The Greek Immigrant Generation Gap

A common theme echoed from studies looking at inter-generational mobility differences between foreign-born immigrants and their native-born counterparts is the degree to which the latter group’s socioeconomic status characteristics exceed or not those of the former group.

The following brief article examines differences in socioeconomic status between first- and second-generation Greek- Americans using data from the 2005-2013 Current Population Survey, a monthly survey conducted by the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For clarification purposes the first-generation consists of those born in Greece and the second-generation are those born in the United States and whose parents, either mother or father, are born in Greece.

We also differentiate the first-generation by year of arrival, especially between those arriving before and after 1965, the year the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act was passed, which essentially eliminated our country’s strict and discriminatory immigration laws dating back to the 1920s.

While the public discourse on inter-generational socioeconomic status outcomes among Greek-Americans is one in which the second-generation has “done better” than the (foreign-born) first-generation, we present preliminary descriptive results that suggest a somewhat different scenario.

Before we discuss differences in socioeconomic status, a note is warranted on the racial/ethnic and regional distribution of Greek-Americans by generational status. While the majority of first-generation Greeks settled in the Northeast and South, the second-generation’s residential distribution is relatively equally spread across all regions.

For example, 38% of second-generation Greek-Americans reside in the Northeast, followed by another 22%, 21% and 19% in the Midwestern, Southern, and Western sections of the country. Interestingly, though not surprising, it was not until after 1965 that Greek-Americans started to reside in the Northeast in large numbers.

For example, just over one-third (35%) of pre-1965 Greek immigrants resided in the Northeast compared to 52% of their post-1965 counterparts. While the overwhelming majority of both first- and second-generation Greeks identify as white non-Hispanic, there is a growing contingent of Greeks who identify with other racial/ethnic groups.

For example, slightly over 1% of both generations identify as being black non-Hispanic, followed by another 2.4-2.8% identifying as Hispanic. We now continue with the discussion of differences in socioeconomic status between the aforementioned groups, as measured by indicators of household income, education, occupation, and home ownership.

As mentioned above, the second-generation’s socioeconomic status levels are indeed higher than those of the first-generation, nevertheless, the descriptive results hint that the opposite might be occurring. First, we find a higher share of second-generation Greeks with a median household income of over $80,000 than the first-generation.

As expected, post-1965 Greek immigrants have higher household income levels than those arriving before 1965. Though slightly lower than both pre- and post-1965 Greek immigrants, we find nearly one-third (32%) of second-generation Greek-Americans who earn less than $40,000 (13% earning under $19,999 and 19% earning between $20,000-$39,999).

With respect to education, we find that the second-generation has a clear advantage in that 41% has a college degree or beyond compared to 25% among the first-generation (20% and 27% for pre- and post-1965 Greek immigrants respectively). At the other end of the educational attainment hierarchy the results reveal a significantly lower share of second-generation Greeks who do not have at a high school diploma (8% vs. 30% for first-generation immigrants).

In addition, 28% and 23% of first and second-generation Greek Americans have earned a high school diploma. Overall, the above results reveal a clear trend in that the second-generation has higher household income and educational levels than their first-generation counterparts.

Insofar as educational and income levels are positively related with each other, we would also expect to find such a pattern between each generation of Greek- Americans. We conducted a preliminary analysis looking at each group’s median household income level at each level of education for both generational groups, including pre- and post-1965.

The graph revealed that among those with less than a higher school diploma, the first-generation Greek immigrants have higher income levels than the second-generation. The differences are slightly more pronounced when differentiating by year of immigration. Among those with less than a high school diploma, post 1965 immigrants have higher income levels followed by the second and pre-1965 generation.

On the other hand, among those with a college degree or higher, it is the first-generation, and even more so the pre-1965 generation, who have higher median household income levels than the second-generation.

Furthermore, we also find differences in the slope of the graph, which hints at a differential rate of income returns to each generational group’s educational levels. It should be mentioned, however, that further analysis in needed to rule out the influence of a variety of other variables that may lead to such a difference.

We also present results in home ownership and poverty levels, including those who are receiving food stamps. While both the first and second-generation have high levels of home ownership, we see that the latter group slightly lags behind the pre-1965 Greek immigrant generation (81% vs. 93%.). At the same, nearly one quarter (23% of post-1965 first-generation Greek immigrants rent their housing unit compared to 20% and 7% among the second and pre-1965 generation.

With respect to poverty rate, all generation groups, including pre- and post-1965 Greek immigrants, have similar poverty levels, which hover around 8%. While 8% might look like a small number, this translates to approximately 103,000 second-generation Greek-Americans. Finally, the descriptive analyses also reveal a slightly higher share of second-generation Greek immigrants who receive food stamps relative to the first-generation (both pre- and post-1965 immigrants).

Specifically, 5% (66,000) of second-generation Greek Americans receives food stamps compared to 4% (32,000) of first-generation Greeks. Interestingly, pre-1965 Greek immigrants are more likely to receive food stamps than their post-1965 counterparts.

Though descriptive, the above results reveal a diverse Greek-American group in terms of socioeconomic status levels. As with every racial/ethnic group, we also find second-generation Greek-Americans with low educational and income levels, are poor, and receiving food stamps.

While attempting to find the causal mechanisms that drive such results is beyond the scope of the present brief article, we hope that the major organizations within the Greek-American community start and continue to recognize and help its socioeconomically-disadvantaged members.

(Grigoris Argeros – Special to The National Herald)