Mexican Americans are a large group whose mobility patterns can provide important insight into immigrant assimilation processes. It is well known that Mexicans have not attained economic parity with whites, but considerable debate exists about the degree to which Mexican immigrants and their American-born children experience mobility over their lives. We contribute to this literature by studying Mexican American wealth accumulation trajectories over the life course, focusing on three interrelated processes. First, we examine childhood poverty and inheritances to establish financial starting points and the degree to which resources from prior generations affect wealth ownership. Second, we study impediments to mobility in young adulthood to understand how processes in early adulthood affect later-life outcomes. Third, we study wealth accumulation rates over the life course and midlife wealth ownership to identify the trajectories followed over the working years and wealth status as respondents near retirement. We find high levels of earlylife disadvantage among Mexican Americans, but these disadvantages decline with each generation since migration. We also find that Mexican Americans accumulate assets over the working years more slowly than whites but more rapidly than African Americans, and that accumulation rates increase over the generations for Mexican Americans. At midlife, Mexican Americans have less total wealth than whites but more than African Americans, even when early-life impediments are controlled. Our results suggest that Mexican Americans are establishing a solid financial foundation that is likely to lead to long-term class stability.
Mexican American Mobility: An Exploration of Wealth Accumulation Trajectories