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Inheriting the City

The Children of Immigrants Come of Age

Philip Kasnitz, John H. Mollenkopf, Mary C. Waters, Jennifer Holdaway

Publication Year: 2009

The United States is an immigrant nation—nowhere is the truth of this statement more evident than in its major cities. Immigrants and their children comprise nearly three-fifths of New York City’s population and even more of Miami and Los Angeles. But the United States is also a nation with entrenched racial divisions that are being complicated by the arrival of newcomers. While immigrant parents may often fear that their children will “disappear” into American mainstream society, leaving behind their ethnic ties, many experts fear that they won’t—evolving instead into a permanent unassimilated and underemployed underclass. Inheriting the City confronts these fears with evidence, reporting the results of a major study examining the social, cultural, political, and economic lives of today’s second generation in metropolitan New York, and showing how they fare relative to their first-generation parents and native-stock counterparts. Focused on New York but providing lessons for metropolitan areas across the country, Inheriting the City is a comprehensive analysis of how mass immigration is transforming life in America’s largest metropolitan area. The authors studied the young adult offspring of West Indian, Chinese, Dominican, South American, and Russian Jewish immigrants and compared them to blacks, whites, and Puerto Ricans with native-born parents. They find that today’s second generation is generally faring better than their parents, with Chinese and Russian Jewish young adults achieving the greatest education and economic advancement, beyond their first-generation parents and even beyond their native-white peers. Every second-generation group is doing at least marginally—and, in many cases, significantly—better than natives of the same racial group across several domains of life. Economically, each second-generation group earns as much or more than its native-born comparison group, especially African Americans and Puerto Ricans, who experience the most persistent disadvantage. Inheriting the City shows the children of immigrants can often take advantage of policies and programs that were designed for native-born minorities in the wake of the civil rights era. Indeed, the ability to choose elements from both immigrant and native-born cultures has produced, the authors argue, a second-generation advantage that catalyzes both upward mobility and an evolution of mainstream American culture. Inheriting the City leads the chorus of recent research indicating that we need not fear an immigrant underclass. Although racial discrimination and economic exclusion persist to varying degrees across all the groups studied, this absorbing book shows that the new generation is also beginning to ease the intransigence of U.S. racial categories. Adapting elements from their parents’ cultures as well as from their native-born peers, the children of immigrants are not only transforming the American city but also what it means to be American.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-xi


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p. xii-xii

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1. Introduction: Inheriting the City

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pp. 1-24

Immigration is squarely on the American political agenda. With the influx of migrants continuing at high levels, it is destined to remain there. Although its salience as an issue may rise and fall, immigration poses fundamental questions about what it means to be an American and whether the...

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2. The Worlds of the Fathers and Mothers

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pp. 25-65

The story of the second generation begins with the parents’ journey to New York. These first generation immigrants faced struggles, found jobs, formed families, settled in neighborhoods, and were received by native New Yorkers in ways that all set the stage for their children’s lives. Here, we draw on the...

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3. Ethnic Identities

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pp. 66-93

One need not dig far in New York City to find ethnicity in all its dramatic complexity. The city has always served as an immigrant gateway to America, and three-fifths of its population are now immigrants or their children. Ethnicity is woven into the fabric of everyday life. Encounters...

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4. Family and Neighborhood Origins

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pp. 94-132

Most people would agree that one’s family has an enormous impact on one’s formative years and often provides important resources later in life. Debate arises, however, about exactly which aspects of family background have what effects on a family’s children under what circumstances. Contemporary families certainly face vastly different circumstances than those...

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5. The School System as Sorting Mechanism

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pp. 133-172

Educational attainment increasingly determines the opportunities open to young people. Although a few young people in metropolitan New York manage to find skilled blue collar jobs, often through family connections, most need a college degree to qualify for a position that offers a decent...

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6. The Second Generation Goes to Work

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pp. 173-204

Few aspects of contemporary migration to the United States have received as much attention as the role of immigrants in the economy and labor market. When asked about what motivated their parents’ decision to leave their homeland, the young people we spoke to recounted many complicated...

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7. Forming New Families

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pp. 205-240

The timing of marriage and childbearing in the United States and the relations between men and women have changed a great deal since the 1960s. Scholars agree that the transition to adulthood has become an increasingly complex and messy affair (Furstenberg et al. 2005). Many...

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8. Cultural Matters

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pp. 241-273

Studies of the assimilation of the children and grandchildren of European immigrants in the twentieth century often assumed that upward mobility and Americanization went hand in hand. The more successful members of the ethnic group were the most American not only in terms of their...

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9. Civic and Political Engagement

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pp. 274-299

Politics looms large in the literature on how late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century immigrants became Americans. Scholars of that period took it for granted that participating in protest movements, joining labor unions and civic organizations, voting, running candidates, and winning...

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10. Race, Prejudice, and Discrimination

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pp. 300-341

Since the resumption of mass immigration in the late 1960s, the United States has incorporated tens of millions of new immigrants, the large majority of whom are non-European. Being neither unambiguously “white,” in the way that term had come to be used in late twentieth-century...

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11. Conclusion: The Second Generation Advantage

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pp. 342-370

Our research was initially motivated by worries about second generation decline. Like many other social scientists, we were concerned that the children of recent immigrants might be at risk of downward assimilation as they become Americans. We feared that many would earn less than their...

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Methodological Appendix

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pp. 371-386

A pilot study to test the feasibility of surveying the second generation in New York began in July 1996 with funding from the Russell Sage Foundation. Any such survey faces the immediate challenge of deciding whether to sample a cross section of the whole second generation, which...


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pp. 387-412


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pp. 413-420

E-ISBN-13: 9781610446556
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871544780
Print-ISBN-10: 0871544784

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Children of immigrants -- United States -- Social conditions -- 21st century.
  • Children of immigrants -- United States -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
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