Immigrants: The Hare and the Tortoise

Do some immigrant groups assimilate faster?

chart.jpgLast week, USA Today published an article summarizing the results of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. The institute has computed a quantitative assimilation index to compare groups historically and from various nations. The report defines their index as follows:

The assimilation index can be decomposed along several other dimensions. The overall, or composite, index is based on a series of economic, cultural, and civic factors. These sets of factors can be examined in isolation to produce three component indices. The economic index compares the labor force, educational attainment, and home ownership patterns of the foreign- and native-born. The cultural index focuses on English-speaking ability, marriage, and childbearing patterns. The civic index examines naturalization rates and compares the military service patterns of the foreign- and native-born. [link]

Now let me tell you, just skimming it, there are SOO many problems with the methodology. Does civic assimilation really only rest on military service patterns?

After seeing those problems, I decided to check up on the institutes own record. While USA today calls it a libertarian think tank, my own online research indicates that it may be of a different nature. One website characterized it as following:

The Institute “…advocates privatization of sanitation services and infrastructure maintenance, deregulation in the area of environmental and consumer protection, school vouchers and cuts in government spending on social welfare programs; it is a preferred source of information for New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.” [link]

So leaving aside the messenger and the methods, let us just take a look at its suggestive nature. Indians are second to last on this list. The author notes:

At the other end of the spectrum, immigrants born in China and India show the greatest degree of cultural distinction from the native-born. It is interesting to note that both these groups show average or above-average levels of economic assimilation, a first clue that cultural assimilation is not a prerequisite for economic assimilation. [link]

So what are your thoughts? Do certain groups assimilate (do we even want to assimilate?) faster than others? Where do you think Sikhs fall?


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36 Responses to “Immigrants: The Hare and the Tortoise”

  1. sizzle says:

    here's an interesting perspective…

    http://volokh.com/posts/1210854368.shtml

  2. sizzle says:

    here’s an interesting perspective…

    http://volokh.com/posts/1210854368.shtml

  3. Camille says:

    Jodha, no offense, but it's hard for me to take the Manhattan Institute seriously. Does the study control for cohort? For example, the foreign-born population of desis is much higher than other cultural groups. So, while in 2 generations there is probably a greater number of English-proficiency, for first-generation migrants, like my late dadiji who immigrated in the 80s, there's a strong preference to maintain communication in one's mother-tongue. What's considered a "normal" childbearing practice? What is the baseline, or norm, to begin with? Is it the general native-born population? The native-born population within each subgroup?

    Implicit in the "cultural assimilation" commentary is also an idea that the mainstream culture (Christianity) is preferable to other religions or cultures. Is it common for Sikhs to join the military and retain their kes in the U.S., versus in other countries where their religious practice is accommodated (e.g., the UK)? Not so much.

  4. Jodha says:

    Camille,

    No offense taken. I had never even heard of the Manhattan Institute and that is why I try to give context to who they are. I agree that their indices are stupid. I acknowledged all that. However, so my real question do certain groups 'assimilate' faster than others? What are the factors? Who does? Why do they?

  5. Camille says:

    Jodha, no offense, but it’s hard for me to take the Manhattan Institute seriously. Does the study control for cohort? For example, the foreign-born population of desis is much higher than other cultural groups. So, while in 2 generations there is probably a greater number of English-proficiency, for first-generation migrants, like my late dadiji who immigrated in the 80s, there’s a strong preference to maintain communication in one’s mother-tongue. What’s considered a “normal” childbearing practice? What is the baseline, or norm, to begin with? Is it the general native-born population? The native-born population within each subgroup?

    Implicit in the “cultural assimilation” commentary is also an idea that the mainstream culture (Christianity) is preferable to other religions or cultures. Is it common for Sikhs to join the military and retain their kes in the U.S., versus in other countries where their religious practice is accommodated (e.g., the UK)? Not so much.

  6. Jodha says:

    Camille,

    No offense taken. I had never even heard of the Manhattan Institute and that is why I try to give context to who they are. I agree that their indices are stupid. I acknowledged all that. However, so my real question do certain groups ‘assimilate’ faster than others? What are the factors? Who does? Why do they?

  7. Kaptaan says:

    Jodha,

    You wrote this post as if assimilation is such a "good" thing. The comments seem to suggest that somehow the results are spurious because "desis" are at the lower end of the spectrum.

