Latino Identity Fades with Immigrant Generations

Although 18 percent of Americans self-identify as Hispanic or Latino– the nation’s second-largest racial or ethnic group– the ancestral heritage connection fades over time. Third- and fourth-generation Latinos– U.S.-born children with immigrant parents, grandparents or other relatives– self-identify as Hispanic at dramatically lower rates than their elders.

According to a report from The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends, around 38 million Americans identified as Hispanic or Latino in 2015. For the 42.7 million people in the population with Hispanic ancestry, this translates to near 90 percent of the group who adopt the ethnic and racial identifier to their own identity.

Among the reasons for the diluted Hispanic identity are the longstanding high rates of marriage outside of Hispanic heritage as well as the continuous decline over the last 10 years of Latin American immigration. The two components “are distancing some Americans with Hispanic ancestry from the life experiences of earlier generations, reducing the likelihood they call themselves Hispanic or Latino.”

In terms of specifics, a full 97 percent of immigrant adults with Latin American or Spanish nationalities say they identify as Hispanic. Among second-generation immigrants– those with at least one immigrant parent– Hispanic identification remains high at 92 percent, according to the Pew estimate. However, by the third generation, the rate of Hispanic identification falls to 77 percent. Fourth generation numbers fall to just over half of those with Hispanic ancestors identify as Latino.

“The closer they are to their immigrant roots, the more likely Americans with Hispanic ancestry are to identify as Hispanic,”  the report’s authors write.

While immigration from Latin American drove U.S. Hispanic population growth in the 1980’s and the 1990’s, the immigrant flow dropped off in the next decade. With this, the number of first-generation Hispanic immigrants declined while the number of U.S.-born Hispanics increased. With this, distance from Hispanic heritage comes more and more heavily into play.

In another aspect of the dilution of Latino heritage, Pew also reports a traditionally high rate of marriage among the group to non-Latinos. In 1980, for example, 26.4 Latino newlyweds intermarried and 18.1 percent of all married Latinos had non-Latino spouses. This compares to 25.1 percent of Latino newlyweds in 2015 who married a non-Latino spouse and 18.3 percent of all married Latinos reported married to non-Latino spouses.

Pew’s exploration of Hispanic demographics come from the use of surveys designed to “provide a look at the identify experiences and views of U.S. adults who say they have Hispanic ancestry.”