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Journal Issue: Transition to Adulthood Volume 20 Number 1 Spring 2010

Immigration and Adult Transitions
Ruben G. Rumbaut Golnaz Komaie

Young Adults in an Age of Migration

No assessment of adult transitions in the United States can fail to pay heed to the ways in which contemporary young adulthood has been increasingly shaped by international migration. After four decades of accelerating migration flows, by 2008 about 41 million foreign-born men and women were living in the United States, most of them having arrived after 1990, primarily from Latin America and Asia. That population has been growing by about 1 million annually, in both legal and unauthorized statuses. These immigrant flows consist primarily of young adults and their children. Of the 41 million foreign born, 44 percent arrived in the United States as young adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, and another 40 percent arrived as children under the age of eighteen, in due course to "come of age" and make their own transitions to adulthood in their adoptive society.1

Moreover, given the youthful age structure and higher fertility rates of the immigrant population, a new second generation—the U.S.-born children of the immigrants—has been growing rapidly. By 2008, the U.S.-born second generation (with one or two foreign-born parents) totaled more than 32 million; 20 percent of them were young adults aged eighteen to thirty-four, and nearly half (46 percent) were under eighteen—that is, they were still mainly children and teenagers. As this new second generation reaches adulthood in large numbers within the next decade or two, its impact will be increasingly and widely felt throughout the society—in higher education, the labor market, sports and popular culture, criminal justice and religious institutions, the mall, and the ballot box—all the more so in the urban centers where they are concentrated.2

These new Americans are not a homogeneous population. They differ greatly in their national origins and cultural backgrounds, in their areas of geographic concentration, and in their patterns of socioeconomic mobility and legal status. Before turning to an examination of their transitions to adult roles, we consider briefly their ethnic diversity, ethnic geography, and ethnic inequality.