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1This work on the making of the ‘second generation’ in the United States lays out a new framework for the sociological study of immigrants’ direct descendants while systematically and critically assessing five works that have marked the sociology of immigration and of the second generation in that country since the turn of this century. The authors contend that the second generation—that is, individuals who have not themselves experienced migration—can only be studied by examining the contexts in which their parents migrated. As they see it, the sociology of immigration made significant progress when it finally took emigration contexts into account rather than proceeding as if individuals’ trajectories began only after settlement in the receiving country. Similarly, sociology of the second generation cannot ignore the resources and constraints this group inherits from the areas and situations their parents emigrated from.

2This approach, termed ‘international’, purports to explain a complex set of differences and inequalities in second-generation academic achievement, access to employment, identification with the group of origin, political participation, and cultural practices. The understanding is that those differences are due to social and cultural characteristics of the different groups together with family resources. Emigration and immigration contexts are analysed on the basis of the many legal and social barriers they produce (varying residence statuses, which limit access to citizenship and make it more complex; the resources made available and new constraints imposed by migrating, such as maintaining ties with the family in the emigration country, etc.).

3This framework is presented in detail in the first part of the book (Chapters 2 and 3), alongside a detailed critique of five major 21st-century studies. [1] The hypotheses, concepts, contributions, and blind spots of each are systematically exposed, notably by way of comparative tables. The book therefore discusses theories of emigration and immigration selectivity, segmented assimilation, exclusive citizenship, as well as new approaches to the assimilation process. This systematic critical dialogue with other texts is pursued throughout the book, bringing to light several differences between it and the studies cited. First, the authors distinguish their own work from comparative studies of two groups defined by parents’ countries of origin, studies that are therefore likely to offer culturalist explanations for differences between individual trajectories. Second, when they introduce the international dimension in their analysis of second-generation trajectories, the authors are making the assumption that immigrants’ children, including American citizens, need to be distinguished from American minorities with no family history of migration. Parents’ experience of national borders and citizenship impacts upon their children’s trajectories.

4The authors draw on databases from two surveys—The Immigrant Second Generation in Metropolitan New York and Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles—both of which provide information on immigrants’ children aged 18 to 32. They also use the World Values Survey to describe values in departure countries. The variables used in the three surveys are documented in the appendix, a 30-page supplement of which is available online. The databases are used in the second and third parts of the book, respectively entitled ‘Transmission’ (Chapters 4 and 5) and ‘Transformations’ (Chapters 6–9). The statistical analysis identifies variables that positively and negatively affect second-generation individuals’ academic and employment trajectories as well as their political attitudes, cultural practices, and group of origin identifications.

5Of the many findings presented in these chapters and summarized in the conclusion (Chapter 10), one of the most striking is that family characteristics seem more decisive in explaining second-generation trajectories than country of origin characteristics. For example, in cases where ties are maintained with the country of origin (4 in 5 second-generation members report maintaining ties with family members in that country), their intensity varies by family, even for the same emigration country. Likewise, the diversity of parents’ residence statuses (including ‘undocumented’) is a powerful source of differentiation between families when it comes to citizenship, including for families from the same country of origin. Contrary to the new theories of assimilation, then, the authors’ international perspective shows the many barriers produced by immigration policies that unequally exclude immigrants from citizenship while restricting their children’s access to a considerable number of goods and services.

6The authors are perhaps overly concerned to relate all the variations in second-generation trajectories (academic achievement and occupational integration, cultural assimilation and political participation, etc.), making it difficult to order their findings hierarchically. Moreover, they themselves may not escape the culturalism of which they offer such a fine, systematic critique. While they aim to refute that objection by citing the World Values Survey’s ‘value orientations’—rather than a homogeneous culture—inherited from parents socialized in the country of origin, characterizing departure societies as having a propensity to produce certain values rather than others is in itself problematic. Despite these reservations, the book will be of interest to sociologists of the trajectories of immigrants and their families, including researchers conducting qualitative surveys. It identifies several research avenues and offers many stimulating hypotheses, such as those on relations between parents’ precarious residence situation and children’s academic trajectories or between families’ ethnic capital and children’s attitudes toward and experience of employment.


  • [1]
    The works assessed are A. Portes, R. G. Rumbaut, 2001, Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation, Berkeley, University of California Press; P. Kasinitz, J. H. Mollenkopf, M. C. Waters, J. Holdaway, 2008, Inheriting the city: The second generation comes of age, New York, Russell Sage Foundation; F. D. Bean, S. K. Brown, J. D. Bachmeler, 2015, Parents without papers: The progress and pitfalls of Mexican American integration, New York, Russell Sage Foundation; J. Lee, M. Zhou, 2015, The Asian American achievement paradox, New York, Russell Sage Foundation; R. Alba, V. Nee, 2003, Remaking the American mainstream: Assimilation and contemporary immigration, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
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