Half of US Latino Kids Have Immigrant Parents; 7% are Illegal

June 8, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Hispanic | Youth & Gen X

More than one-fifth (22%) of all children under age 18 in the US are of Hispanic descent and 7% are estimated to be in the country illegally, according to recent research from the Pew Hispanic Center.

The number of Hispanic youth in America has more than doubled, from? 9% in 1980 and reflects significant changes in the composition of Latino youth in America Pew reported.

The research (pdf) found that a majority (52%) of the nation’s 16 million Hispanic children are now “second generation,” meaning they are the US-born sons or daughters of at least one foreign-born parent, typically someone who came to this country in the immigration wave from Mexico, Central America and South America that began around 1980, Pew said.


Some 11% of Latino children are “first generation” – meaning they themselves are foreign-born, while 37% are “third generation or higher” – meaning they are the US-born children of US-born parents.

Changing Demographic Profile

In 1980, only three in 10 Latino children were second-generation, while nearly six in 10 were in the third-generation or higher. According to Pew, these shifts are noteworthy because many social, economic and demographic characteristics of Latino children vary sharply by their generational status.

Key findings from a Pew Hispanic Center analysis US Census data:

  • 43% of first-generation Latino children, 21% of those in the second generation and 5% in the third generation or higher are not fluent in English.
  • 47% of first-generation Latino children have parents who have less than a high-school education, compared with 40% of second-generation children and 16% of Latino children in the third generation or higher.
  • 34% of first-generation Latino children live in poverty, compared with 26% of those in the second generation and 24% in the third generation or higher.
  • 69% of first-generation Latino children live in married-couple families, compared with 73% of second-generation children and just 52% in the third generation or higher.

Pew said these data reflect the classic pattern of socioeconomic gains for immigrant families from one generation to the next. However, the analysis also uncovered some contrary trends. As indicated above, the chances of being raised by a single parent are much greater among Latino children in the third generation or higher than among first- or second-generation Latino children.

Legal Status Varies by Generation

Current legal status also separates Latino children along generational lines Pew said. Building on earlier research, the Center estimates that 7% of all Hispanic children are unauthorized immigrants, though this share varies sharply by generational status:

  • Two-thirds of the 1.7 million foreign-born Hispanic children are unauthorized.
  • About 40% of second-generation Hispanic youth have at least one unauthorized immigrant parent and are living in a family whose immigration status is legally mixed, Pew found.
  • None of the 6 million Hispanic children in the third-generation or higher are unauthorized, since they were born in the US and are thus entitled to citizenship.

Projections by the US Census Bureau indicate that by 2025, nearly three in 10 children in this country will be of Latino ancestry. Pew Hispanic Center population projections indicate that the generational composition of Hispanic children will change yet again between now and then.

The Center’s projections show that the share of Hispanic children who are second-generation will likely peak not much above the current level of 52% and then begin falling roughly a decade from now. The share of Hispanic children who are third-generation or higher will likely hit bottom at 35% around 2015 and then begin rising.


Given past trends, Pew said that this change in the generational composition of Hispanic children could have a significant effect on their employment, educational and social outcomes in future years.


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