- Color Lines, Country Lines: Race, Immigration, and Wealth Stratification in America
Color Lines, Country Lines: Race, Immigration, and Wealth Stratification in America is a quantitative study of immigrants' assimilation and their impacts on social and racial inequality in the United States. Using repeated national survey data, Lingxin Hao thoughtfully and meticulously examines the patterns of wealth by various national origins, changes in American race stratification caused by immigration, and implications for assimilation theory and public policy. She argues that contemporary immigrants have changed the class structure of America but not in ways commonly believed. She shows that, while many immigrant groups—Cubans, Jamaicans, Chinese, and others—have acquired more wealth than their native-born coethnics, their progress in America has more to do with structural characteristics—homeland political and educational systems, social reception and treatment by the U.S. society, immigration selectivity, and occupation and residential segregations—than with individual or cultural characteristics.
To tell a coherent story about immigrants' assets and wealth inequality in the United States and to account for immigrant-native differences, Hao organizes her book into nine chapters containing 316 pages including sixty-four tables and seventy-four figures. In her introductory chapter, Hao makes a compelling argument that wealth is a better measure than income in capturing immigrants' socioeconomic integration or structural assimilation while gauging more accurately immigration's impact on American society. As a concept, wealth contains assets and debts, absorbing the consequences of past economic behavior and activity, including earning, saving, consuming, portfolio allocating, and investing in children and for old age (2). Drawing on theories of international migration, assimilation, stratification, and wealth accumulation, Hao introduces nativity as a key factor into the racial-ethnic stratification system and conceptualizes the host society as structured by a two-tier race-nativity stratification system in which race stratifies wealth at the primary level and nativity stratifies wealth at the secondary level (chapter 2). She asserts that this two-tier system allows some immigrant groups to transcend color lines and eventually assimilate into the mainstream America while weakening the racial hierarchy. At the same time, many immigrant groups are trapped within the host racial hierarchy.
Hao then establishes, step-by-step, the logical linkage between microlevel behavior in motivation, consumption, saving, and lifestyle and macrolevel constraints in wealth accumulation to provide a systematic and comprehensive portrait of [End Page 317] immigrants' wealth over a twenty-year period. She looks closely at the trajectories of both assets and debts in total and specific components by country of origin, family life cycle, and arrival cohort (chapters 3–6). She shows that the existence and salience of a second-tier hierarchy and attributes it to the large variations in the modes of incorporation within different national-origin groups of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. For example, Cuban immigrants make substantially more progress than arrivals from the Dominican Republic, but they do not top whites; Chinese immigrants from Mainland China have more success than Vietnamese or Korean immigrants, but they do not top whites either; and Jamaicans fare better than Haitians and sub-Saharan Africans, but they still fare much worse than whites and some other racial minorities such as Hispanics. Hao provides evidence to show how nativity differences can be subsumed by race-ethnicity and education. For example, while rates of return to education may favor racial minorities, postsecondary degrees earned in developing countries of origin may offset this advantage, which can have varied effects on immigrants of darker or lighter skin color. Hao also shows that a strong motivation to improve life chances of family and a home country culture honoring having children and emphasizing children's education can boost asset building among members of some national origin groups regardless of their current marital and parenthood statuses.
In Chapter 7, Hao builds and empirically tests a model of immigrant assimilation through wealth attainment. Her model estimates the strength of racial-ethnic effect and education effect and the strength...