Photo by Robert Couse-Baker, Flickr CC

We often assume that the descendants of immigrants will be better off than their predecessors–an idea that sociologists refer to as “assimilation theory.” However, recent social science research contradicts this assumption. In their new work, sociologists Vilma Ortiz and Edward Telles demonstrate the importance of considering the role of race and racial inequality for immigrants and their descendants.

Using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey, Ortiz and Telles examine respondents’ income, education, and employment outcomes, as well as race and immigration status. They find that third-generation Mexican-Americans do not experience better economic and educational outcomes than second-generation Mexican-Americans. In fact, third-generation outcomes are very similar to second-generation outcomes. Further, third-generation Mexican-Americans experience significantly worse outcomes than Whites. Ortiz and Telles suggest that racial inequality — like unequal access to education and job market discrimination — contribute to Mexican-Americans’ disadvantage. In short, this research shows the importance of considering racial inequality when examining the relative success of immigrants and their descendants.