Irvine, Calif., May 29, 2013 – Mexican American mothers’ formal immigration status influences the educational achievement of their children and even their grandchildren, according to a new study led by a UC Irvine sociologist.

Researchers found – based on a large‐scale survey of young, second‐generation Mexican American adults in Los Angeles – that those whose mothers were authorized immigrants or U.S. citizens had, on average, two more years of schooling than those whose mothers had entered the country illegally. The researchers estimate that at least a third of the education gap between third‐generation Mexican Americans and native whites is attributable to the legacy effects of grandparents’ unauthorized status.

“The implication of our findings is that clear pathways to legalization can boost Mexican American educational attainment even as late as the third generation,” said lead author Frank Bean, Chancellor’s Professor of sociology at UC Irvine. “Legislation providing the possibility of entry into full societal membership helps not only the immigrants themselves but also their children and their children’s children.”

The study looked closely at parental immigration status. In 10 percent of cases, the mother was U.S.‐born but married to an immigrant spouse; another 44 percent had entered the country legally. The children of these mothers had an educational advantage, researchers found, over those whose mothers were unauthorized immigrants (about a third of survey subjects).

“There are nearly 4 million children of unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in this country, most of them born here,” Bean said. “At present, with few pathways for their parents’ legalization, they too live in the shadows. Because America’s future labor force depends so heavily on the children of immigrants, we all have a stake in their progress.”

UC Irvine’s Susan Brown and Pennsylvania State University’s Mark Leach, James Bachmeier and Jennifer Van Hook also worked on the study.

The research was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University as part of the US2010 project, which examines changes in American society in the recent past.

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