Tag: assimilation

Government Immigrant Assimilation Programs Can Backfire: The Case of German Americans

The assimilation of immigrants and their descendants is important to their long-run success and to maximize the benefits from immigration.  Current research indicates that today’s immigrants are assimilating well.  A massive 520-page literature survey by the National Academy of Sciences found that assimilation is proceeding apace in the United States although some of those gains are masked by a phenomenon called “ethnic attrition” whereby the most successful and integrated descendants of immigrants cease to self-identify as members of their ancestor’s ethnic groups.  Numerous OECD reports find greater economic integration of immigrants and their descendants in the United States relative to other developed countries, even when it comes to job matchingResearch by University of Washington economist Jacob Vigdor shows that modern immigrant civic and cultural assimilation is similar to that of immigrants from the early 20th century, to the extent that “[b]asic indicators of assimilation, from naturalization to English ability, are if anything stronger now than they were a century ago.”

However, John Fonte of the Hudson Institute argues that today’s immigrants are not assimilating well because our “patriotic assimilation system is broken.”  In a shorter piece explaining his reasoning, Fonte argues that the “assimilation of the Ellis Island generation succeeded only because American elites (progressive at the time) insisted upon ‘Americanization.’”  Elites at the time showed their support for Americanization through many government programs and non-profit assimilation efforts supported by states. 

Fonte and I disagreed about this (and other topics) on a panel in 2014 at Hudson.  I argued that there is no evidence from over 100 years ago that the Americanization Movement, a government program combined with support from non-profits to assimilate immigrants, actually encouraged or sped up the assimilation of the immigrants who were affected by it.  Fonte countered by saying [2:44:15]: “It’s true we don’t have data on how well assimilation worked, but I think we have plenty of anecdotal evidence that Americanization did help.”  Later, I wrote about several contrary anecdotes where new immigrants offended and discouraged by the government’s efforts to forcibly assimilate them to a particular nationalistic definition of what it meant to be an American.

A revealing anecdote printed in a Polish-language newspaper that appealed to American traditions when it wrote that the Americanization Movement “smacks decidedly of Prussianism, and it is not at all in accordance with American ideals of freedom” (256).  A Russian-language newspaper made the more devastating claim that the Americanization Movement did not actually do much except insult immigrants:

Many Americanization Committees only exist on paper.  They make much noise, get themselves in newspapers, but do not do much good.  They mostly laugh at the poor foreigners.  If Americans want to help the immigrants, they must meet them with love.  The immigrant is by no means stupid.  He feels the patronizing attitude the American [Americanizers] adopts towards him, and therefore never opens his soul (258). 

Immigrants Trust American Governmental Institutions

Hudson Institute historian and political scientist John Fonte has written that immigrants are not patriotically assimilating.  Fonte blames this supposed development on many factors but frequently credits changes in public school curricula away from the nation building Americanization Movement of the Progressive Era toward a multicultural ethos today.  In previous posts, I have challenged Fonte’s claims about a lack of patriotic assimilation amongst today’s immigrants and have shown that his claims about the success of the Americanization Movement are based on anecdotes and that there as many that show it actually slowed assimilation.  

A more subtle reading of Fonte’s work is that he is worried about immigrants and their descendants weakening American political institutions by not supporting them as much as Americans whose ancestors have been here for many generations.  The General Social Survey (GSS) asks many questions of immigrants and their descendants that can help lessen Fonte’s worries. 

Muslim Immigration and Integration in the United States and Western Europe

Muslim immigrant assimilation in the United States is proceeding well. American Muslims have either similar or greater socio-economic status and levels of education than the average American. They are also active in civil and political society. However, this is not the case in Europe where Muslim immigrants tend to have worse labor market outcomes, are less well educated, and less socially integrated. The lack of assimilation and integration in Europe is affected by policies regarding multiculturalism, welfare, labor market regulation, citizenship, and guest worker laws that make integration more costly.

Integration in Europe

Social opinions show how Muslims in Europe are less integrated than in the United States. In Europe, there is a wide gap between Muslim and non-Muslim acceptance of homosexuality (Figure 1) and abortion (Figure 2) according to three surveys published in 2007 and 2009. The acceptance gap on these issues is the smallest in the United States – meaning that Muslims in the United States have opinions that are closer to the general public than in European countries (Figure 3).    

