How Houston Immigrants — And Their Kids — View Relationships

Leah Binkovitz | @leahbink | October 18, 2016

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More than 1.5 million of the Houston metro area’s 6.6 million residents were born outside the United States.

Houston’s diversity is a celebrated way of life. But what impact do immigrants and their children have on the attitudes and behaviors that shape life in Houston? That’s what researchers Amy Lucas and Stephen M. Cherry, sociologists at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, set out to uncover in an analysis of survey data from the Kinder Houston Area Survey.

“Historically there’s been an idea that when immigrants first come to the United States they live in immigrant enclaves and just interact with those from the same background,” explained Lucas. “The expectation has been that over time with succeeding generations, individuals will be more likely to move out of those enclaves and live in more diverse areas.”

By using responses to questions about interracial relationships, same sex marriage and working mothers, the researchers were able to chart whether there were significant differences not only between different ethnic groups but also between different immigration generations. Their findings confirmed that, for the most part, the children of immigrants tended to hold views more similar to native-born population than their parents.

“As the United States grows increasingly diverse,” reads the study published in Sociological Spectrum, “it will be crucial to understand what, if any, differences in families’ behaviors and attitudes exist across all racial and ethnic groups, especially Asians,” who are projected to surpass Hispanics as the largest immigrant population in the country.

When it came to attitudes around working mothers, the results — pulled from 2011 Houston-area survey data — supported a more traditional view of assimilation. The researchers found that Latinos and Asians were more likely to think mothers harmed their children by working than white respondents, but when separated by nativity, there was no difference between U.S.-born Latinos, U.S.-born Asians and whites.

Support for same sex marriage was stronger than expected in the foreign-born population. Asians and Latinos, whether foreign-born or U.S.-born, had more favorable views toward same sex marriage than whites.

Approximately 58 percent of all Latino respondents (both foreign- and U.S.-born) and 57 percent of all Asian respondents (again, foreign- and U.S.-born) supported same-sex marriage equality, compared to 45 percent of whites and 33.5 percent of blacks.

About 52 percent of foreign-born Latinos and 47 percent of foreign-born Asians supporting same sex marriage equality.

“This result surprised us because that was a little bit different than what other literature had found,” Lucas said. She suggested this may be because Houston’s Latino population is so young and the Asian population so well-educated that it may contribute to more progressive views around the issue.

Still, the report notes, “As the Latino and Asian populations continue to grow in Houston, these differences in attitudes could have important ramifications on the acceptance of same-sex marriage within the city, and potentially the state of Texas.”

And as diverse as Houston is now, the researchers believe these trends will have major implications.

Nationally, roughly 12 percent of new marriages in 2013 were between people of different racial backgrounds, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. And in Houston, the researchers found that non-white respondents were more likely to have been in an interracial relationship than white respondents. Asians were roughly three times as likely to say they’d been in a romantic relationship with someone from a different background, while Latinos were more than 2.5 times more likely to say so than white respondents. Black respondents, meanwhile, were almost twice as likely as whites to have dated someone from a different ethnic background.

“What we think our results suggest is that as Houston continues to diversify, we might see more changes of the family patterns within the city,” said Lucas. “Non-white Houstonians are more likely to date members of other ethnic groups, which we think will likely increase Houston’s diversity over the years.”

U.S.-born Asians and Latinos were even more likely to be in an interracial relationship than their foreign-born counterparts. Without knowing more about the backgrounds of both partners including education and socioeconomic status, it’s hard to understand how this might impact future generations, notes Lucas.

“Houston is the fourth largest city in the nation, the fifth largest immigrant city, and the most racially and ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the nation,” concludes the study. “Thus, what happens in Houston is likely indicative of larger emerging national trends.”

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Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is Senior Editor with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

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