Pew Research Center Reports on Latinos Coming of Age in America

This report is part of a series by the Pew Research Center looking at how America’s next generation, known as “millennials,” is reshaping our nation. Within this context, it is necessary to focus specifically on Latinos since never before in American history has a minority ethnic group made up such a large share of this coming-of-age group. Well known by now is the fact that Hispanics are the largest and youngest minority group in America, with one in four newborns and one in five schoolchildren being of Hispanic background.

Between Two Worlds: How Young Latinos Come of Age in America focuses on the attitudes, values, social behaviors, family characteristics, economic well-being, educational attainment and labor force characteristics of Hispanics16 to 25 years old. Millennials are usually considered the group born between1982 and 2002, so this report has broadened the age range of this generation.

Research methodology involved a Pew Hispanic Center telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 Latinos and the center’s analysis of government demographic data, including economic, education and health databases.

Forty years of Hispanic immigration have resulted in a very large second generation of U.S.-born young Hispanic Americans on the cusp of adulthood. How different from a mere 15 years ago when nearly half of all Hispanics aged 16 to 25 were immigrants.

In today’s world, only 34 percent of this age group are immigrants.Thirty-seven percent of 16- to 25-year-old Latinos are the U.S.-born children of immigrants, and another 29 percent are of third-and-higher generations.

Also worth noting, Hispanics make up 18 percent of all 16- to 25-year-olds in America, and several states have a much larger proportion of them.In New Mexico, young Latinos make up 51 percent of all young people int hat state; in California, 42 percent; in Texas, 40 percent; in Arizona, 36percent; in Nevada, 31 percent; in both Florida and Colorado, 24 percent.

In terms of country of origin, 68 percent of young Latinos are of Mexican background. Mexican families, on average, have less education than Latinos from other countries. More than 40 percent of young Latinos say their parents have less than a high school diploma. This compares with 25 percent of young Latinos of non-Mexican heritage who say the same of their parents.

hispanic outlook jobs in higher education

Since this report analyzes values and attitudes as well as quantitative data, some discrepancies arise between the two. On the one hand, young Latinos report satisfaction with their lives and are optimistic about their futures. They place a high value on education, hard work and career success. In fact, young Latinos place a higher value on careers than the full population of the same age group.

hispanic outlook jobs in higher education

On the other hand, data show that young Latinos are more likely than other American youths to drop out of school and to become teenage parents. They are more likely than White and Asian-American young people to live in poverty, and they have high levels of exposure to gangs.

The disconnect between reality and attitudes and aspirations reflects a gap that may be in part a function of conflicting identities. Many Latino youths,first and second generation, seem to be straddling two worlds as they adapt to American ways while holding onto traditions of their ethnic backgrounds.

Using data from the March 2009 Current Population Survey and the 2009National Survey of Latinos and others, the chapter of this report titled “Education:The Gap Between Expectations and Achievement” also points to gaps between values and reality. Young Latinos are just as likely as other young people to say that a college education is important for success in life. Indeed, Pew Social &Demographic Trends (2009) showed that the share of young Hispanics who agree that a college degree is important for getting ahead in life is significantly greater (88 percent) than that of young people in general (74 percent).

Despite these positive beliefs, young Hispanics have lower enrollment and educational attainment rates than any other group in America. In March 2009,nearly half of 16- to 24-year-old Latinos were not enrolled in either high school or college, a higher share than any other group. And the percentage of Hispanic youths enrolled in college is significantly lower than that of non-Hispanics.

Of those enrolled in college, the report validates what previous studies have shown – Latino youths are more likely to attend college on a part-time basis, nearly a quarter. And nearly double the rate among Whites of12.4 percent. The unfortunate correlation between part-time enrollment and failure to graduate has been well established by numerous studies.

When educational attainment rather than enrollment is compared,again Latinos do not fare well. The Latino dropout rate was nearly twice that of Black youths, three times that of White youths and more than four times that of Asian-American youths.

