Photo by John Walker, Flickr CC
Photo by John Walker, Flickr CC

When it comes to evaluating immigrant groups, some groups, such as Hispanics, are often derided or seen unfavorably, while other groups, such as Asian immigrants, are held in high-esteem as the “model minority.” But as described in a new article in LA magazine by sociologist Jennifer Lee, we need to rethink the way that we define “success” for America’s immigrant populations. 

As Lee and co-author Min Zhou describe in their book The Asian American Achievement Paradoxthe advantages that Asian second-generation immigrants often have over other immigrant groups is that many of their parents have college degrees. As other research has established, you are much more likely to graduate from college if your parents have. Lee and Zhou found that the proportion of Chinese second-gen immigrants who went to college is in fact the same proportion for Mexican second-gen immigrants. Lee explains,

“Graduating from college is no easy feat, but it’s far easier when your parents have paved the path before you…Often overlooked is the remarkable progress that the children of Mexican immigrants in L.A. have made. In just one generation they have doubled the high school graduation rates of their parents, doubled the college graduation rates of their fathers, and tripled that of their mothers. Factoring in where they began, the children of Mexican immigrants come out ahead of all immigrant groups.”

Unlike other immigrant groups whose parents are more likely to have college degrees, Mexican second-gen immigrants have experienced the most “success,” overcoming the odds of often being the first person in their family to attend college. 

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Al Sharpton speaks outside the Supreme Court as it hears arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas Austin. Photo by Jordan Uhl, Flickr CC.

After a series of decisions and appeals, Abigail Fisher’s infamous case against UT Austin (dating as far back as 2008) concluded with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision that the school’s admission policies were constitutional. Fisher had made the case that her rejected application was due to her race, as minority applicants who were supposedly less deserving had taken spots from her. This case is one in a long line of litigation by white women against affirmative action, as discussed in an article on Vox; ironically, however, white women are among affirmative action’s primary beneficiaries.

As detailed in the article, research shows how affirmative action for women translated into job advances: as benchmarks for gender enrollment are met, representation for white women has increased dramatically in certain sectors. Often, opponents of affirmative action state that race shouldn’t play a factor in application decisions, but research from sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford shows how this works against Asian-Americans, who are three times less likely than whites to be admitted to selective schools even with the exact same scores. Furthermore, affirmative action has also enabled the existence of legacy application processes, meaning people whose parents went to a certain school are more likely to be accepted there—a system that disproportionally helps whites. It seems affirmative action is safe for the time being, but the details may still need an overhaul.

Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com
Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com

Some believe Asian-Americans face a “gentler” sort of racism than other minority groups—that they are even treated with admiration as a “model minority” group. That said, the “model minority” stereotype doesn’t have negative consequences. In an Atlantic article, sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield discusses the multiple ways Asian identities are subject to subtle but impactful experiences in everyday life.

For example, consider the “model minority” stereotype, especially as it pertains to how Asians are supposed to excel at school. What this can mean, however, is that Asian-American high school students can feel deterred from seeking help when they need it, which can lead to peer isolation, among other problems, as in research by UW Madison’s Stacy Lee. Furthermore, Asian Americans are more likely to downplay racism that they face due to the implicit understanding that Asians are stereotyped in “good ways”, as descried by the Georgia State University sociologist Rosalind Chou.

That second dynamic is a part of The Racial Middle by Eileen O’Brien of Saint Leo University, a book that tackles some arguments that non-white, non-black racial identities will be subsumed into black and white, though these groups, like Latinos and Asians, are made up of sub-groups with unique histories and challenges. Consider that Asian Americans do not have a long history of organized struggle or civic action, which may reinforce the caricature of Asian groups as passive and well behaved. Collective action may raise racial consciousness in more ways than one.

To read more about Asian Americans and the Model Minority myth, see Jennifer Lee’s TSP special features “From Unassimilable to Exceptional” and “Asian American Exceptionalism and “Stereotype Promise.‘”

Photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee, Flickr CC
Integrated kids become integrated adults. Photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee, Flickr CC.

Nearly 20 years have passed since Beverly Daniel Tatum released her groundbreaking book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations about Race. In it, she examines how and why black youth often segregate themselves in middle and high school, arguing that engagement in meaningful conversations about race can help deconstruct such racial barriers. While many may have lost hope in the Civil Rights-era dream of school integration, today, new sociological research demonstrates the importance of integration and the positive long-term effects it provides for working adults. A recent article in The Atlantic reveals that students who attend racially diverse high schools are more likely to work in diverse employment settings.

