Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 109–121

The Case of the Disappearing Mexican Americans: An Ethnic-Identity Mystery


DOI: 10.1007/s11113-008-9081-x

Cite this article as:
Alba, R. & Islam, T. Popul Res Policy Rev (2009) 28: 109. doi:10.1007/s11113-008-9081-x


We examine the issue of identification stability for U.S.-born Mexican Americans, by far the largest of the ethnic groups growing as a result of contemporary immigration. We demonstrate a significant exodus from the group as identified by the census. Although changes in the wording of the census question may have contributed to this loss, a major portion, as revealed by comparisons of birth cohorts across the 1980, 1990, and 2000 Censuses, occurs because individuals who identified themselves as Mexican American at an earlier point in time do not do so at a later point. In addition, there are exits that occur between generations because of past intermarriage, evident in the number of non-Hispanics who claim Mexican ancestry. The losses appear to be accounted for by two kinds of identity shifts: toward identities that have a mainstream character and thus appear reflect conventional assimilation; and toward identities that have a pan-ethnic character, i.e., with Hispanics or Latinos. These exits are selective, but in complex and partially off-setting ways. Nevertheless, the comparison of the characteristics of U.S.-born members of the Mexican–American group over time is likely to be affected by changing patterns of identification.


Ethnic identityMexican AmericansAssimilationPan-ethnicity

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University at Albany, SUNYAlbanyUSA