Cross-Generational Differences in Educational Outcomes in the Second Great Wave of Immigration

David N. Figlio, Northwestern University and the National Bureau of Economic Research

Over the last five decades, the United States has experienced the second largest wave of immigration in its history. Immigrants and children of immigrants currently account for nearly a quarter of all school-aged children in the United States, and are projected to account for one-third by 2050. How this new wave of immigrant youth fare in the U.S. public education system, therefore, has significant short-term and long-term welfare implications.

This paper presents the first comprehensive look at the relative performance of early arriving first generation immigrants, late-arriving first generation immigrants, second generation immigrants, and third generation immigrants using population-level data in the United States. The authors investigated whether first, second, and third generation Asian and Hispanic immigrants in Florida perform differently on reading and mathematics tests, and whether they are differentially likely to get into serious trouble in school, to be truant from school, to graduate from high school, or to be ready for college upon high school graduation.

The evidence they found suggests, among other findings, that early-arriving first generation immigrants perform better than do second generation immigrants, and second generation immigrants perform better than third generation immigrants. Among first generation immigrants, the earlier the arrival, the better the students tend to perform.

photo of Umut Ozek
Principal Researcher