No margin for error: Educational and occupational achievement among disadvantaged children of immigrants

Alejandro Portes, Patricia Fernndez-Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

218 Scopus citations


The authors review the literature on segmented assimilation and alternative theoretical models on the adaptation of the second generation, summarize the theoretical framework developed in the course of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study, and present evidence from its third survey in South Florida bearing on alternative hypotheses. The majority of second-generation youth are progressing educationally and occupationally, but a significant minority is left behind. The latter group is not distributed randomly across nationalities but corresponds closely to predictions based on immigrant parents' human capital, family type, and modes of incorporation. Members of the second generation, whether successful or unsuccessful, learn English and American culture, but it makes a big difference whether they assimilate by joining the middle class or the marginalized, and largely racialized, population at the bottom of the society. Ethnographic narratives put into perspective quantitative results and highlight the realities of segmented assimilation in current U.S. society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-36
Number of pages25
JournalAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


  • Dissonant and consonant acculturation
  • Immigrant second generation
  • Modes of incorporation
  • Segmented assimilation


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