May 28, 2009

Latino Children: A Majority Are U.S.-Born Offspring of Immigrants

I. Overview

Hispanics now make up 22% of all children under the age of 18 in the United States–up from 9% in 1980–and as their numbers have grown, their demographic profile has changed.

A majority (52%) of the nation’s 16 million Hispanic children are now “second generation,” meaning they are the U.S.-born sons or daughters of at least one foreign-born parent, typically someone who came to this country in the immigration wave from Mexico, Central America and South America that began around 1980. Some 11% of Latino children are “first generation”–meaning they themselves are foreign-born. And 37% are “third generation or higher”–meaning they are the U.S.-born children of U.S.-born parents.

In 1980, only three-in-ten Latino children were second generation, while nearly six-in-ten were in the third generation or higher. These shifts are noteworthy because many social, economic and demographic characteristics of Latino children vary sharply by their generational status. A Pew Hispanic Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data finds that:

Most of these data reflect the classic pattern of socioeconomic gains for immigrant families from one generation to the next. However, there are also some contrary trends. As indicated above, the chances of being raised by a single parent are much greater among Latino children in the third generation or higher than among first- or second-generation Latino children.1

Another characteristic that separates Latino children along generational lines is their legal status. Building on earlier research2 the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 7% of all Hispanic children are unauthorized immigrants. But this share varies sharply by generational status. Two-thirds of the 1.7 million foreign-born Hispanic children are unauthorized, while none of the 6 million Hispanic children in the third generation or higher are unauthorized (as the U.S.-born children of U.S.-born parents, by definition they are U.S. citizens at birth). As for those in the middle–the second generation–about four-in-ten have at least one unauthorized immigrant parent and are therefore living in a family whose immigration status is legally mixed.

Projects by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that by 2025, nearly three-in-ten children in this country will be of Latino ancestry. Pew Hispanic Center population projects indicate that the generational composition of Hispanic children will change yet again between now and then. Today’s large cohort of second-generation Hispanic children will eventually form families and produce third-generation offspring. The Center’s projections show that the share of Hispanic children who are second generation will likely peak not much above the current level of 52% and then begin falling roughly a decade from now. The share of Hispanic children who are third generation or higher will likely hit bottom at 35% around 2015 and then begin rising. Given past trends, this change in the generational composition of Hispanic children could well have an impact on their employment, education and social outcomes in future years.

About this Report

This report present findings from several existing and new Pew Hispanic Center analyses of U.S. Census Bureau data as well as Pew Hispanic Center population projections. The analysis of the legal status of Hispanic children underlying Table 1 utilized the augmented March 2008 Current Population Survey. See Passel and Cohn (2009) for further details. The methods and assumptions underlying the generational projections of Hispanic children from 2010 to 2025 are described in detail in Passel and Cohn (2008). The historical and current profile of Hispanic children derives from new analyses of Decennial Census and American Community Survey data. See the data appendix for further details.

A Note on Terminology

Unless otherwise noted, this report uses the following definitions of the first, second, and third or higher generations:

First: Foreign-born; an individual who is not a U.S. citizen at birth or, in other words, who is born outside the U.S., Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories and whose parents are not U.S. citizens.

Second: An individual who is a U.S. citizen at birth (including people born in the United States, Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories, as well as those born elsewhere to parents who are U.S. citizens) with at least one first-generation parent.

Third or higher: An individual who is a U.S. citizen at birth with both parents U.S. citizens at birth.
The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report, as are the terms “foreign born” and “immigrant.”

Recommended Citation

Richard Fry and Jeffrey S. Passel. “Latino Children: A Majority Are U.S.-Born Offspring of Immigrants.” Washington, D.C.: Pew Hispanic Center (May 2009).

  1. On a number of other social- and health-related indicators, children of Latino immigrants experience better outcomes than do Latino children in the third or higher generation. For example, the children of immigrants are less likely than the children of U.S.-born Latinos to have low birth weights, to die within the first year of life or to experience a variety of childhood health problems (Hernandez, 1999). In addition, Hispanic adolescents in the third generation or higher are more likely than the children of immigrant parents to use cigarettes, alcohol or illegal drugs and to engage in delinquent or violent behaviors (Harris, 1999).
  2. See Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera Cohn. “A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States.” Washington, D.C.; Pew Hispanic Center (April 2009).