Adam Gamoran, Sarah Barfels, and Ana Cristina Collares tracked over 10,000 black and white high school students during the 1980s and 1990s, then recorded the racial make-up of their current work environment. White and black students who attended predominantly white schools were more likely to work in predominantly white work settings. Regardless of the various methods behind the integration (including busing and neighborhood development), the students from racially diverse high schools were more likely to work today with a diverse group of coworkers. The authors suggest that “Interactions with a diverse student body may mean that individuals are more likely to live in communities that are more diverse, or [are] more willing and comfortable in racially diverse settings later in life.” While they are reluctant to conclude that attending a diverse high school or working with diverse coworkers will eradicate the economic and social disparities of life in the U.S., it is safe to say that both provide a strong step in the right direction.

The Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.
The 2015 Live Below the Line campaign helped people in many countries express solidarity with fellow citizens working to make ends meet.

The U.S. presidential election is beginning to take on issues of poverty and class. Such conversations often look at “the poor” from a careful remove, but work by Thomas Hirschl of Cornell and Mark Rank of Washington University says that outsider angle is a comfortable farce. As explained by an article in Salon, the unpleasant fact is that over fifty percent of Americans will experience poverty during our lifetimes. Impoverishment and “the poor”—and the politics and policies that affect them—are actually very close to home.

Of course, demographic factors are a big part of predicting one’s likelihood of experiencing poverty. (If you’re interested in calculating your own odds, check out Hirschl and Rank’s poverty calculator!) Education is one big factor, as is race: white people are half as likely as non-white people to fall into poverty. And married people are less likely to become poor than singles. Still, as candidates and voters debate nature of class and poverty in America, we would do well to remember that they affect us all. To pretend like anyone’s above poverty would be a poor show.

pushout coverOver the last year, bystanders have recorded numerous instances of confrontation between police and black students, from one officer pointing his gun at an unarmed black youth during a pool party in Texas to another officer flipping over a black girl still seated in her desk in a South Carolina high school. Media reports often blame black girls for defying authority figures while excusing the behaviors of school officials and law enforcement officers. Recent reports including Kimberlé Crenshaw’s, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” contextualizes the serious effects of harsh punishment as black girls disproportionately enter the school-to-prison pipeline.

Monique Morris sheds additional light on the topic in her new book, “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.” Morris interviewed several young black girls in group homes, foster care, and juvenile detention centers in cities including Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Boston. She discovered that several girls experienced various forms of physical and sexual violence. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, praised the book, calling it “A powerful indictment of the cultural beliefs, policies, and practices that criminalize and dehumanize Black girls in America,” while activist Gloria Steinhem wrote that Morris “tells us exactly how schools are crushing the spirit and talent that this country needs.”

The racial integration of West Hollywood, mapped by Eric Fischer (flickr CC), inspired by Bill Rankin.
The racial integration of West Hollywood, mapped by Eric Fischer (flickr CC), inspired by Bill Rankin.

In an era of “post­-racial” rhetoric, whites may not openly declare their prejudices and biases toward blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities, yet sociological research illustrates how whites may both consciously and unconsciously maintain and reproduce racial segregation in schools and neighborhoods. More subtle negative racial attitudes are persistent and pernicious. A recent article in The Atlantic showcases a few of sociologies most relevant studies on whites and racial segregation that challenge the myth of a post­-racial America.

The white family is essential for the transferring and maintaining of economic wealth. Sociologist Thomas Shapiro notes that middle­class white families use their financial resources to pay for kids’ college or housing payments, thus alleviating some of the financial burden from younger generations. Racial segregations is also reproduced in this process when whites invest in neighborhoods that provide access to majority white schools. Due to the wealth gap, most blacks do not hold the privilege of supporting younger generations with existing financial wealth. Instead, researchers report they are more likely to use more limited funds to support their own parents and additional extended family members.

The work of sociologists including Mary Pattillo, Douglas Massey, and Nancy Denton has further demonstrated that blacks are not geographically located in neighborhoods that provide access to well funded schools, even when black families are homeowners. Other researchers such as Deirdre Royster and Lauren Rivera discuss the importance of exclusive white networks that systematically neglect blacks when sharing vital information about education and careers in schools and workplaces.

