How Has Assimilation Worked in the United States: Education, Immigration (1997)

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Immigrant assimilation is a complex process in which immigrants not only fully integrate themselves into a new country, but also lose aspects, perhaps all of their heritage too. Social scientists rely on four primary benchmarks to assess immigrant assimilation: socioeconomic status, geographic distribution, second language attainment, and intermarriage.[1] William A.V. Clark defines immigrant assimilation "as a way of understanding the social dynamics of American society and that it is the process that occurs spontaneously and often unintended in the course of interaction between majority and minority groups".[2] It has been found that between 1880 and 1920, the United States took in roughly 24 million immigrants.[1] This increase in immigration can be attributed to many historical changes. Later, during the Cold War from the 1960s through the 1980s and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, over 1.8 million Jews (including some non-Jewish family members) emigrated from the former Soviet Union. The major destination countries were Israel (about 1.1 million), the United States (over 400,000), Germany (about 130,000), and Canada (about 30,000).[3] The beginning of the twenty-first century has also marked a massive era of immigration, and sociologists are once again trying to make sense of the impact that immigration has on society and the impact it has on immigrants themselves. Researchers have assessed that assimilation exists among immigrants because assimilation can be measured on four primary benchmarks. These core measurable aspects of immigrant assimilation that were formulated to study European immigrants to the United States are still the starting points for understanding immigrant assimilation. These measurable aspects of assimilation are socioeconomic status, spatial concentration, language attainment, and intermarriage.[1] Socioeconomic status is defined by educational attainment, occupation, and income. By measuring socioeconomic status researchers want to find out if immigrants eventually catch up to native-born people in terms of human capital characteristics. Spatial concentration is defined by geography or residential patterns. The spatial residential model (based on theories of Park) proposed by Massey states that increasing socioeconomic attainment, longer residence in the U.S, and higher generational status lead to decreasing residential concentration for a particular ethnic group.[7] Language attainment is defined as the ability to speak English and the loss of the individual's mother tongue. The three-generation model of language assimilation states that the first generation makes some progress in language assimilation but remains dominant in their native tongue, the second generation is bilingual, and the third-generation speaks only English.[1] Intermarriage is defined by race or ethnicity and occasionally by generation.[1] High rates of intermarriage are considered to be an indication of social integration because it reveals intimate and profound relations between people of different groups; intermarriage reduces the ability of families to pass on to their children a consistent ethnic culture and thus is an agent of assimilation.[8] Intermarriage came under particular scrutiny by the Jewish community in the early-mid 20th century as Jewish leaders more and more often turned to social scientists to explain why Judaism was a typically endogamic religion. Although intermarriage was viewed as a firm base from which to begin an argument for assimilation, it was also seen as a way to gradually ease the transition into their new culture. Julius Draschler, a graduate student at Columbia University, believed that as long as people are allowed to maintain some differences, such as the Jewish practice of marrying only another Jew, they will delay the inevitable while simultaneously enriching the nation in the process of their slow assimilation. While Draschler acknowledged that assimilation was the ultimate endpoint for all American groups, he hoped to prove through his intermarriage studies that, the more gradual the process, the better. Such need to justify (or vilify) the intermarriage practice became increasingly important after the 1950s as Jews (as well as other typically endogamic cultures, such as African-Americans) began to engage in more exogamic relationships.

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