    My question to you is, "what makes you think it's such a positive result to assimilate in the first place?".

    I take exception to the very premise that somehow assimilation for Sikhs is a desired outcome of immigration to the USA.

    Sikhs shouldn't assimilate in my opinion, but rather integrate into society. Assimilation denotes taking on the attributes of the "mainstream", whereas, integration implies finding your own space within society and the community at large.

    Gur Fateh,

    Kaptaan

  8. Jodha says:

    Kaptaan,

    Excellent point. I do agree that the whole assimilation paradigm should be questioned. In fact a closer read will show I did write:

    Do certain groups ‘assimilate’ (do we even want to assimilate?) faster than others? [Emphasis added]

    Regardless, thanks for drawing attention to this point. Your integration comment is interesting. I will have to think about it some more. Usually the words used in this context tend to be 'assimilate' and 'accomodate.' I will get back to you on my feelings about 'integrate.'

  9. Jodha says:

    I think my original post was problematic in terms of where I was hoping this conversation would go….

    I guess I should've asked, are they certain cultural characteristics that allow some groups to 'assimilate/integrate' faster than others? Culture itself has sometimes been questioned as a spurious concept as all sorts of hierarchies can be mixed into it. If we do believe that cultural traits can play a role, can we actually parse it out to determine what are those traits? Or are 'rates' of 'assimilation/integration' better explained by more mundane characteristics such as income, class, education, etc.?

  10. Kaptaan says:

    Jodha,

    You wrote this post as if assimilation is such a “good” thing. The comments seem to suggest that somehow the results are spurious because “desis” are at the lower end of the spectrum.

    My question to you is, “what makes you think it’s such a positive result to assimilate in the first place?”.

    I take exception to the very premise that somehow assimilation for Sikhs is a desired outcome of immigration to the USA.

    Sikhs shouldn’t assimilate in my opinion, but rather integrate into society. Assimilation denotes taking on the attributes of the “mainstream”, whereas, integration implies finding your own space within society and the community at large.

    Gur Fateh,

    Kaptaan

  11. Jodha says:

    Kaptaan,

    Excellent point. I do agree that the whole assimilation paradigm should be questioned. In fact a closer read will show I did write:

    Do certain groups assimilate (do we even want to assimilate?) faster than others? [Emphasis added]

    Regardless, thanks for drawing attention to this point. Your integration comment is interesting. I will have to think about it some more. Usually the words used in this context tend to be ‘assimilate’ and ‘accomodate.’ I will get back to you on my feelings about ‘integrate.’

  12. Rani says:

    I think cultural pride may be one of the cultural traits that affect the level of assimilation. I think those that have immense cultural pride (for example Chinese community, Punjabi community, Muslim community) actually choose not to assimilate into the US culture. They may feel the perspectives or beliefs of their own culture are better life outlooks. And if we are talking about assimilating into the western world, whether you are stemming from an individualistic or collectivist culture plays a role as well.

    Jodha-

    The cultural index focuses on English-speaking ability, marriage, and childbearing patterns.

    Do you know how childbearing patterns were measured? was assimilation equated to lower numbers of family size? I'm not sure I'm understanding exactly what the institute measured with respect to childbearing patterns.

  13. Jodha says:

    I think my original post was problematic in terms of where I was hoping this conversation would go….

    I guess I should’ve asked, are they certain cultural characteristics that allow some groups to ‘assimilate/integrate’ faster than others? Culture itself has sometimes been questioned as a spurious concept as all sorts of hierarchies can be mixed into it. If we do believe that cultural traits can play a role, can we actually parse it out to determine what are those traits? Or are ‘rates’ of ‘assimilation/integration’ better explained by more mundane characteristics such as income, class, education, etc.?

  14. Jodha says:

    Rani,

    A link to the actual study is provided. Again you can go here.

    As Camille pointed out the report is extremely ethnocentric. An example regarding child-bearing can be seen in statements such as these:

    Because of this pattern, the assimilation index treats this indicator of teen childbearing as a distinctively native-born characteristic. Mexican-born young immigrants, however, have a much higher rate of teen childbearing: nearly one in 20 Mexican-born girls aged 12–19 lives with one or more of her own children.

    But I do have a question about your first statement. I think I would be hard pressed to find a culture that did not take pride in its own culture (meaning more than just Punjabis, Muslims, and Chinese (by the way, one is a religion)). What groups do you think would fall in the category of not having pride in their culture?

