ERIC Identifier: ED321961
Publication Date: 1990-09-00
Author: Valdivieso, Rafael
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools
Demographic Trends of the Mexican-American Population:
Implications for Schools. ERIC Digest.
Hispanics of Mexican ancestry will become increasingly important to
the economic and social well-being of the United States. Yet, a number
of barriers may seriously hurt the full partnership of Mexican Americans
in the future development of our society (Valdivieso & Davis, 1988).
These barriers notably include low educational attainment and achievement.
In many ways, the educational problems of Mexican Americans are not behind
them, but, instead, loom in front of them. This Digest is a summary of
the latest available demographic and socioeconomic trends on this important
major American ethnic group. The discussion includes broad implications
for education that follow from these trends.
THE DIVERSITY AND GROWTH OF THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN POPULATION
Mexican Americans are a diverse group, and as used here, the term refers
to both citizens of the U.S. and to Mexican immigrants. The latter term
(immigrants) usually labels someone who intends to stay permanently in
the U.S. (Bean & Tienda, 1987).
An estimated 12,565,000 Mexican Americans lived in the United States
in 1989 (U.S. Census Bureau, 1990). This figure represented a large increase--45
percent--from 1980 to 1989, attributable to a combination of high immigration
and the group's high fertility. By 1990, the Mexican-American population
is projected to increase to 13,174,000, only 1.5 million fewer than all
of the Hispanics counted in 1980. The three other major Hispanic groups
include: (1) Puerto Ricans; (2) Cubans; and (3) Central and South Americans.
Together, all four major Hispanic groups account for approximately 92 percent
of U.S. Hispanics (Bean & Tienda, 1987; U.S. Census Bureau, 1990).
Through the early 1900s Mexican Americans were mainly a rural and agricultural
people, but today over 90 percent of this population is estimated to live
in metropolitan areas. Mexican Americans, therefore, are more urbanized
than the U.S. population in general. Fully 73 percent of all Mexican Americans
in 1980 lived in just two states, California and Texas. Illinois and Arizona
together contributed another 9 percent, to account for 82 percent of the
total Mexican-American population (U.S. Census Bureau, 1983).
During the 1980s, Mexico was the origin of more legal emigrants bound
for the U.S. than any other country in the world. Mexican emigrants were
about 11 or 12 percent of the 600,000 yearly arrivals in the U.S. from
all countries. Mexico is also the source of the most undocumented immigration
from any country into the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice
(1989). Moreover, as the result of court cases, hundreds of thousands of
undocumented Mexican-American children have the legal right to attend public
school in this country (Willshire Carrera, 1989).
Among major Hispanic groups, however, Mexican Americans are far more
likely to be native born (that is, born in the U.S.) than to be foreign
born. Of Mexican Americans counted in the 1980 census, 74 percent were
native born. The equivalent percentage for other major Hispanic groups
varied from 49 to 20 percent (Bean & Tienda, 1987).
SOME IMPORTANT COMPARISONS
In 1980, Mexican Americans comprised 60 percent of all Hispanics in
the United States. By 1989, they were estimated to comprise 63 percent
of all U.S. Hispanics (U.S. Census Bureau, 1990). If this proportion merely
holds constant, the Mexican-American population in the year 2080 would
account for approximately 13 percent of the total U.S. population (based
on data in Spencer, 1986).
While the median age of all U.S. residents is 33 years, the median age
of Mexican Americans is 24 years, which makes them the youngest Hispanic
group. In fact, 71 percent of the Mexican-American population is under
35, compared to 54 percent of the U.S. population as a whole (U.S. Census
Bureau, 1990). Moreover, the average size of the Mexican-American household
is, at 4.1 persons, the largest among all Hispanic groups. This figure
is nearly one person higher than the average for the non-Hispanic white
population (U.S. Census Bureau, 1990).
Census data also indicate that, in comparison with major Hispanic groups
and with non-Hispanic whites, Mexican Americans tend to marry and have
children at earlier ages. Nonetheless, Mexican-American women tend to experience
less marital instability than other Hispanic women, except for Cubans.
As a result, the proportion of Mexican-American children living in two-parent
households is comparatively high among Hispanic groups, at 74 percent (Bean
& Tienda, 1987). At the same time, the number of single-parent households
is rising among all ethnic groups in the U.S., including Mexican Americans.
Mexican Americans are the least well educated group among both major
Hispanic groups and among the total U.S. population. The dropout rate among
Mexican-American students is estimated at 40 percent or more (Valdivieso
& Davis, 1988). In addition, a large majority of the group's recent
immigrants have come poorly educated to this country. In 1989, the Mexican
Americans in the 25 to 34 age bracket were almost five times as likely
not to have completed high school as non-Hispanics (50 percent to 11 percent).
These adults, unfortunately, are those most likely to have school-age children.
Only 6 percent of those in this age group have completed 4 years or more
of college, compared to 26 percent for non-Hispanics (U.S. Census Bureau,
1990). Similarly, only 50 percent of Mexican Americans in this age group
have completed high school. This rate is the lowest for all Hispanic groups,
substantially lower than the 89 percent high school completion rate for
non-Hispanics (U.S. Census Bureau, 1990).
