Immigrant generations

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The term first-generation can refer to either people who were born in one country and relocated to another at a young age, or to their children born in the country they have relocated to. The term second-generation refers to children of first-generation immigrants, and thus exhibits the same ambiguity. The term 1.5 generation is a term coined for people who identify as "first generation" who do not meet the definition.

First generation[edit]

The term first-generation, as it pertains to a person's nationality or residency in a country, can imply two possible meanings, depending on context:

  • A foreign born citizen or resident who has immigrated to a new country of residence: e.g., "first-generation" migrant
  • A native-born citizen or resident of a country whose parents are foreign born: e.g., "first-generation" American, thus second-generation immigrant

This ambiguity is captured and corroborated in The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "generation":

...designating a member of the first (or second, etc.) generation of a family to do something or live somewhere; spec. designating a naturalized immigrant or a descendant of immigrant parents, esp. in the United States.... (OED definition of "generation," section 6b., emphasis added)b

In the United States, among demographers and other social scientists, the term "first generation" is used to refer to foreign-born residents (excluding those born abroad of American parents).[1]

There is not a universal consensus on which of these meanings is always implied.[citation needed]

1.5 generation[edit]

The term 1.5 generation or 1.5G refers to people who immigrate to a new country before or during their early teens. They earn the label the "1.5 generation" because they bring with them characteristics from their home country but continue their assimilation and socialization in the new country, thus being "halfway" between the 1st generation and the 2nd generation. Their identity is thus a combination of new and old culture and tradition, and they may thus experience a third culture. Sociologist Ruben Rumbaut was among the first to use the term to examine outcomes among those arriving in the United States before adolescence.[2]

Depending on the age of immigration, the community into which they settle, extent of education in their native country, and other factors, 1.5 generation individuals will identify with their countries of origin to varying degrees. However, their identification will be affected by their experiences growing up in the new country. 1.5G individuals are often bilingual and find it easier to be assimilated into the local culture and society than people who immigrated as adults.

Many 1.5 generation individuals are bi-cultural, combining both cultures - culture from the country of origin with the culture of the new country.

Second generation[edit]

The term "second-generation" extends the concept of first-generation by one generation. As such, the term exhibits the same type of ambiguity as "first-generation," as well as additional ones.

Like "first-generation immigrant," the term "second-generation" can refer to a member of either:

  • the second generation of a family to inhabit, but the first to be natively born in, a country, or
  • the second generation to be born in a country.

In the United States, among demographers and other social scientists, the term "second generation" is used to refer to the U.S.-born children of foreign-born parents.[1] The Japanese in North America use the Japanese term "nisei", which means the "second generation", to refer to this.[3]

The term second-generation immigrant has attracted criticism due to it being an oxymoron. Namely, critics say, a "second-generation immigrant" is not an immigrant, since being "second-generation" means that the person is born in the country and the person's parents are the immigrants in question. Generation labeling of immigrants is further complicated by the fact that immigrant generations may not correspond to the genealogical generations of a family. For instance, if a family of two parents and their two adult children immigrate to a new country, members in both generations of this family may be considered "first generation" by the former definition, as both parents and children were foreign-born, adult, immigrants. Likewise, if the two parents had a third child later on, this child would be of a different immigrant generation from that of its siblings. For every generation, the factor of mixed-generation marriages further convolutes the issue, as a person may have immigrants at several different levels of his or her ancestry.

These ambiguities notwithstanding, generation labeling is frequently used in parlance, news articles [1], and reference articles without deliberate clarification of birthplace or naturalization. It may or may not be possible to determine, from context, which meaning is intended.

2.5 generation[edit]

When demographers and other social scientists in the United States use the term "second generation," they usually refer to people with at least one foreign-born parent. Some researchers have begun to question whether those with one native-born parent and those with no native-born parents should be lumped together, with evidence suggesting that there are significant differences in outcomes between the two groups.[4][5]

1.25 and 1.75 generations[edit]

Rubén G. Rumbaut has coined the terminology "1.25 generation" and "1.75 generation" immigrants, for children who are closer to birth or full adulthood when they immigrate.[6] Children ages 1 to 9 are referred to as 1.75 generation immigrants, because their experiences are closer to a true 2nd-generation immigrant who was born in the country they live in, while children ages 13 and up are referred to as 1.25 generation immigrants because their experiences and adaptive outcomes are closer to that of a first-generation immigrant.[6]

In the United States[edit]

  1. First generation immigrant: immigrant who migrated to the U.S.
  2. Second generation immigrant: U.S.-born children of at least one foreign-born parent.
  3. Third generation: U.S.-born children of at least one U.S.-born parent, where at least one grandparent is foreign-born.

The Japanese use the term "sansei", which means "third generation", to refer to this.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Nation's Foreign-Born Population Nears 37 Million". Press Release. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  2. ^ Rojas, Leslie Berenstein. "Introducing the cultural mashup dictionary: Our first term, 1.5 generation". Article. Southern California Public Radio. Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Hersey, John; Manzanar; p 69; ISBN 0812917278
  4. ^ Ramakrishnan, S. Karthick (2004). "Second‐Generation Immigrants? The "2.5 Generation" in the United States". Social Science Quarterly 85 (2): 380–399. doi:10.1111/j.0038-4941.2004.08502013.x. Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  5. ^ Acevedo-Garcia, Dolores; Jocelyn Pan; Hee-Jin Jun; Theresa L. Osypuk; Karen M. Emmons (2005). "The effect of immigrant generation on smoking". Social Science & Medicine 61 (6): 1223–1242. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.01.027. Retrieved 31 January 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Rumbaut, Rubén. Ages, Life Stages, and Generational Cohorts: Decomposing the Immigrant First and Second Generations in the United States. Retrieved December 9, 2014.


  • "generation, n.". OED Online. December 2011. Oxford University Press. 9 January 2012 <[2]>.
  • McLellan, Janet. (1999). Many Petals of the Lotus: Five Asian Buddhist Communities in Toronto. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802044211; ISBN 9780802082251; OCLC 247672282

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]