Science & Research

Study reflects diversity of Hispanic ethnic groups

Demographic disparities in non-Mexican groups have increased in the past two decades

Science & Research Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Grouping all Hispanics into one category hides broad demographic differences among different ethnic groups, according to a report published today by the Department of Sociology.

The report, entitled “Hispanics in the United States: Not Only Mexicans,” found significant divides in population growth, education and residential segregation among different Hispanic ethnicities.

The report is the latest from the US2010 Project, an initiative co-sponsored by the University that analyzes federal population data to understand demographic trends.

It is often “assumed that the core of the Hispanic population is sort of a monolith,” said Richard Turner, postdoctoral associate and an author of the report. But “results produced by looking at Hispanics as a single group may be misleading.”

“Marketing and political advertising” is based on the notion that a “common language in itself is enough to draw these groups together,” the authors wrote in the report. Hispanics, the nation’s largest minority group, voted in record numbers last November and could decide future elections, the New York Times previously reported.

Using publicly available data from the Census and Current Population Survey, the authors found that while population growth among Hispanics is high on average, different groups vary dramatically. The Honduran population, for instance, increased nearly 400 percent from 1990 to 2010, while the Nicaraguan population grew by 72 percent. Economic conditions also vary widely, with Cubans, Puerto Ricans and South Americans significantly above the Hispanic average and Guatemalans representing an “extreme case of low education, low wages and high poverty,” they wrote.

The authors also examined the geographic distribution and segregation of various Hispanic populations. Overall residential segregation of Hispanic groups from non-Hispanic whites has not changed significantly in 30 years, a fact that is mostly a product of continuing Mexican segregation, the study found. All other groups have significantly desegregated since 1990.

Turner said there is still substantial uncertainty about what factors contribute to the large differences among ethnic groups, describing the effects as “multidimensional.” G. Cristina Mora, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley who was not involved with the study, offered three potential explanations.

She noted the different historical and “cultural capitals” of immigrant groups. Cubans, for example, “have historically come to the United States with higher levels of education,” she said. But Dominicans, who tend to have darker skin, “might have a different experience in the U.S. given that they are more Afro-Latinos” and could be treated differently, she said. Finally, she said, residential segregation affects “the resources within the community,” including the presence of role models and good public schools.

The report suggests the need for a “localized” housing policy, Mora said. “This tells us our resources might be better spent helping out (the populations) who seem to be the most segregated.”