Lack of education probably contributes to the fact that, as a group,
Mexican Americans have lower-status occupations than does the U.S. population
as a whole. Mexican Americans are concentrated in blue-collar jobs, farm
work, and service occupations; comparatively fewer hold white-collar jobs.
Some 35 percent of Mexican Americans hold white-collar positions, compared
to 57 percent of the total population. Conversely, 41 percent of the group
are blue-collar workers, compared to 27 percent of the total population
(U.S. Census Bureau, 1989).
MEXICAN-AMERICAN CHILDREN IN DEMOGRAPHIC CONTEXT
Lower-status jobs translate, in turn, into lower income and higher poverty
rates. The median family income of Mexican Americans for 1988 was $21,025.
This figure is about two-thirds of the national median family income of
$32,191. Some 57 percent of Mexican-American families earned under $25,000
per year, 33 percent earned between $25,000 and $49,999 per year, and only
10 percent earned in excess of $50,000 per year (U.S. Census Bureau, 1990).
Even with a substantial, rising middle class, about 25 percent of all
these families lived below the official poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau,
1990). This poverty rate is more than two and a half times as high as the
rate for non-Hispanics. Except for Puerto Ricans, this poverty rate also
exceeds that of all Hispanic groups. Many poor families have working adults,
but Mexican Americans' wages are generally so low that they remain part
of the working poor. Not only are their wages low to begin with, but they
are likely to experience unemployment more frequently and for longer periods
of time than other workers (Valdivieso & Davis, 1988). The combination
of large families and small incomes means that Mexican-American parents
must do more with less money than average parents in the U.S. (Valdivieso
& Davis, 1988).
IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATION
The implications of these broad demographic and socioeconomic characteristics
for schooling are enormous. First, the Mexican-American population includes
many young adult dropouts who need adult education and training. Many of
these individuals will be recent immigrants in need of English language
instruction, as well.
From the point of view of policy, this "backlog" of dropouts is generally
ignored. Nonetheless, in large measure, these individuals are the parents
of the next generation of Mexican-American students. These young parents
often had unproductive experiences in school, experiences that will be
reflected in how they raise their children. In fact, most young Mexican-American
children have parents who have not completed high school.
Second, it follows that this young parent population, especially the
immigrant subgroup, needs to be better tied to the schools. Parent and
school partnerships can help both parties understand each other's cultures,
goals, hopes, and needs in order to promote the academic achievement of
Mexican-American children (Nicolau & Ramos, 1990; Sosa, 1990).
Third, school staff development should appreciate and value the culture
and language of Mexican Americans. Such an attitude will probably be required
if the low expectations often held for these children are to be reversed.
Bilingual education is an important part of such valuing (Veltman, 1988).
This population is learning to speak English. Nonetheless, the process
of language shift takes time, and bilingual services provide help to facilitate
the inevitable shift (Veltman, 1988).
Fourth, a great need exists for expanded preschool opportunities for
Mexican-American children, who are not as likely to attend a preschool
as non-Hispanics. In particular, children of recent immigrants need preschool
education that can help them learn English early. However, it is important
that these children also continue to learn Spanish, so they will be able
to communicate with their parents and relate to their culture while they
are becoming a part of U.S. society (Veltman, 1988). A related concern
in the 1990s will be an even greater need for special language programs
for an expanding language minority population among the school-age children
of the young adults who immigrated into the U.S. during the 1980s.
Fifth, in addition to the need of most U.S. children for improved, restructured
schools, Mexican-American children (and their parents) need a lot more
encouragement, guidance, and counseling than they presently receive. Such
attention is required if these children are to remain and excel in school
(see Sosa, 1990, for examples of successful community-based programs).
Bean, F., & Tienda, M. (1987). The Hispanic population of the United
States (for the Committee for Research on the 1980 Census). NY: Russell
Nicolau, S., & Ramos, C. (1990). Together is better: Building strong
partnerships between schools and Hispanic parents. Washington, DC: Hispanic
Policy Development Project.
Sosa, A. (1990). Making education work for Mexican Americans: Promising
community practices (Digest EDO-RC-90-2). Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Rural Education and Small Schools.
Spencer, G. (1986). Projections of the Hispanic population: 1983 to
2080 (Series P-25, No. 995). Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 301 396)
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1983). 1980 Census of population (Supplementary
Report, Persons of Spanish Origin by State: 1980, PC80-S1-10). Washington,
DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1989). The Hispanic population in the United
States: March 1988 (Current Population Reports, Series P-20, No. 438).
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. ED 299 081)
U.S. Bureau of the Census. (1990). The Hispanic population in the United
States: March 1989 (Current Population Reports, Series P-20, No. 444).
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Department of Justice. (1989). 1988 statistical yearbook of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service. Washington, DC: U.S. Government
Valdivieso, R., & Davis, C. (1988). U.S. Hispanics: Challenging
issues for the 1990s (Occasional Paper 17). Washington, DC: Population
Reference Bureau. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 305 213)
Veltman, C. (1988). The future of the Spanish language in the United
States. New York City, NY, and Washington, DC: Hispanic Policy Development
Project. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 295 485)
Willshire Carrera, J. (1989). Educating undocumented children: A review
of practices and policies. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools.