Urban Wire How many children of immigrants live in the US? The answer is hard to pin down.
Cary Lou
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In 2015, 18.2 million children of immigrants lived in the US, representing one-quarter of the nation’s children. This group is responsible for all net growth in the under-18 population from 2006 to 2015, while the number of children of native-born parents declined slightly over this period. Most children of immigrants are native-born US citizens (88 percent as of 2015) and have at least one parent who is a US citizen (60 percent as of 2015).

Recent innovations in how we identify families suggest that past estimates of the number of children of immigrants were low because it can be difficult to accurately identify parent-child links and we didn’t count children living in unconventional families. Even with recent updates to the available data and measures of family relationships, we still lack information that could make our estimates even more accurate.

There are more than 300,000 additional children of immigrants than we previously estimated

In our national-level analysis, we identified approximately 300,000 additional children of immigrants (spanning the years 2006 through 2015) because of recent changes in how parent-child relationships are identified in the University of Minnesota’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS).  

IPUMS’ updated methodology no longer uses the order of individual person records within each household to determine parent-child relationships. The Census Bureau’s public-use data reorders household records, which frequently imply family relationships in the raw data, before release to help protect privacy, and IPUMS now accounts for this in its methodology. IPUMS now determines parent-child links based only on age, sex, marital status, and relationship to the household head.

The IPUMS update also includes new information to identify nontraditional families who may have been previously overlooked, such as same-sex and cohabiting couples. These changes, aimed at encompassing a broader set of family relationships, led to a small increase in the number of children of immigrants counted because of a newly identified second parent: around 7,000 additional children of immigrants nationally in 2015 on top of the 300,000 described above.

Despite these data improvements, we may still may be undercounting the number of children living with immigrant parents because the IPUMS is more cautious in identifying same-sex couples as parents, compared with opposite-sex couples. Potential opposite-sex couples are linked first over potential same-sex couples. Furthermore, households with multiple potential same-sex couples are not listed as such, because it is not straightforward to differentiate them from households where multiple married individuals are living without their spouses in the available data.

Better data help us identify children who need support to reach their full potential

Given that children of immigrants will be a significant portion of the next generation of American citizens and workers, we must capture more comprehensive and accurate data on this group along with those of other disadvantaged and vulnerable people, including information that more directly captures their identities and relationships. These groups include people of color, young children, and LGBTQ people who have historically been undercounted or counted without capturing their full identity.

Proposed funding cuts to the Census Bureau’s budget are likely to affect the American Community Survey, decennial census, and other federal data collection efforts, threatening data quality and exacerbating undercounts. These numbers affect everything from political representation to resource allocation to making business investments to calculating poverty rates.

Collecting comprehensive, high-quality data is important in determining the unique challenges faced by the US population. The decennial census and American Community Survey are important sources of information that allow us to understand not only how many people are living in the US, but who they are across the nation and in individual communities.

Understanding who children of immigrants are in the US, states, and local communities is especially important because these children are also more likely to be poor and to have a parent with limited English language proficiency. These factors can pose barriers to accessing early education and care, health insurance, and other services, which contribute to the gap between children of immigrants and others in school readiness, health, and other milestones.

More children of immigrants in our updated estimates mean there is greater demand for tailored outreach and services that alleviate these distinctive challenges. When these problems are addressed, children of immigrants can better meet their full potential and contribute to the US.

Research Areas Children and youth Child welfare
Tags Immigrant children, families, and communities Federal, state, and local immigration and integration policy Families with low incomes
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population