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A New Study Shows That Children Of Migrants Are Able To Achieve The ‘American Dream’ Within A Generation

One of the foundations of the social and historical construct of the United States of America is the idea that everyone who arrives, regardless of their race, creed or life circumstances, can build a new life. Popular media is inundated with stories of people who looked for a second (or third!) chance and became financially stable and socially respectable through hard work. Many small and large businesses are owned by migrants who made America home and have contributed to the economy. Others are as hard working as it comes! (you probably know a few share of hombres y mujeres trabajadores!). 

But migrants have also been historically demonized, even more so during the Trump administration and its iron fist approach to immigration, which borderlines racism in that it targets mostly people coming from the Global South. But the idea of migrants being a threat is old and feeds hate. However, a new study proves that social mobility is still a key element of the migrant experience. 

Science doesn’t lie! A new study argues that the adult children of migrants move up the social scale.

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A study conducted by Stanford University’s Ran Abramitzky; Princeton University’s Leah Platt Boustan and Elisa Jácome; and the University of California Davis’ Santiago Pérez  reveals that particularly the most economically challenged migrants show upward social mobility down the generations. The children of migrants do better than their parents, so the huge emotional, physical and intellectual efforts of migrants pay off down the road. The researchers gathered census data, publicly available administrative data and federal income tax data. They traced the income of millions of parents and offspring, all the way dating back to 1880. 

The results highlight a revealing fact: children of migrants progress further than the children of people born in the United States.

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It might be surprising for some, but the children of migrants advance further up the social scale than the sons and daughters of people born in the United States. In particular, this trend is present in the lowest socio-economic sectors, which shows that hard work still pays off even if the economic situation in recent times (ever since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008) has been dire to say the least. 

So what is the “American Dream” anyway?

This data contradicts the Trump administration’s populist rhetoric, which asserts that rather than contributing, migrants drain the system. The paper reveals that migrants generate wealth and inject dividends into the financial system. They are living, breathing examples of the American Dream. This term was coined by historian James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book “Epic of America”. French historian Alexis de Tocqueville defined it as “The chance of anticipated success”. The idea, which is in the ethos of the foundation of the United States, has suffered a few hits along the way, but seems to remain relevant according to the data. 

So why do migrants succeed? It goes beyond mere cultural traits.

Credit: The Ringer

Many people assume that having a strong work ethic is the only explanation for migrant success. But it is far more complicated than that. It has to do with location primarily, according to the researchers. Because migrants don’t have deep roots in the host country, they are willing to locate in the hubs where there are more opportunities.

As reported by Vox, Leah Platt Boustan, one of the authors said: “We don’t even have to reach for these cultural explanations. A lot of it has to do with immigrants being willing to move anywhere and choosing locations where there are growing industries and a good set of job opportunities for their kids. Those are choices that immigrants are making that are different from the US-born and that could be a feature of immigrant success.”

The trend continues regardless of the ethnic background, a push against racist notions that some migrants are better than others.

The researchers concluded that this upward mobility is present regardless of the ethnic background of the parents who arrived in the US. There are some pretty misleading notions that, for example, Asian immigration is “better” than Latin Americans or Africans.

This harmful notion has been perpetuated by popular political discourse, with even President Trump saying that some people come from “shithole countries” like El Salvador and African nations, while advocating for more migrants from Norway. But misconception is far from the truth, as Vox reports: “In fact, immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, and African nations such as Nigeria are all performing better than the US-born. And in past waves of immigration, immigrants from Norway actually performed worse than the US-born”. Wow, nothing like some good old social science to counter racist views. 

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