For many, the "American Dream" seems beyond possibility. Zhang Yu, Flickr CC.
For many, the “American Dream” seems beyond possibility. Zhang Yu, Flickr CC.

Immigration is a hot topic, especially with elections coming up. Donald Trump has called immigrants “rapists” and “criminals”, perpetuating anti-immigration rhetoric. Common immigration myths include that immigrants are taking Americans’ jobs, burden the economy, and refuse to speak English. The Washington Post covers a report written by a group of Harvard professors, led by sociologist Mary Waters.

  1. “Immigrants are picking up English just as quickly as their predecessors”
In fact, today’s immigrants are learning English faster than their predecessors. This is partially due to how global English is, which means that immigrants are more likely to have been exposed to it or to have taken English classes already. Additionally, American schools are becoming better at teaching English to immigrant students.
  1. “Immigrants tend to have more education than before”
Historically, immigrants were low skilled workers from southern and eastern Europe in the early 1900s. Recently, however, immigrants are more likely to have four years of education on average. Approximately, 28% of recent immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is a 19% increase since 1980.
  1. “Immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes—but they soon learn”
In fact, immigrant neighborhoods are considered to be some of the safest neighborhoods as immigrants are least likely to commit crimes. Native-born men aged 18-39 are 5 times more likely to end up in jail than immigrants. While immigrants are initially fearful of picking up criminal influences, by the second and third generation, they are more likely to engage in criminal behavior.
  1. “Immigrants are more likely to have jobs than the native-born”
Immigrants are determined to find employment, and they are more likely to be employed than their native-born counterparts. Between 2003-2013, 86% immigrants were employed compared to 82-83% native-born Americans. This also holds true for men who have not earned a high-school diploma, where 84% immigrants are employed compared to 58% native-born Americans.

While the report combats common myths about immigration, it does not give a concrete answer as to whether today’s immigrants have the same opportunities as earlier generations of new Americans, despite being educated, staying away from crime, holding jobs, and paying taxes.


For many, the “American Dream” seems beyond possibility. Zhang Yu, Flickr CC.

Work by Harvard University’s Robert Putnam and Princeton’s Doug Massey was featured in a recent article in The Atlantic, which discusses the need for policy changes to fight poverty and begin a new “civil-rights movement” for the poor. As the article describes, through policies in housing, employment, and education, the poor are at an inherent disadvantage in America, one that is often outside their control.

Putnam, in his work Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, states that poor children are often less prepared than their middle-class counterparts to develop skills and succeed. Communities and families within poor contexts are less likely to have the same resources and starting platform with which to help their kids participate in “The American Dream.” The article presents arguments to suggest potential change within housing, educational, and employment contexts. Doug Massey’s research, for example, is cited in support of housing policies that enable the poor to live in better-resourced communities. The article makes multiple suggestions for ways to empower the poor and increase their life chances, and research shows that such policies can effect positive change.

Tinder's promise.
Tinder’s promise.

In Vanity Fair, a piece by Nancy Jo Sales discusses “hook up culture” and its potential causes, including the infamous app Tinder. Sales’ accounts of dating in New portray a “dating apocalypse,” wherein some of her interviewees see men, in particular, moving away from “relationships” altogether. To them, Tinder has forever changed how people date and how they perceive dating. As explained by John Birger in The Washington Post, however, Tinder and its ilk may be better understood of symptoms of “hookup culture” rather than causes. The real problem, Birger asserts, is plain old math.

Birger describes how today’s college-educated demographics mean three men for every four available women. For him, the surplus of women is shaping the narrative of non-committal “hook up culture” detailed in Vanity Fair. And it wouldn’t matter so much if people were more likely to date across socioeconomic or educational lines. Birger uses research from UCLA sociologists Christine Swartz and Robert Mare to show that marriage between individuals of unequal education at its lowest point in fifty years. Since college-educated women outnumber college-educated men, the former inevitably exclude a greater population of potential partners if they overlook men with different educational trajectories—and they replicate the idea that relationships are harder to come by for female college grads. Those interviewed in Sales’ article provide testimonials of the ways Tinder can affect interpersonal communication and relationships, but as Birger shows, demographics and mathematics paint a more accurate picture of how “hook up culture” lasts beyond college.

For more on marriage across class and education lines, see Jessi Strieb’s “Marrying Across Class Lines.” For more on “hook up culture,” see Elizabeth Armstrong, Laura Hamilton, and Paula England’s “Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?”