The Case of the Disappearing Mexican Americans: An Ethnic-Identity Mystery?

Richard D. Alba, University at Albany, State University of New York
Tariqul Islam, University at Albany, State University of New York

In this paper, we examine the issue of identification stability for U.S.-born Mexican Americans, by far the largest of the ethnic groups growing as a result of contemporary immigration. We demonstrate that, throughout the period 1980-2000, most birth cohorts of Mexican Americans declined substantially more than can be accounted for by mortality or overall shifts in census coverage. To be sure, the identification of Mexicans and other Hispanic groups in Census 2000 was made problematic to some extent by a wording shift in the Hispanic-origin question. However, we show that the exit of some members from the Mexican group was apparent even in the 1990 Census, though it was accentuated in 2000. We show also that this exit is selective, so that a comparison of the characteristics of U.S.-born members over time is affected by changing patterns of identification with the group.

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Presented in Session 133: Ethnicity, Race, and Demographic Change among Latinos