Figure 1

Is Homosexuality Morally Acceptable?


Sources: Pew and Gallup.

Figure 2

Is Abortion Morally Acceptable?


Sources: Pew and Gallup.

Figure 3

Acceptance Gap


Sources: Pew and Gallup.

Opinions on social issues are just one aspect of this gap in assimilation but an important one for judging how assimilated immigrants are into Western culture.  Although there are many other areas that could be compared, opinions of abortion and homosexuality show that Muslim Europeans are less well-assimilated than Muslims in the United States.

The Religious Opinions of Muslim Americans

This is a follow-up to my post yesterday about Muslim American assimilation that focuses on religious differences between Muslims in the United States, between them and their co-religionists in their countries of origin, and their differences with other Americans.    

There are many different sects of Islam and most are represented in the United States.  Sunni Islam is the largest followed by Shia Islam at roughly 89 percent and 11 percent, respectively, which is similar to the global division.  African American membership in the Nation of Islam adds another wrinkle.  There are further sub-sects such as the Sufi, Druze, Ahmadiyya, Alevism, and others that disagree on virtually everything from doctrine to modes of practice.  In addition to those differences, there are five main schools of Islamic jurisprudence (four Sunni and one Shia) that reveal further differences to say nothing of how local cultures have altered practice and doctrine.  Islam is not a monolithic and uniform religion.  It is highly fractured and lacks a central religious authority. 

Based on a 100 point index pooling the responses from religious questions in the World Values Survey, Muslim immigrants in the West had a religiosity of 76 compared to 83 in their countries of origin and 60 in their destination societies.  According to Gallup, 80 percent of Muslim Americans say that religion plays a key role in life, which is more than the 65 percent of the general population but still less than the 85 percent reported by Mormons who agree with that statement.  Those figures are slightly lower for younger Muslim and non-Muslim respondents aged 18 to 29.  Pew also found that religion is about as important to U.S. Muslims as it is to Christians while both valued it more than the general population. 

Gallup and Pew found that compared to Muslims in Islamic countries, U.S. Muslims are the least likely to say religion is important to them.  Gallup found that Muslim weekly attendance at religious services in the United States is only just above that of the general population, 41 percent to 34 percent, and is 22 percentage points below Mormon attendance.  Among Muslims who said that “religion is important,” only 49 percent attend religious services once a week – lower than the U.S. general population and all other religious groups except Judaism.  For respondents aged 18 to 29, 41 percent of Muslims attend mosque at least once a week, the same percentage as Protestants, 27 points behind Mormons, and 14 points ahead of the general population.  Pew found that weekly attendance for Muslims and Christians was about the same and both were higher than the general population. 

Muslim Assimilation: Demographics, Education, Income, and Opinions of Violence

Many Americans, including Donald Trump, are concerned over whether Muslim immigrants and their descendants are assimilating into American society.  This topic is tricky for a few reasons.  First, almost all Muslims who are immigrants or descended from them entered the United States after 1968 so there haven’t been many generations yet.  As a result, the evidence and research on Muslim assimilation are not as complete as they should be.  A second problem is that many studies or surveys do not compare the opinions of Muslims with society at large or other minorities.  Where possible, such comparisons will be made below.  A third problem is that, until recently, sociologists weren’t interested in Muslim assimilation in the United States.  Whereas there is a vast literature on Hispanic assimilation going back generations, Muslims were overlooked entirely prior to the 1990s. 

To mix my personal experience with this post, my brother and I are two of a handful of third-generation descendants of Muslim immigrants.  Our paternal grandparents came from Iran in the late-1940s while our maternal grandparents were the descendants of Europeans.  Nobody on that side of the family identifies as a Muslim anymore let alone practices, as far as I know, and none of those who were born Muslim raised their children as such.

My wife and her family have a similar experience although her father was born a Muslim and immigrated here in the 1970s.  The extended portions of my family and my wife’s family mostly immigrated after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.  Thus, I am deeply interested in this topic for personal as well as professional reasons.

