Finding the Lost Generation: Identifying Second-Generation Immigrants in Federal Statistics

Douglas S. Massey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This article underscores the importance of adding a question on parental birthplace to the American Community Survey (ACS). This question was removed from the long form of the U.S. Census after 1970 and replaced by a question on ancestry. While the former provides accurate information about a demographic fact that is critical to the identification of the children of immigrants, the latter refers to a subjective social construction that has limited utility for purposes of program administration, apportionment, or governance. At the time that the parental birthplace question was eliminated, the percentage of ACS respondents who were foreign-born had reached an all-time low, and the second generation was aging and shrinking, so the loss to the nation’s statistical system was not immediately apparent. With the revival of immigration in the final quarter of the twentieth century, the inability to identify and study the second generation has become glaringly apparent. Immigrants and their children now constitute a quarter of the U.S. population: their nonwhite racial origins and a widespread lack of legal documents among them render their prospects for integration uncertain. Our current inability to accurately measure progress between first- and second-generation immigrants now constitutes a major weakness in the U.S. statistical system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-104
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


  • assimilation
  • immigrants
  • integration
  • second generation


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