The Position Of The United States Toward Latin America In The 1800S Was Specifically Based On

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National Research Council (US) Panel on Hispanics in the United States; Tienda M, Mitchell F, editors. Hispanics and the Future of America. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006.


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National Research Council (US) Panel on Hispanics in the United States; Tienda M, Mitchell F, editors.

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5Hispanic Families in the United States: Family Structure and Process in an Era of Family Change

Nancy S. Landale, R. Salvador Oropesa, and Christina Bradatan.

The last decades of the 20th century were a period of significant change in family life in the United States. Among the well-documented changes are a rising age at marriage, an increase in cohabitation, and a dramatic shift in the proportion of children born outside marriage (Bramlett and Mosher, 2002; Casper and Bianchi, 2002; Wu and Wolfe, 2001). Coupled with a high divorce rate, these trends have led to high rates of female family headship and a growing share of children with restricted access to their fathers” resources.

These changes in family patterns have taken place alongside rapid growth in immigration and concomitant changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the U.S. population. The average annual inflow of immigrants more than doubled between the 1970s and 1990s, and the share of immigrants from Latin America increased at the same time (Martin and Midgley, 2003). Thus, the Hispanic population grew from 5 percent of the total U.S. population in 1970 to 13 percent in 2000. Furthermore, population projections suggest that Hispanics will comprise 20 percent of the U.S. population in 2030 (National Research Council, 1997).

This chapter addresses the intersection of these two domains of rapidly changing demographic behavior. Specifically, we analyze the family patterns of Hispanics, focusing on several key issues. First, to place the present in a larger context, we document trends in several indicators of family change. Comparisons between Hispanic subgroups, non-Hispanic whites, and non-Hispanic blacks provide information on the extent to which Hispanics have shared in the general shifts in family configurations that took place during the past several decades. This issue is fundamental to understanding the nature of family life among Hispanics as well as links between changing family processes and family members” access to social and economic resources. As noted by Vega (1995, p. 6), “Changing family structures, including marital disruption and cohabitation, could represent the most important issue for Latino family theory and research in the decade ahead.”

A second issue addressed in the chapter is generational variation in family patterns within Hispanic subgroups. Our descriptive analyses demonstrate that Hispanics—like other racial/ethnic groups—exhibit many behaviors that are consistent with what some scholars call “family decline” (Popenoe, 1993). At the same time, Hispanics (especially Mexican Americans) are typically described as oriented toward family well-being, rather than individual well-being (Sabogal, Marin, Otero-Sabogal, VanOss Marin, and Perez-Stable, 1987; Valenzuela and Dornbusch, 1994; Vega, 1995). To the extent that such “familism” remains alive among U.S. Hispanics, one would expect it to reduce the erosion of traditional family patterns or to contribute to new family forms in which family support remains high. However, it is possible that the process of assimilation reduces familism and encourages the individualism that some have argued is at the heart of recent changes in family behavior. After describing racial/ethnic differences in the characteristics of family households and the living arrangements of individuals of various ages, we focus on differences within Hispanic groups by generational status. Our comparisons of the family patterns of the first generation (foreign-born), the second generation (native-born of foreign parentage), and the third or higher generations (native-born of native parentage) will shed light on the dynamics of assimilation with respect to family patterns.

A third topic considered in the chapter is racial/ethnic mixing in sexual partnerships of various types, including marriage, cohabitation, and parenthood. Intermarriage is a long-standing theme in the study of assimilation. It has been considered both an indicator of assimilation and a means by which assimilation is achieved (Gordon, 1964; Lieberson and Waters, 1988). According to the classic assimilation theory, intermarriage between an immigrant group and the dominant population reduces social boundaries and eventually leads to a reduction in the salience of an ethnic identity. Because the offspring of intermarried couples may opt out of defining themselves as members of an ethnic group, intermarriage may affect the future size and shape of an ethnic population. Among Hispanics, intermarriage with non-Hispanic whites or non-Hispanic blacks may ultimately lead to a blurring of racial/ethnic boundaries. At the same time, intermarriage between members of different Hispanic subgroups may strengthen pan-ethnicity, or the adoption of a “Hispanic” identity instead of an identity as a member of a specific national-origin group. While recognizing the importance of intermarriage, we contend that in the current era of what is called the “retreat from marriage,” the study of racial/ethnic mixing in sexual partnerships must be expanded to include unions other than traditional marriages. Thus, we examine ethnic endogamy and exogamy among Hispanics in both marriage and cohabitation. Given the growing separation of marriage and childbearing, we also examine racial/ethnic mixing in both marital and nonmarital childbearing.

It is now widely recognized that Hispanic national-origin groups differ markedly with respect to their histories of immigration, settlement patterns, socioeconomic position, and other circumstances (Bean and Tienda, 1987; Oropesa and Landale, 1997; Portes and Rumbaut, 2001). There is a general consensus among experts on the Hispanic population that, to the extent possible, research should disaggregate the generic category “Hispanic” into specific national-origin groups. Thus, all of our analyses present information separately for Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Central/South Americans, and other Hispanics.1 In addition to addressing differences between Hispanics and non-Hispanics, we examine the diversity of family patterns among the specific Hispanic groups.

Several broad conclusions are supported by our analyses. First, Hispanics exhibit high levels of familism relative to non-Hispanics on a variety of structural/demographic indicators. However, they are also participating in the general changes in family life that are under way in the United States. Second, analyses conducted separately by national origin suggest declining familism across generations (with some exceptions). Third, all Hispanic subgroups exhibit substantial declines in ethnic endogamy across generations. This pattern suggests that assimilation is occurring and that racial/ethnic boundaries for Hispanics are not sharp. Nonetheless, the Mexican-origin population stands out for its high levels of ethnic endogamy in marriage, cohabitation, and parenthood.


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