Leapfrogging the Melting Pot? European Immigrants’ Intergenerational Mobility across the Twentieth Century

Kendal Lowrey, Jennifer Van Hook, James D. Bachmeier, Thomas B. Foster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


During the early twentieth century, industrial-era European immigrants entered the United States with lower levels of education than the U.S. average. However, empirical research has yielded unclear and inconsistent evidence about the extent and pace of their integration, leaving openings for arguments that contest the narrative that these groups experienced rapid integration and instead assert that educational deficits among lower-status groups persisted across multiple generations. Here, we advance another argument, that European immigrants may have “leapfrogged” or exceeded U.S.-born non-Hispanic white attainment by the third generation. To assess these ideas, we reconstituted three-generation families by linking individuals across the 1940 census; years 1973, 1979, and 1981 to 1990 of the Current Population Survey; the 2000 census; and years 2001 to 2017 of the American Community Survey. Results show that most European immigrant groups not only caught up with U.S.-born whites by the second generation but surpassed them, and this advantage further increased in the third generation. This research provides a new understanding of the time to integration for twentieth-century European immigrant groups by showing that they integrated at a faster pace than previously thought, indicative of a process of accelerated upward mobility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)480-512
Number of pages33
JournalSociological Science
StatePublished - Dec 17 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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