The Adaptation of Migrant Children

Organization: Princeton University, The Brookings Institute

Alejandro Portes and Alejandro Rivas examine how young immigrants are adapting to life in the United States. They begin by noting the existence of two distinct pan–ethnic populations: Asian Americans, who tend to be the offspring of high–human–capital migrants, and Hispanics, many of whose parents are manual workers. Vast differences in each, both in human capital origins and in their reception in the United States, mean large disparities in available resources. Empirical work shows that immigrants make much progress, on average, from the first to the second generation, both culturally and socioeconomically. The overall advancement of the immigrant population, is largely driven by the good performance and outcomes of youths from professional immigrant families, positively received in America, specifically white and Asian immigrants. However, for immigrants at the other end of the spectrum, typically Mexican and Latin American immigrants, average socioeconomic outcomes are driven down by the poorer educational and economic performance of children from unskilled migrant families, who are often handicapped further by an unauthorized or insecure legal status. The article describes the two prevailing theoretical perspectives on assimilation: culturalism and structuralism. The authors then cite two important policy measures for immigrant youth.


Portes, A., Rivas, A. (2011) "The Adaptation of Migrant Children." Immigrant Children 21 (1). The Future of Children. Retrieved from: