Urban Research Monitor
Characteristics Influence Choices

From 1980 to 1990, suburbs witnessed a modest increase in new immigrants. According to Alba and his colleagues, an average of 2 percent more immigrants chose to live in the suburbs in 1990 than in 1980. Asian populations, such as Indians (61.9 percent), Filipinos (60 percent), and Koreans (56.5 percent), were more likely to immigrate directly to the suburbs than other ethnic groups. Among Hispanics, Cubans (50.5 percent) were the most likely to settle in areas outside the central city. Galster and his colleagues noticed similar location patterns among Asian Indians and non-Hispanic white immigrants, who tended to reside in the suburbs. However, apparently not all immigrant groups prefer the suburbs. For example, immigrants from the former Soviet Union preferred to start their lives in the United States in the central city.

Across immigrant groups, Alba and his colleagues found financial status and English speaking ability to be the main determinants of residential location. This finding is consistent with the original spatial assimilation theory: Immigrants tend to remain in enclaves until they improve their economic status, cultural understanding, and language fluency. However, the authors observed a decline in the impact of language fluency on location decisions between 1980 and 1990. They conclude that the increased suburbanization and declining language barrier are due to the formation of suburban immigrant enclaves such as Monterey Park, California. A suburb of Los Angeles, Monterey Park is 58 percent Asian. According to the authors, the enclave serves the same support function as traditional central city ethnic neighborhoods, offering a resource network to help heads of households with limited English skills find housing, jobs, and other information needed to adapt to a new land.

Research in "Neighborhood Opportunity Structures of Immigrant Populations, 1980 and 1990" indicates that there may be a different type of network supporting the increased immigrant suburbanization. The Galster/Metzger/Waite study examined interactions among different ethnic groups within a neighborhood or census tract. Results showed that ethnic enclaves still exist and ethnic interaction among same-ethnicity immigrant groups was low, but interaction among other populations, except non-Hispanic whites, was on the rise, signifying immigrant assimilation across ethnic groups. The propensity of immigrants to cluster could be the result of a more generalized network that may service people of the same ethnic group but is also sensitive to the needs of all immigrants. However, the simultaneous assimilation and suburbanization of immigrants may be due to more advanced transportation and communications technology, which widen the reach of an ethnic group's support network while reducing the need to reside in the same neighborhood.

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