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Measuring Immigrant Assimilation in the United States

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Abstract:

This report introduces a quantitative index that measures the degree of similarity between native- and foreign-born adults in the United States. It is the ability to distinguish the latter group from the former that we mean when we use the term "assimilation." The Index of Immigrant Assimilation relies on Census Bureau data available in some form since 1900 and as current as the year before last. The index reveals great diversity in the experiences of individual immigrant groups, which differ from each other almost as much as they differ from the native-born. They vary significantly in the extent to which their earnings have increased, their rate of learning the English language, and progress toward citizenship. Mexican immigrants, the largest group and the focus of most current immigration policy debates, have assimilated slowly, but their experience is not representative of the entire immigrant population.

Collective assimilation rates are lower than they were a century ago, although no lower than they have been in recent decades. And this is true despite the fact that recent immigrants have arrived less assimilated than their predecessors and in very large numbers. In addition to country of origin, the Index categorizes groups on the basis of date of arrival, age, and place of residence. Some groups have done far better or worse than the Index as a whole; Assimilation also varies considerably across metropolitan areas.