Historical Roots of Educational Disadvantage and Progress for Mexican Americans



Stephen Trejo, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Texas at Austin

Using U.S. Census data from 1930-2000, we investigate the geographic roots of educational disadvantage and progress for U.S.-born Mexican Americans:  in which places did Mexican Americans suffer larger disparities relative to non-Hispanic whites and African Americans, how strongly do these initial geographic patterns persist across decades, and where has the pace of Mexican-American progress been most rapid?  In addition, we exploit a unique feature of the 1930 Census:  so far, it is the only U.S. Census in which the race question included "Mexican" as a possible response. Census enumerators assigned a race of "Mexican" to most second-generation Mexican Americans, but some were instead assigned a race of "white," and the chances that Mexican Americans were assigned a race of "white" varied enormously across locations, even after conditioning on observable characteristics.  This information regarding how Census enumerators assigned racial labels to second-generation Mexican Americans in 1930 provides a valuable window into local attitudes toward Mexican ethnics.  Geographic variation in the racial identification of Mexican Americans in 1930 is strongly related to the educational attainment of Mexican Americans (but not non-Hispanic whites and African Americans) observed in the 1940 and 1960 Censuses, suggesting that the Mexican racial identification measure captures something about the local environment that improved educational opportunities for Mexican Americans but not for other groups.

Stephen Trejo is a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin.  His research focuses on public policy issues involving labor markets, including overtime pay regulation, the experiences of immigrants, and obstacles to the economic progress of minority groups.  Much of Dr. Trejo’s recent work analyzes patterns of socioeconomic mobility among the U.S.-born descendants of contemporary immigrant groups, and one strand of this work explores how selective intermarriage and ethnic identification bias assessments of intergenerational progress for Hispanics and Asians.  Currently, Dr. Trejo is a coeditor for the Journal of Human Resources, and previously he served as an associate editor for the Journal of Human Capital (2013-15) and as a deputy editor for Demography (2016-18).  In addition, he was appointed to National Academy of Sciences panels that studied immigrant integration (2014-15), U.S. Hispanics (2003-05), and health insurance (2000-03).  Dr. Trejo holds a B.A. degree in economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in economics from the University of Chicago.


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