THE EDUCATION OF PORTUGUESE AMERICANS: A STATISTICAL PORTRAIT
Dulce Maria Scott, Ph.D.
American Community Survey cross-sectional data as well as an online survey conducted in 2010-2011 allow us a glimpse into the educational attainment of the population of Portuguese ancestry in the United States. Education has long held a special place in the American imagination as the quintessential path toward socioeconomic upward mobility and the realization of the American dream.
discern a few patterns and trends:
below the average high school and college rates for all
progress in relation to their parents’ generation;
Americans while lower than that of other, older
European ethnic groups, is considerably higher than
that of minority ethnic groups in America;
achievement are not uniform across the United States.
Portuguese immigrants born in Portugal–who arrived in the United States largely to work in the manual labor segments of the American economy–display educational levels that are well below the average for all Americans (see Table 1). Among Portuguese immigrants, 54.7 percent have attained a high school degree and only 10.8 percent have completed a bachelor’s degree. These rates are considerably lower than the corresponding United States national averages of respectively 86.3 percent and 29.1 percent.
Today, in an age of globalization and cosmopolitanism, the American economy no longer provides stable industrial employment for manual labor immigrants and their children. Employment in the stable and high paying primary sector of the economy-composed of large scale firms, research institutions, hospitals, public and private universities, and so on-requires the attainment of high levels of education. As such, it is important that Portuguese Americans continue to make progress educationally.
The rates for Mexican Americans are comparable to those displayed by the Portuguese immigrant generation, and this is not surprising when one takes into consideration that a large portion of the former group’s population is recently immigrated. Brazilian immigrants, although arriving in the United States at a later date than the Portuguese, have high levels of educational attainment. This is perhaps a reflection of bipolar immigration trends, with a high number of educated immigrants arriving from Brazil (cf. Scott 2010).
A possible explanation for the differential rates among states might be that Luso-descendants, who have completed a university education, are moving away from the economically depressed Northeastern states to Southern and Western states. Census data (cf. Scott 2009) show that most states of traditional settlement (including California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island) are losing population of Portuguese descent. It is also possible that in a context of globalization and global migration, new highly educated and skilled immigrants, who are now part of what I call a fourth wave of immigration from Portugal, are moving into non-traditional states of Portuguese settlement, which offer better employment opportunities.
In conclusion, the Portuguese are making progress educationally in the United States. However, particularly in the states of traditional settlement in the Northeast–Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey–individuals and community organizations could engage in a more concerted effort to promote education among Luso-descendants and their families. In a globalized economy, where stable and high paying employment increasingly requires high levels of education, Luso-descendants will benefit from parents who are informed about the educational opportunities available in the United States and a community that mobilizes its resources in support of cultural and educational activities for its children.
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