Muslim Demographics

The United States government does not ask Americans or immigrants about their religious beliefs, with the exception of refugees.  Thus, we have to rely on private surveys and other methods of estimating the Muslim population in the United States.  Many of these surveys do not distinguish between different sects of Islam but merely on self-identification.  Thus, a Sunni Muslim immigrant from Saudi Arabia is just as Muslim as an African-American convert to the Nation of Islam.

A 2015 Pew Research Center report estimated that there are roughly 3.3 million Muslims in the United States equal to just over 1 percent of the population – up from Pew’s estimates of about 2.4 million in 2007 and 2.6 million in 2010.  The U.S. Religion Census (not be confused with the U.S. Census Bureau) in 2010 found that there were 2.6 million Muslims, equal to about 0.84 percent of the U.S. population. 

Seven of the most methodologically sound estimates of the size of the Muslim population around the turn of the Millennium found there to be between 1.5 million and 3.4 million Muslims in the United States.  Five of those seven estimates found that there were between 2.3 and 2.9 million Muslims.  Compared to the more recent estimates by Pew and the U.S. Religion Census above, the Muslim population has grown slowly.     

Births and immigration are the main sources of growth for the Muslim population.  Pew in 2011 estimated the total fertility rate (TFR) of Muslim women in the United States to be 2.5 children per woman and just 2.2 for Muslim women born here – both above the U.S. TFR of 1.9 in 2011.  Roughly 5 percent of the stock of immigrants in the United States is Muslim.  One Pew paper estimates that 80,000 to 90,000 immigrants a year are Muslim while another found 115,000 a year in 2009.  Pew estimates that there will be 6.2 million American Muslims by 2030 that comprise 1.7 percent of the population. 

The Great Assimilation Scare

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, two of the smartest conservative thinkers today, have spilt much ink worrying over immigrant assimilation.  Salam is more pessimistic, choosing titles like “The Melting Pot is Broken” and “Republicans Need a New Approach to Immigration” (with the descriptive url: “Immigration-New-Culture-War”) while relying on a handful of academic papers for support.  Douthat presents a more nuanced, Burkean think-piece reacting to assimilation’s supposed decline, relying more on Salam for evidence. 

Their worries fly against recent evidence that immigrant assimilation is proceeding quickly in the United States.  There’s never been a greater quantity of expert and timely quantitative research that shows immigrants are still assimilating.

The first piece of research is the National Academy of Science’s (NAS) September 2015 book titled The Integration of Immigrants into American SocietyAt 520 pages, it’s a thorough, brilliant summation of the relevant academic literature on immigrant assimilation that ties the different strands of research into a coherent story.  Bottom line:  Assimilation is never perfect and always takes time, but it’s going very well. 

One portion of NAS’ book finds that much assimilation occurs through a process called ethnic attrition, which is caused by immigrant inter-marriage with natives either of the same or different ethnic groups.  Assimilation is also quickened with second or third generation Americans marry those from other, longer-settled ethnic or racial groups.  The children of these intermarriages are much less likely to identify ethnically with their more recent immigrant ancestors and, due to spousal self-selection, to be more economically and educationally integrated as well.  Ethnic attrition is one reason why the much-hyped decline of the white majority is greatly exaggerated

Ethnic Attrition: Why Measuring Assimilation Is Hard

The National Academy of Sciences recently published a comprehensive report on the pace of immigrant assimilation.  Short conclusion: It’s on par with previous waves of immigrants.  I want to highlight one section of their report that explains why assimilation is so rapid that is only occasionally mentioned by some and totally ignored by others: ethnic attrition. 

Ethnic attrition occurs when the descendants of immigrants from a particular country, let’s say Mexico, cease to identify as Mexicans, Hispanic, or Latino in surveys.  This almost entirely occurs through intermarriage with spouses of different ethnic groups.  This wouldn’t matter except that ethnic attrition is selective, not random, and is severe (see Table 1).  Subsequent generations descended from Spanish-speaking immigrants who identify as Hispanic, Mexican, or Latino systematically differ from those who are descended from the same Spanish-speaking immigrants but who drop the self-identification. 

Therefore the problem is that you can’t use polls of self-identified Mexicans, Hispanics, or Latinos born here to form an accurate picture of multi-generational assimilation.  Any poll of those groups will only catch those who self-identify as such, not those born here to Mexican, Hispanic, or Latino parent(s) who do not.