  15. Suki says:

    I think cultural pride may be one of the cultural traits that affect the level of assimilation. I think those that have immense cultural pride (for example Chinese community, Punjabi community, Muslim community) actually choose not to assimilate into the US culture. They may feel the perspectives or beliefs of their own culture are better life outlooks

    I was thining the same thing that Rani was. That certain groups have more pride in there culture then other groups.

  16. Suki says:

    I also think that eductation level of the immigrant and the ethnic population of the place that they are living in the west could make a major difference. For example a punjabi kid who parents who educated immigrants and growing up in place like Green Bay, Wisconsin or Portland Maine is gonna grow up somewhat different then the average punjabi kid in Surrey,BC.

  17. Rani says:

    I think cultural pride may be one of the cultural traits that affect the level of assimilation. I think those that have immense cultural pride (for example Chinese community, Punjabi community, Muslim community) actually choose not to assimilate into the US culture. They may feel the perspectives or beliefs of their own culture are better life outlooks. And if we are talking about assimilating into the western world, whether you are stemming from an individualistic or collectivist culture plays a role as well.

    Jodha-

    The cultural index focuses on English-speaking ability, marriage, and childbearing patterns.

    Do you know how childbearing patterns were measured? was assimilation equated to lower numbers of family size? I’m not sure I’m understanding exactly what the institute measured with respect to childbearing patterns.

  18. Jodha says:

    Rani,

    A link to the actual study is provided. Again you can go here.

    As Camille pointed out the report is extremely ethnocentric. An example regarding child-bearing can be seen in statements such as these:

    Because of this pattern, the assimilation index treats this indicator of teen childbearing as a distinctively native-born characteristic. Mexican-born young immigrants, however, have a much higher rate of teen childbearing: nearly one in 20 Mexican-born girls aged 1219 lives with one or more of her own children.

    But I do have a question about your first statement. I think I would be hard pressed to find a culture that did not take pride in its own culture (meaning more than just Punjabis, Muslims, and Chinese (by the way, one is a religion)). What groups do you think would fall in the category of not having pride in their culture?

  19. Suki says:

    I think cultural pride may be one of the cultural traits that affect the level of assimilation. I think those that have immense cultural pride (for example Chinese community, Punjabi community, Muslim community) actually choose not to assimilate into the US culture. They may feel the perspectives or beliefs of their own culture are better life outlooks

    I was thining the same thing that Rani was. That certain groups have more pride in there culture then other groups.

  20. Suki says:

    I also think that eductation level of the immigrant and the ethnic population of the place that they are living in the west could make a major difference. For example a punjabi kid who parents who educated immigrants and growing up in place like Green Bay, Wisconsin or Portland Maine is gonna grow up somewhat different then the average punjabi kid in Surrey,BC.

  21. Kaptaan says:

    From a "mainstream" point of view it is highly desirable to have immigrants "assimilate" or at the very least "integrate" into "mainstream" society.

    There was a paper written on this very topic comparing the level of assimilation by Muslims vs. Sikhs by Roger Ballard of the University of Manchester on which Stanley Kurtz commented. Essentially, Muslims have different socialization/ marriage traits that prevent them from assimilating or integrating into society.

    The measures used in the study by the Manhattan Institute while questionable, however, raise the point to start a conversation regarding the role of immigration and the successful integration of immigrants into the current social fabric.

    Sikhs can both maintain their own distinct culture (do not confuse this with Punjabi culture) and integrate into 'mainstream' society.

    Also, do not assume that the people from India in this study represent Sikh Punjabis as there are many many non-Punjabi Hindu and Muslim immigrants who have very different cultural traits that are reflective of their own national character included in those numbers. It would be interesting to see the breakdown by religion (Sikh, Hindu, Muslim) or by ethnicity (ie: Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil, Andhravi, Keralese, Rajasthani etc…).

  22. Rani says:

    Jodha-

    Yes, I understand that Muslim is a religion … perhaps it would have made more sense to you if I had used the descriptions of Pakistani, and other nationalities in which the dominant faith is Islam. I stand corrected.

