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Hispanic-American Families

Hispanic/latino Families: Demographic And Social Indices

Although aggregate statistics should always be interpreted with care to avoid stereotyping, they offer vital insights relating to the situation of Latinos and Hispanic/Latino families at both macro and micro levels. Keeping in mind the proviso that the average is not the individual—although many Hispanics are poor, some are wealthy; communication in Spanish may be common, but some Hispanics may know Spanish poorly or not at all— aggregate statistics do help outline some of the social characteristics of Hispanics as a group.

On the whole, the Latino family in the United States confronts great economic and social challenges, but with relatively few reserves to meet them. The social needs of the Hispanic families are underlined by their standing in five social indices (see Table 1).

Poverty. In 1999, 20.2 percent (one in five) of Hispanic families lived below the poverty level compared with a 9.3 percent poverty rate (one in eleven) for the nation's families as a whole, and 5.5 percent (one in eighteen) for non-Hispanic white families. The situation of married-couple Hispanic families is somewhat better, 14.2 percent, but that of female-headed families can only be described as dire: 39 percent live in poverty and among Puerto Ricans, 47.4 percent. It should also be noted that Puerto Rican residents counted include only those living in the fifty states—residents of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (3.8 million persons) are not included in the totals for U.S. residents, although all Puerto Ricans are born as U.S. citizens.

As a point of reference, the U.S. poverty thresholds for families of three and four persons were $13,853 and $18,267 respectively in 2001.

Income. The median income (half make more, half make less) of Latino families is approximately 60 percent that of all U.S. families: $32,000 versus $52,000. The same income differential holds for married-couple families: $37,000 versus $59,000. However, the income levels drop dramatically for single-parent families across all groups, especially for female-headed families: $18,700 for Latinos, $23,700 for all U.S. families and $28,600 for non-Hispanic white female-headed families. Special note should be paid to the $15,600 income of female-headed Puerto Rican families. On the other hand, Cuban female-headed families receive almost as much income, $27,100, as do their non-Hispanic white counterparts. In sum, the majority of female-headed Latino families live in poverty or near poverty conditions (as defined by the U.S. government).

Age. As a group, Latinos are dramatically younger than the rest of the U.S. population. The median age for males is 26.3 and for females 25.5 years versus 34 and 36 years respectively for the total U.S. population. The median age is even higher for non-Hispanic white males, 36.9 years, and females, 38.8 years. Across the board, Latinos' median ages are approximately ten to twelve years younger than those of other groups, with the exception of the Cuban-Latino subgroup, for which the median ages are 40.4 for males and 42.6 for females, higher than any other major group in the United States. The high median ages for Cubans are primarily the result of the erratic nature of Cuban refugee immigration as well as an age bias in the refugee population. Young persons subject to military conscription, for example, have routinely been forbidden exit visas.

Fertility. When the median age of a population is young then the proportion of women in the 15- to 44-year-old age cohorts, and especially in their 20s, will be high. This means that the fertility of the Latino population, with typical median ages a decade younger than the rest of the U.S. population, would be high. However, within all age groups Latina women give birth at much higher rates per thousand (about ninety-five) than those in other groups, which averaged about fifty to sixty-five per thousand women according to a June 2000 Census Current Population Survey (P20–543RV). Latina women accounted for 13.6 percent of the 60.9 million women in the childbearing years and yet gave birth to 19.3 percent of the 3.9 million children born in that period. In addition, the Latina mothers also tended to be younger, raising the likelihood that more of them will have more children.


