The Immigrant Paradox: Evidence on the Relationship Between Nativity and Antisocial Behavior Across Three Generations
Popular culture depictions of immigrants have tended toward characterizing immigrants as criminogenic and dangerous. Recent research on immigrants in the United States, however, casts doubt on these assumptions and suggests that while immigrants are more socially disadvantaged they are also less likely to commit crime and evince other forms of social pathology. Despite this emerging literature, the emphasis in these investigations has been on arrests, official crime rates and other aggregate level indices. The main weakness of this type of measurement strategy is that most people who commit transgressions are not arrested. Thus, the full depth of specific antisocial behaviors that are not detected by official sources has been understudied among immigrants. Further, there have been no studies derived from nationally representative samples, hampering the generalizability of previous investigations. These are major gaps that are addressed in the present study.
Study findings are based on Wave I and Wave II data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). The NESARC is a nationally representative sample of non-institutionalized U.S. residents aged 18 years and older. Psychiatric interviewers administered the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule – DSM-IV version (AUDADIS-IV), which provides diagnoses for an array of mental and substance use disorders including antisocial behaviors. Statistical analyses were carried out in multiple steps: First, logistic regression analyses were conducted that compared non-immigrants with immigrants in terms of antisocial behaviors followed by multinomial regression analyses that compared non-immigrants with first, second, and third-generation immigrants. All analyses were conducted with adults between the ages 18 and 49 (N = 19,073).
After controlling for an extensive array of confounds, results indicate that immigrants are significantly less antisocial despite being more likely to have lower levels of income, less education, and reside in urban areas. Native-born Americans were approximately four times more likely to report violent behavior than Asian and African immigrants and three times more likely than immigrants from Latin America. European immigrants were closest to native-born Americans in their antisociality. Results also showed that each additional year an immigrant has lived in the United States is associated with a 1.9% increase in the likelihood of violence and a 0.9% increase in the likelihood of nonviolent antisociality. Finally, the protective effect of nativity is far-and-away strongest among first-generation immigrants, attenuates substantially among the second-generation, and essentially disappears by the third-generation.
Conclusions and Implications:
Findings from the present study contradict popular culture depictions of immigrants. Study findings possess broad implications for immigration policy. Specifically, policies that implicitly assume public safety issues as a result of increased immigration are misguided. However, immigration may not be a panacea for crime reduction either as second and third-generation immigrants begin to resemble native-born Americans with respect to crime. Ongoing immigration policy debates should be appropriately informed on the research evidence regarding immigration and crime.