    Okay, so your question about what cultural groups do not exhibit cultural pride … I probably didn't explain myself thoroughly. I was thinking of cultural pride on a spectrum, not a zero sum scale. What I meant was that some groups have more cultural pride than others. Those groups that experience higher levels of cultural pride than others may be more likely not to assimilate than those with less cultural pride. Compare the Punjabi community to the Korean community, assuming Punjabis have more cultural pride they may be less likely to assimilate.

    Also, another characteristic may be cultural distinction from the group with whom they are meant to assimilate. Those that are Canadian may find it much easier to assimilate into the American culture (whatever that is) than those from China. The Canadian culture may have more parallels with Americans than do the Chinese.

    Suki-

    I agree, ethnic population is also a characteristic has an affect on assimilation.

  23. Kaptaan says:

    From a “mainstream” point of view it is highly desirable to have immigrants “assimilate” or at the very least “integrate” into “mainstream” society.

    There was a paper written on this very topic comparing the level of assimilation by Muslims vs. Sikhs by Roger Ballard of the University of Manchester on which Stanley Kurtz commented. Essentially, Muslims have different socialization/ marriage traits that prevent them from assimilating or integrating into society.

    The measures used in the study by the Manhattan Institute while questionable, however, raise the point to start a conversation regarding the role of immigration and the successful integration of immigrants into the current social fabric.

    Sikhs can both maintain their own distinct culture (do not confuse this with Punjabi culture) and integrate into ‘mainstream’ society.

    Also, do not assume that the people from India in this study represent Sikh Punjabis as there are many many non-Punjabi Hindu and Muslim immigrants who have very different cultural traits that are reflective of their own national character included in those numbers. It would be interesting to see the breakdown by religion (Sikh, Hindu, Muslim) or by ethnicity (ie: Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil, Andhravi, Keralese, Rajasthani etc…).

  24. Suki says:

    Compare the Punjabi community to the Korean community, assuming Punjabis have more cultural pride they may be less likely to assimilate.

    You can even compare the punjabi community to other like Indian groups like Bengali's, Gurjati's or south indians who don't have the same level of cultural pride that most punjabi's do.

    Even in the East Asian communties the Japanese and South Koreans probably do the best job of intergating into American society.

  25. Rani says:

    Jodha-

    Yes, I understand that Muslim is a religion … perhaps it would have made more sense to you if I had used the descriptions of Pakistani, and other nationalities in which the dominant faith is Islam. I stand corrected.

    Okay, so your question about what cultural groups do not exhibit cultural pride … I probably didn’t explain myself thoroughly. I was thinking of cultural pride on a spectrum, not a zero sum scale. What I meant was that some groups have more cultural pride than others. Those groups that experience higher levels of cultural pride than others may be more likely not to assimilate than those with less cultural pride. Compare the Punjabi community to the Korean community, assuming Punjabis have more cultural pride they may be less likely to assimilate.

    Also, another characteristic may be cultural distinction from the group with whom they are meant to assimilate. Those that are Canadian may find it much easier to assimilate into the American culture (whatever that is) than those from China. The Canadian culture may have more parallels with Americans than do the Chinese.

    Suki-

    I agree, ethnic population is also a characteristic has an affect on assimilation.

  26. Suki says:

    Compare the Punjabi community to the Korean community, assuming Punjabis have more cultural pride they may be less likely to assimilate.

    You can even compare the punjabi community to other like Indian groups like Bengali’s, Gurjati’s or south indians who don’t have the same level of cultural pride that most punjabi’s do.

    Even in the East Asian communties the Japanese and South Koreans probably do the best job of intergating into American society.

  27. Jodha says:

    Rani and Suki,

    I think it is very Punjab-centric to believe that even other South Asian groups do not exhibit the same sense of 'pride' that Punjabis exhibit. Ask them and you would be surprised. Most Tamils, Gujaratis, Bengalis etc. are very proud to be Tamil, Gujaratis, Bengalis etc.

    Even with the idea of the spectrum, I am not sure if there are 'aggregate' beliefs. You will find some Punjabis that will tattoo 'Sher-E-Punjab' on their forehead given the chance and you will find others to borrow a problematic term from the Jewish community that are 'self-hating Punjabis'. You may be able to put individuals on a spectrum, but I do not believe that you will ever be able to place groups. It is extremely ethnocentric to believe that other cultural groups have 'less' pride.

    Now with religion that opens a different can of worms….

