The social context of assimilation: Testing implications of segmented assimilation theory

Yu Xie, Emily Greenman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Segmented assimilation theory has been a popular explanation for the diverse experiences of assimilation among new waves of immigrants and their children. While the theory has been interpreted in many different ways, we emphasize its implications for the important role of social context: both processes and consequences of assimilation should depend on the local social context in which immigrants are embedded. We derive empirically falsifiable hypotheses about the interaction effects between social context and assimilation on immigrant children's well-being. We then test the hypotheses using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Our empirical analyses yield two main findings. First, for immigrant adolescents living in non-poverty neighborhoods, we find assimilation to be positively associated with educational achievement and psychological well-being but also positively associated with at-risk behavior. Second, there is little empirical evidence supporting our hypotheses derived from segmented assimilation theory. We interpret these results to mean that future research would be more fruitful focusing on differential processes of assimilation rather than differential consequences of assimilation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)965-984
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Assimilation
  • Immigrant children
  • Neighborhood effects
  • School effects
  • Segmented assimilation


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