Tuesday, May 13, 2008

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But, but, but.... what will Mickey Kaus and Lou Dobbs have to complain about now?

The Washington Post's N.C. Aizenman reports on how the large wave of immigrants coming to the United States over the past three decades have adapted. Turns out, the answer is -- more quickly than one would expect:

In general, the longer an immigrant lives in the United States, the more characteristics of native citizens he or she tends to take on, said Jacob L. Vigdor, a professor at Duke University and author of the study. During periods of intense immigration, such as from 1870 to 1920, or during the immigration wave that began in the 1970s, new arrivals tend to drag down the average assimilation index of the foreign-born population as a whole.

The report found, however, that the speed with which new arrivals take on native-born traits has increased since the 1990s. As a result, even though the foreign population doubled during that period, the newcomers did not drive down the overall assimilation index of the foreign-born population. Instead, it held relatively steady from 1990 to 2006.

"This is something unprecedented in U.S. history," Vigdor said. "It shows that the nation's capacity to assimilate new immigrants is strong."

The full report can be accessed here. The key point:
Immigrants of the past quarter-century have assimilated more rapidly than their counterparts of a century ago, even though they are more distinct from the native population upon arrival. The increase in the rate of assimilation among recently arrived immigrants explains why the overall index has remained stable, even though the immigrant population has grown rapidly.
Hat tip to Matthew Yglesias, who makes a shrewd point:
[A] lot of people seem to have exaggerated ideas about past assimilation and simply don't realize that 100 years ago, just like today, major American cities had foreign language newspapers and things like Yiddish theater that were the equivalent of Univision. There never was a time when people got off the boat, immediately enrolled themselves in English-immersion classes, and gave birth to perfect little Anglo-Saxon children. It was always the case that linguistic, social, and economic integration was a complicated multigenerational process.
Matt is actually underestimating the extent to which 19th century immigrants retained their distinct identity -- a point I made a few years ago:
[Samuel Huntington] also contends that Hispanic immigrants are more likely to retain ties with their country of origin. But he conveniently overlooks that nineteenth-century immigrants often did the same thing. According to O'Rourke and Williamson, U.S. officials estimated that between 1870 and 1914, 30 percent of immigrants emigrated back to the country they came from. Among Italians, the rate approached 50 percent because young Italian men went back and forth between the new world and the old country in search of work.

posted by Dan on 05.13.08 at 11:20 AM


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