  28. Jodha says:

    Rani and Suki,

    I think it is very Punjab-centric to believe that even other South Asian groups do not exhibit the same sense of ‘pride’ that Punjabis exhibit. Ask them and you would be surprised. Most Tamils, Gujaratis, Bengalis etc. are very proud to be Tamil, Gujaratis, Bengalis etc.

    Even with the idea of the spectrum, I am not sure if there are ‘aggregate’ beliefs. You will find some Punjabis that will tattoo ‘Sher-E-Punjab’ on their forehead given the chance and you will find others to borrow a problematic term from the Jewish community that are ‘self-hating Punjabis’. You may be able to put individuals on a spectrum, but I do not believe that you will ever be able to place groups. It is extremely ethnocentric to believe that other cultural groups have ‘less’ pride.

    Now with religion that opens a different can of worms….

  29. P.Singh says:

    This may be of interest…

    A discussion with an "expert" on accommodation – as found in the online version of The Globe and Mail (one of Canada's better newspapers).

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGA

  30. P.Singh says:

    This may be of interest…

    A discussion with an “expert” on accommodation – as found in the online version of The Globe and Mail (one of Canada’s better newspapers).

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080521.waccommodation_discus0522/BNStory/specialComment/home

  31. Suki says:

    I think it is very Punjab-centric to believe that even other South Asian groups do not exhibit the same sense of ‘pride’ that Punjabis exhibit. Ask them and you would be surprised. Most Tamils, Gujaratis, Bengalis etc. are very proud to be Tamil, Gujaratis, Bengalis etc.

    Yes those groups may be proud of there culture but there are not in you face about say the way punjabi's are especially Jatt's Punjabis. Just listern to punjabi music your hear so much Punjab this, or Jatt that.

    Just as there are some white groups in North America like the Italian, Irish compare to the German and Swedish. All those groups are proud, but you know which ones are more proud of it then others.

    So the Punjabi' are alot like the Italians, where as the Swedish are more like the Parsi community in the west.

  32. veera says:

    Another interesting news article on assimilation based on the same author's study but delving into the Mexican/Hispanics.

    There are many insightful and debatable observations in the article –

    assimilation is like a tango. Each party has to avoid stepping on the other's toes. "Assimilation, unlike acculturation…includes how they are welcomed or not by native groups

    Today's Asian immigrants are some of the best and brightest, which puts them on a faster track to assimilation via economic success.

    The leading contender is that the sheer number of Latinos in the United States has created a subculture that slows assimilation. Indeed, in a unique multigenerational study spanning four decades, Generations of Exclusion, sociologists Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz found that many immigrants and their children had made slow progress assimilating for cultural and economic reasons. A large community means a large dating pool: Only 17 percent of third-generation Mexicans studied had married non-Hispanics

  33. veera says:

    I forgot to link to US News article in my above comment

  34. Suki says:

    I think it is very Punjab-centric to believe that even other South Asian groups do not exhibit the same sense of pride that Punjabis exhibit. Ask them and you would be surprised. Most Tamils, Gujaratis, Bengalis etc. are very proud to be Tamil, Gujaratis, Bengalis etc.

    Yes those groups may be proud of there culture but there are not in you face about say the way punjabi’s are especially Jatt’s Punjabis. Just listern to punjabi music your hear so much Punjab this, or Jatt that.

    Just as there are some white groups in North America like the Italian, Irish compare to the German and Swedish. All those groups are proud, but you know which ones are more proud of it then others.

    So the Punjabi’ are alot like the Italians, where as the Swedish are more like the Parsi community in the west.

  35. veera says:

    Another interesting news article on assimilation based on the same author’s study but delving into the Mexican/Hispanics.
    There are many insightful and debatable observations in the article –

    assimilation is like a tango. Each party has to avoid stepping on the other’s toes. “Assimilation, unlike acculturation…includes how they are welcomed or not by native groups

    Today’s Asian immigrants are some of the best and brightest, which puts them on a faster track to assimilation via economic success.

    The leading contender is that the sheer number of Latinos in the United States has created a subculture that slows assimilation. Indeed, in a unique multigenerational study spanning four decades, Generations of Exclusion, sociologists Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz found that many immigrants and their children had made slow progress assimilating for cultural and economic reasons. A large community means a large dating pool: Only 17 percent of third-generation Mexicans studied had married non-Hispanics

  36. veera says:

    I forgot to link to US News article in my above comment