High school completion rates among Latinos 18 to 24 years old were much lower than average, and among those with high school diplomas,only 38.8 percent of Latinos ages 16 to 24 were enrolled in college. That number for all youths was 45.6 percent; Whites, 46.4 percent; Blacks, 43.1percent; and Asian-Americans, 66 percent.

Here the high school dropout rate among Hispanic youths is driven by the foreign born. Whereas almost 33 percent of foreign-born Latino youths drop out of high school, only 9.9 percent of native-born Latino youths do so. Native-born Latino high school dropout rates are similar to those of young Black Americans.The Latino dropout rate is double that of Whites, triple that of Asian-Americans.

High school completion rates follow similar patterns. Native-born Latinos have high school completion rates similar to the national average. Similarly, there is not much of a difference between native-born high school completers who are Latino and enrolled in college and college enrollment rates of all youths.

Perception gaps abound when these groups respond to questions about the value of higher education and their own personal aspirations. Foreign-born young Latinos place an even higher importance on the value of a college education than do native-born Latinos, with female Hispanic immigrants surpassing males as seeing a college education as important for success – 95 percent to 84 percent, respectively.

Moreover, Latino youths say that their parents also place a high value on a college education, a finding consistent with previous research. Yet when asked about their own personal expectations for higher education,foreign-born Latinos have relatively low education expectations, with fewer than 30 percent planning to get a bachelor’s degree.

Why Not?

This report tackles the critically important question that researcher shave been asking for quite some time – why don’t young Latinos continue their education and complete college degrees?

To quote Pew’s findings: “The biggest reason for the gap between the high value Latinos place on education and their more modest expectations to finish college appears to come from financial pressure to support a family. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of all 16- to 25-year-old survey respondents who cut their education short during or right after high school say they did so because they had to support their family. Other reasons include poor English skills (cited by about half of respondents who cut short their education), a dislike of school and a feeling that they don’t need more education for the careers they want (each cited by about four in 10 respondents who cut their education short).”

The discrepancies noted between foreign-born and native-born educational enrollments and achievement can be partly explained by this same factor of foreign-borns’ need to help support a family. Making up 34 per-cent of all Latino youths, foreign-born young Latinos are much more likely than native-born young Latinos to be supporting or helping to support a family, either in this country or in their native country.

Nearly two-thirds of immigrant Hispanics ages 18 to 25 years old say they send money to family members in their native countries as compared with just 21 percent of their native-born peers, reported Livingston and Kochlar in2009. And in 2007, 29 percent of all foreign-born female Hispanics between16 and 25 were mothers, compared with 17 percent of native-born female Hispanics and 12 percent of White females, reported Fry in 2009.

The immigrant and native-born gaps in education attainment are apparent from the data. Young foreign-born Hispanics appear to have family financial commitments that supersede their ability to pursue higher education, despite the high value they say they place on a college degree.

As in many immigrant groups, second, third and higher generations fare better in terms of education attainment. What is surprising is that on a number of other measures, native-born young Latinos do no better than foreign-born youth, and in some cases, they do worse. One such area is gang membership, with native-born Latino youths about twice as likely as their foreign-born peers to have ties to a gang, to have gotten into a fight,or to have carried a weapon in the past year. Native-born young Latinos are also more likely to be in prison than foreign-born Latino youths.

Another interesting surprise comes from comparisons among first-generation (immigrants themselves), second-generation (American-born children of immigrants), and third- and higher-generation Latino youth (native-born grandchildren or even more far-removed descendants of immigrants). Painting the same murky picture as with gang membership, the data show that teen parenthood rates and high school dropout rates are actually much lower among the second generation than the first, but the rates appear higher among the third generation than the second. The same is true of poverty rates.

This report illuminates some of the difficulties and struggles of Latino youths and presents a broader perspective than previously understood.

For a more complete analysis, please consult the report: Pew Hispanic Center. Between Two Worlds: How Young Latinos Come of Age in America, Washington, D.C. (Dec. 11, 2009). Available online at

Angela Provitera McGlynn, author and national consultant on teaching and learning, taught psychology at a community college for 35 years.