May 1, 2013

A Demographic Portrait of Mexican-Origin Hispanics in the United States

Mexican-Origin Hispanics in the United States

A record 33.7 million Hispanics of Mexican origin resided in the United States in 2012, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by Pew Research Center. This estimate includes 11.4 million immigrants born in Mexico and 22.3 million born in the U.S. who self-identified as Hispanics of Mexican origin.


Mexicans are by far the largest Hispanic-origin population in the U.S., accounting for nearly two-thirds (64%) of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2012.1 Hispanics of Mexican origin are also a significant portion of the U.S. population, accounting for 11% overall.

The size of the Mexican-origin population in the U.S. has risen dramatically over the past four decades as a result of one of the largest mass migrations in modern history. In 1970, fewer than 1 million Mexican immigrants lived in the U.S. By 2000, that number had grown to 9.8 million, and by 2007 it reached a peak of 12.5 million (Pew Hispanic Center, 2011). Since then, the Mexican-born population has declined as the arrival of new Mexican immigrants has slowed significantly (Passel et al., 2012). Today, 35% of Hispanics of Mexican origin were born in Mexico. And while the remaining two-thirds (65%) were born in the U.S., half (52%) of them have at least one immigrant parent.

Prior to the 1980s, most of the growth in the nation’s Mexican-origin population came from Hispanics of Mexican origin born in the U.S. However, since the 1980s—a decade after the current wave of Mexican migration took off—and up until 2000, more growth in the Mexican-origin population in the U.S. could be attributed to the arrival of Mexican immigrants. In the decade from 2000 to 2010, that pattern reversed—births surpassed immigration as the main driver of the dynamic growth in the U.S. Mexican-origin population (Pew Hispanic Center, 2011).

PHC-2013-05-mexico-2Mexican immigration has also played a large role in shaping the nation’s immigrant population. Today, 11.4 million Mexican immigrants live in the U.S., making them the single largest country of origin group by far among the nation’s 40 million immigrants. The next largest foreign-born population, from greater China at 2 million,2 is less than one-fifth the size of the Mexican-born population in the U.S.

In addition, Mexican migration has shaped the nation’s unauthorized immigrant population. More than half (55%) of the 11.1 million immigrants who are in the country illegally are from Mexico.

Among Mexican immigrants, half (51%) are in the U.S. illegally while about a third are legal permanent residents (32%) and 16% are naturalized U.S. citizens. Overall, naturalization rates among Mexican immigrants who are in the country legally are just half that of legal immigrants from all other countries combined (Gonzalez-Barrera et al., 2013).

Internationally, the U.S. is far and away the top destination for immigrants from Mexico. Fully 96% 0f Mexicans who leave Mexico migrate to the U.S. (Connor et al., 2012) Worldwide, 9% of people born in Mexico live in the U.S.3 In addition, the U.S. has more immigrants from Mexico alone than any other country has immigrants.4

Mexican Immigrants Today and Two Decades Ago

PHC-2013-05-mexico-3The characteristics of Mexican immigrants have changed over the decades. Compared with 1990, Mexican immigrants in 2011 were less likely to be male (53% vs. 55%), considerably older (median age of 38 vs. 29), better educated (41% with high school or more vs. 25%), and have been in the U.S. for longer (71% had been in the U.S. for more than 10 years, compared with 50%).

On economic measures, Mexican immigrants have mixed results. Although median personal earnings increased by about $2,000 during the last two decades, the median household income of Mexican immigrants suffered a drop of more than $4,500. This reflects the effects of the recent economic recession that drove up unemployment rates in the nation, particularly among Mexican immigrants.

This demographic portrait compares the demographic, income and economic characteristics of the foreign-born and native-born Mexican-origin populations with the characteristics of all Hispanics in the U.S. It is based on tabulations from the 2011 American Community Survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. Key findings include:

PHC-2013-05-mexico-4 PHC-2013-05-mexico-5 PHC-2013-05-mexico-6

About this Report

This report examines the Hispanic population of Mexican origin in the United States by its nativity. Several data sources were used to compile the statistics shown in this report. The data for the demographic portrait tables are derived from the 2011 American Community Survey (1% IPUMS), which provides detailed geographic, demographic and economic characteristics for each group. Historical trends for the Mexican-origin and Mexican foreign-born population are based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) March Annual Social and Economic Supplement conducted for 1995 to 2012 and U.S. censuses from 1850 to 2010. Estimates of the unauthorized population are based on augmented data from the March supplement of the CPS.

This report was written by Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, research associate, and Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director. Paul Taylor provided comments and editorial guidance. Jeffrey Passel provided guidance on the report’s statistical analysis. Anna Brown number-checked the report. Molly Rohal was the copy editor.

A Note on Terminology

The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report.

“Native born” refers to persons who are U.S. citizens at birth, including those born in the United States, Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories and those born abroad to parents at least one of whom was a U.S. citizen.

“Foreign born” refers to persons born outside of the United States, Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories to parents neither of whom was a U.S. citizen.

The following terms are used to describe immigrants and their status in the U.S. In some cases, they differ from official government definitions because of limitations in the available survey data.

“Legal permanent resident,” “legal permanent resident alien,” “legal immigrant” and “authorized migrant” refer to a citizen of another country who has been granted a visa that allows work and permanent residence in the U.S. For the analyses in this report, legal permanent residents include persons admitted as refugees or granted asylum.

“Naturalized citizen” refers to a legal permanent resident who has fulfilled the length of stay and other requirements to become a U.S. citizen and who has taken the oath of citizenship.

“Unauthorized migrant” refers to a citizen of another country who lives in the U.S. without a currently valid visa.

“Eligible immigrant” in this report, refers to a legal permanent resident who meets the length of stay qualifications to file a petition to become a citizen but has not yet naturalized.

“Legal temporary migrant” refers to a citizen of another country who has been granted a temporary visa that may or may not allow work and temporary residence in the U.S.

  1. Percentages are computed before numbers are rounded.
  2. Greater China includes immigrants from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
  3. The share of people born in Mexico who currently live in the U.S. was obtained by dividing the number of Mexican immigrants currently in the U.S. by the current population of Mexico (see and those who live in the U.S. currently.
  4. Russia has 12.3 million residents who are classified as immigrants by the United Nations, but the vast majority were born in countries that had been part of the Soviet Union prior to its breakup in 1991.
  5. This includes Mexicans ages 5 and older who report speaking only English at home or speaking English very well.