Births to Immigrants in America, 1970 to 2002

Steven A. Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, July 2005

Analysis of birth records shows that in 2002 almost one in four births in the United States was to an immigrant mother, legal and illegal, the highest level in American history. The enormous number and proportion of children from immigrant families may overwhelm the assimilation process, making it difficult to integrate these new second-generation Americans. At present, the U.S. government automatically gives American citizenship to all people born in the country, even the children of tourists and illegal aliens.

Among the study’s findings:

• In 2002, 23 percent of all births in the United States were to immigrant mothers (legal or illegal), compared to 15 percent in 1990, 9 percent in 1980, and 6 percent in 1970.

• Even at the peak of the last great wave of immigration in 1910, births to immigrant mothers accounted for a slightly smaller share than today. After 1910 immigration was reduced, but current immigration continues at record levels, thus births to immigrants will continue to increase.

• Our best estimate is that 383,000 or 42 percent of births to immigrants are to illegal alien mothers. Births to illegals now account for nearly one out of every 10 births in the United States.

• The large number of births to illegals shows that the longer illegal immigration is allowed to persist, the harder the problem is to solve. Because as U.S. citizens these children can stay permanently, their citizenship can prevent a parent’s deportation, and once adults they can sponsor their parents for permanent residence.

• The large number of children born to illegals also shows that a “temporary” worker program is unrealistic because it would result in hundreds of thousands of permanent additions to the U.S. population each year, exactly what such a program is suppose to avoid.

• Overall, immigrant mothers are much less educated than native mothers. In 2002, 39 percent of immigrant mothers lacked a high school education, compared to 17 percent of native mothers. And immigrants now account for 41 percent of births to mothers without a high school degree.

• The dramatic growth in births to immigrants has been accompanied by a decline in diversity. In 1970, the top country for immigrant births—Mexico—accounted for 24 percent of births to immigrants, by 2002 it was 45 percent.

• As a share of all births in the country, Mexican immigrants accounted for one in 10 births in 2002. No single foreign country has every accounted for such a large share of births.

• In 2002, births to Hispanic immigrants accounted for 59 percent of all births to immigrant mothers. No single cultural/linguistic group has ever accounted for such a large share of births to immigrants.

• The states with the most dramatic increase in births to immigrants in the last decade are Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Nebraska, Arkansas, Arizona, Tennessee, Minnesota, Colorado, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland

• Immigrants account for such a large percentage of births because they have somewhat higher fertility and are more likely to be in their reproductive years than natives. However, the difference with natives is not large enough to significantly affect the nation’s overall age structure.

• Immigrants who have arrived in the last two decades plus all of their U.S.-born children have only reduced the average age in the United States from 37 to 36 years.

• Looking at the working age share (15 to 64) of the population also shows little effect from immigration. With or without post-1980 immigrants and their U.S.-born children, 66 percent of the population is of working age.

• While immigration has little effect on the nation’s age structure, new immigrants (legal and illegal) plus births to immigrants add some 2.3 million people to the nation’s population each year, making for a much larger overall population.


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