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 Society. At 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.