Never before in this country's history has a minority ethnic group made up so large a share of the youngest Americans. This report takes an in-depth look at Hispanics who are ages 16 to 25, a phase of life when young people make choices that, for better and worse, set their path to adulthood.
Young Latinos are satisfied with their lives, optimistic about their futures and place a high value on education, hard work and career success. Yet they are much more likely than other American youths to drop out of school and to become teenage parents. They are more likely than white and Asian youths to live in poverty. And they have high levels of exposure to gangs.
Native-born Latino youths are about twice as likely as the foreign born to have ties to a gang or to have gotten into a fight or carried a weapon in the past year. They are also more likely to be in prison.
The report explores the attitudes, values, social behaviors, family characteristics, economic well-being, educational attainment and labor force outcomes of these young Latinos. These are attitudes and behaviors that, through history, have often been associated with the immigrant experience. But most Latino youths are not immigrants.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center's National Survey of Latinos, more than half of Latinos ages 16 to 25 identify themselves first by their family's country of origin, be it Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republican, El Salvador or any of more than a dozen other Spanish-speaking countries. An additional 20% generally use the terms "Hispanic" or "Latino" first when describing themselves. Only about one-in-four (24%) generally use the term "American" first.
Among the U.S.-born children of immigrants, "American" is somewhat more commonly used as a primary term of self-identification. Even so, just 33% of these young second generation Latinos use American first, while 21% refer to themselves first by the terms Hispanic or Latino, and the plurality, 41%, refer to themselves first by the country their parents left in order to settle and raise their children in this country.
Only in the third and higher generations do a majority of Hispanic youths use "American" as their first term of self-description.
Term Latino Youths Use to Describe Themselves
Description of Country of Origin
All Latino youths
Third & higher
Source: Pew Hispanic Center, December 2009 (Youth refers to 16-25 year olds. First generation refers to person born outside the US; second generation refers to persons born in the US with at least one first generation parent; third and higher refers to persons born in the US with both parents born in the US.)
Young Latinos Experience by Generation (%)
% of Latinos
Mothers at age 18 & 19
Third & higher generations
High school dropout rate of 16-24 yr olds
Third & higher generations
Source: PEW Hispanic Center, December 2009
Living in Poverty (% of category)
Source: Pew Hispanic Center, December 2009 (Poverty rate is estimated for 16-25 year olds)
For this particular ethnic group, it is also a time when they navigate the intricate, often porous borders between the two cultures they inhabit... American and Latin American.
Latino Proficiency in English and School Enrollment
% of Latinos
Proficient in English
Enrolled in high school or college
Source: PEW Hispanic Center, December 2009 (Foreign born refers to those born outside of the US including Puerto Rico)
Some other school notes:
America's newest generation, the Millennials, is in this coming-of-age phase. As might be expected, they do better than their foreign-born counterparts on many key economic, social and acculturation indicators analyzed in this report. They are much more proficient in English and are less likely to drop out of high school, live in poverty or become a teen parent.
Generations, like people, have personalities. Their collective identities typically begin to reveal themselves when their oldest members move into their teens and twenties and begin to act on their values, attitudes and worldviews.
Demographic and Social Trends
Media & digital LIfe
Politics and Values
Measured in raw numbers, the modern Latin American-dominated immigration wave is by far the largest in U.S. history. Nearly 40 million immigrants have come to the United States since 1965. About half are from Latin America, a quarter from Asia and the remainder from Europe, Canada, the Middle East and Africa. By contrast, about 14 million immigrants came during the big Northern and Western European immigration wave of the 19th century and about 18 million came during the big Southern and Eastern European-dominated immigration wave of the early 20th century.2
Waves of Immigration to the United States
Era & Country
Share of Immigrants (%)
% of Immigrants per 1,000 Population
Modern Era 1965 to 2008
South & East Asia
Europe & Canada
Mideast (Asia & Africa
Southern/Eastern Europe Wave 1890 to 1919
Russia & Poland
Northern Europe Wave 1840 to 1889
Other Northern Europe, SE Europe, Canada
Source: Pew Hispanic Center, December 2009
Throughout this nation's history, says the report, immigrant assimilation has always meant something more than the sum of the sorts of economic and social measures outlined
above. It also has a psychological dimension. Over the course of several generations, the immigrant family typically loosens its sense of identity from the old country and binds it to the new.
It is too soon to tell if this process will play out for today's Hispanic immigrants and their offspring in the same way it did for the European immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries. But whatever the ultimate trajectory, it is clear that many of today's Latino youths, be they first or second generation, are straddling two worlds as they adapt to the new homeland, concludes the report.