its salience as an issue may rise and fall, immigration poses fundamental questions about what it means to be an American and whether the nation can deliver on its historic promise to provide upward mobility to newcomers and their children.

    Scholars usually frame the debate in terms of the economic and demographic impacts of high levels of immigration. Yet the broad passions excited by the issue point to deeper concerns about the ways in which mass...

  6. 2 The Worlds of the Fathers and Mothers
    (pp. 25-65)

    The story of the second generation begins with the parents’ journey to New York. These first generation immigrants faced struggles, found jobs, formed families, settled in neighborhoods, and were received by native New Yorkers in ways that all set the stage for their children’s lives. Here, we draw on the literature on migration to Greater New York, reports from our respondents, and the 2000 Census to paint the portrait of the first generation. We begin by outlining the paths by which the various immigrant and native born racial and ethnic groups came to Greater New York. We discuss how the...

  7. 3 Ethnic Identities
    (pp. 66-93)

    One need not dig far in New York City to find ethnicity in all its dramatic complexity. The city has always served as an immigrant gateway to America, and three-fifths of its population are now immigrants or their children. Ethnicity is woven into the fabric of everyday life. Encounters between strangers often begin with questions about origins, identities, language, race, looks, and ethnic practices and beliefs. People naturally ask each other where they are “from,” what they “are,” and whom they identify with. Our second generation young adults were happy to talk about their ethnic and racial identities, experiences, beliefs,...

  8. 4 Family and Neighborhood Origins
    (pp. 94-132)

    Most people would agree that one’s family has an enormous impact on one’s formative years and often provides important resources later in life. Debate arises, however, about exactly which aspects of family background have what effects on a family’s children under what circumstances. Contemporary families certainly face vastly different circumstances than those experienced by “traditional families” in the 1950s. Nevertheless, when families work well, children feel solidarity with their parents, develop self-esteem and high aspirations, and use parental support to gain high levels of achievement. According to one recent study, families remain a significant influence:

    Our results demonstrate the continuing...

  9. 5 The School System as Sorting Mechanism
    (pp. 133-172)

    Educational attainment increasingly determines the opportunities open to young people. Although a few young people in metropolitan New York manage to find skilled blue collar jobs, often through family connections, most need a college degree to qualify for a position that offers a decent wage, benefits, and the possibility of advancement. One recent survey found that more than half the region’s businesses required more than a high school diploma for entry level positions. Higher levels of education also lead to greater earnings. According to the 2000 Census, regional workers with only a high school education had median annual earnings of...

  10. 6 The Second Generation Goes to Work
    (pp. 173-204)

    Few aspects of contemporary migration to the United States have received as much attention as the role of immigrants in the economy and labor market. When asked about what motivated their parents’ decision to leave their homeland, the young people we spoke to recounted many complicated stories, but most began or ended with some version of the cliché, “They came for a better life” for themselves and their children. While a “better life” means many different things, improving a family’s economic fortunes was a central part of it. But do immigrants find this “better life”? We can gain important clues...

  11. 7 Forming New Families
    (pp. 205-240)

    The timing of marriage and childbearing in the United States and the relations between men and women have changed a great deal since the 1960s. Scholars agree that the transition to adulthood has become an increasingly complex and messy affair (Furstenberg et al. 2005). Many young people spend a period of time living alone or with other young adults or cohabit for periods before marriage. At the same time, the high cost of postsecondary education means that many remain dependent on their families well into their twenties (Schoeni and Ross 2005). While pursuing education leads many people to postpone marriage...

  12. 8 Culture Matters
    (pp. 241-273)

    Studies of the assimilation of the children and grandchildren of European immigrants in the twentieth century often assumed that upward mobility and Americanization went hand in hand. The more successful members of the ethnic group were the most American not only in terms of their identity, but in terms of the clothes they wore, the foods they ate, and the rapidity with which they abandoned their parents’ languages. This strong link between Americanization and socioeconomic mobility is not evident among today’s immigrants and their children.

    Assimilation works differently in different social spheres. Success in the educational system and successful incorporation...

  13. 9 Civic and Political Engagement
    (pp. 274-299)

    Politics looms large in the literature on how late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century immigrants became Americans. Scholars of that period took it for granted that participating in protest movements, joining labor unions and civic organizations, voting, running candidates, and winning elections were central to incorporation into American society. Even today the election of an immigrant or, more often, a child of immigrants to a significant office is usually seen as a watershed moment in an immigrant group’s “making it” in the United States.

    Strangely, politics no longer has a prominent role in most contemporary accounts of immigrant assimilation. One reason...

  14. 10 Race, Prejudice, and Discrimination
    (pp. 300-341)

    Since the resumption of mass immigration in the late 1960s, the United States has incorporated tens of millions of new immigrants, the large majority of whom are non-European. Being neither unambiguously “white,” in the way that term had come to be used in late twentieth-century America, nor African American, most of these newcomers did not fit easily into traditional American racial categories. How will this affect their incorporation into the society? Will racial discrimination prevent the full incorporation of new immigrants and their descendants? How are American notions of race being reformulated by the incorporation of so many people who...

  15. 11 Conclusion: The Second Generation Advantage
    (pp. 342-370)

    Our research was initially motivated by worries about second generation decline. Like many other social scientists, we were concerned that the children of recent immigrants might be at risk of downward assimilation as they become Americans. We feared that many would earn less than their immigrant parents, get less education, have lower levels of civic participation in their new society, and become more alienated. We also suspected that upwardly mobile children of immigrants might achieve success largely by remaining tied to the ethnic communities and economic niches of their parents. In contemporary America, we speculated, the most successful immigrant families...

  16. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 371-386)
  17. References
    (pp. 387-412)
  18. Index
    (pp. 413-420)