TABLE 1 Hispanic-American families (In millions or as a percentage of the total population)
    Hispanic   Puerto   Other White Black
Census Year U.S. total total Mexican Rican Cuban Hispanic Non-Hispanic Non-Hispanic
2000 281.4 35.3 (12.5%) 20.6 (7.3%) 3.4 (1.4%) 1.2 (0.42%) 10.02 (3.6%) 195.6 (69.5%) 35.4 (12.6%)
1990 248.7 22.4 ( 9.0%) 13.5 (5.4%) 2.73 (1.1%) 1.04 (0.42%) 5.01 (2.01%) 188.3 (75.7%) 29.3 (11.8%)
1980 222.6 14.6 ( 6.5%)            
Social Characteristics
Families (millions) 72.03 7.6 4.8 0.77 0.385 1.6 53.1  
Families, median
income $51,751 $31,663 $31,123 $30,129 38,312   54,121  
Married-couple $59,346 $37,132 $35,332 $41,776 44,025   59,697  
Male-headed, no spouse present $37,396 $30,425 $30,710 $29,882 39,811   41,656  
Female-headed, no spouse present $23,732 $18,701 $19,313 $15,568 27,084   28,627  
Families in Poverty (%) 9.30% 20.20% 21.20% 23% 15% 16.70% 5.50%  
Married-couple 4.80% 14.20% 16.70% 8.10% 10.30% 9.60% 3.30%  
Male-headed 11.70% 16.80% 16% 19% 19.80% 17.60% 9.30%  
Female-headed 27.80% 38.80% 38.40% 47.40% 33.80% 34.60% 18.60%  
Median Age: Males 34 26.3 24 25.4 40.4   36.9  
Median age: Females 36 25.5 24.9 30.2 42.6   38.8  

The future composition of the Hispanic group is likely to be further shaped by another trend that emerges from Census Bureau Data. The fertility of Latina immigrants is far higher than that of those born in the United States. Among native-born women, fertility rates of Latinas were approximately eighty births per year per thousand as opposed to sixty births per thousand for non-Hispanic native-born women. Latina immigrants gave birth at an overall rate of 112 births per thousand. Thus the birth rates of Latina women, although high, are moving toward those of the general population— the trend for immigrant Latinas has not been established, but starts from a far higher level. Thus, the Latino/a child is far more likely to be born of an immigrant mother than would be suggested by the proportion of immigrant mothers in the of childbearing population as a whole.

Latina immigrant women are thus more likely to bear children, and they are more likely to continue having them than any other group in the U.S. population, although these differences may narrow in the future with acculturation and other social pressures.

Immigration. As enumerated through responses to the Census 2000, at least 16.1 million of the 35.4 million Hispanic/Latinos were born in another country—they immigrated to the United States. Latinos constituted 52 percent of all of the foreign-born U.S. residents counted in the census. (Actually, the number of foreign born may be substantially higher; census counts of the foreign born have been consistently proved inaccurate—low— over the years.) At least 12.5 million Latinos immigrated since 1980, the majority during the 1990s, and these later immigrants now constitute the sub-group of Latinos with the highest fertility rate. Of the 761,000 Latina mothers giving birth last year, 423,000 (or 56%) were foreign born, although the foreign-born Latinas accounted for only 47 percent of the 8 million Latina women of child-bearing age.

Language. Census 2000 tallies indicate that 47.0 million U.S. residents spoke a language other than English in the home. Spanish was the language spoken by 28.1 million, of whom 13.8 million spoke English less than "very well." In a substantial number of families, no member speaks English beyond a level that facilitates the most basic social interactions outside a Spanish language environment. These are called linguistically isolated families; data on these families is as yet unavailable, but past experience indicates that there are millions of such isolated families.

In profile, the Latino family is young, poor, and especially in the case of the single-parent family, likely to be living in straitened circumstances. Almost half of Latinos were not born in the United States, with millions having arrived during the last decade. This high volume of immigration is expected to continue. Of course when we speak of the mean income or age, always keep in mind that half of all Latino families exceed the mean. There are many affluent Latinos: doctors, lawyers, skilled craft workers, teachers, executives, and business owners. Latinos as a group have, on the average, low incomes; an individual Latino, however, may have any income, may have lived in North America for fifteen generations, and may still speak Spanish at home.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsHispanic-American Families - The Hispanics/latinos And Group Definition, Hispanic/latino Families: Demographic And Social Indices