Adaptation experience of post-1991 Eastern European immigrants in the United States

Date
2013-03-22
Authors
Michalikova, Nina
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Abstract

Despite the rapid growth in the numbers of new Eastern Europeans in the United States, very little is known about this immigrant population. There is no published systematic study of their adaptation to American life. Using the latest nationally representative quantitative data, this dissertation attempts to fill this gap in the literature by systematically examining the cultural, socioeconomic, structural, and political adaptation of post-1991 Eastern European immigrants in the United States. Two research questions will guide this study. First, to what extent do post-1991 Eastern European immigrants in the United States adapt culturally, socioeconomically, structurally, and politically to American life? Second, what are the major determinants of cultural, socioeconomic, structural, and political adaptation of post-1991 Eastern European immigrants in the United States? This dissertation is the first comprehensive study of the adaptation experience of post-1991 Eastern European immigrants in the United States. The study contributes to the field by simultaneously examining the cultural, socioeconomic, structural, and political adaptation of these new immigrants. In addition to an important methodological contribution and policy implications, the project reviews contesting perspectives of immigrant adaptation and develops a theoretical base for understanding Eastern European immigration. Since different Eastern European groups adapt to their new lives in the United States differently, their adaptation experiences can be best explained by different theoretical frameworks.</DISS_para> Data from the Department of Homeland Security were used to describe the recent trends and patterns of immigration from Eastern Europe to the United States. The 2006-2010 American Community Survey (ACS), the 2008-2010 Civic Engagement Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CES-CPS), and the 2002-2010 Voting and Registration Supplement of the Current Population Survey (VRS-CPS) collected by the U.S. Bureau of the Census were used to address aspects of cultural, socioeconomic, structural, and political adaptation of new Eastern European immigrants. Ordinary least squares regression and logistic regression were used to test the hypotheses. The results show that new Eastern European immigrants have achieved a relatively high degree of English proficiency, and being recent immigrants, they have a higher likelihood of retaining their native language than other immigrant groups. Overall, new Eastern European immigrants tend to be highly educated and professional, but their average personal income is surprisingly low. Participation in civic organizations and neighborhood interaction of new Eastern European immigrants is somewhat limited, indicating that a relatively high degree of cultural and socioeconomic adaptation might not result in better structural adaptation for these immigrants. The naturalization rate among new Eastern European immigrants is comparable to that of American immigrants in general, but it is lower than the naturalization rate among other European and Asian immigrants. Voting behavior of new Eastern European immigrants is similar to other American immigrants. Overall, it appears that new Eastern European immigrants adapt well culturally, socioeconomically, structurally, and politically, but there are cross-group differences in their adaptation. In addition, empirical evidence suggests that new Eastern European immigrants have become only partially assimilated in the United States, while partially maintaining their ethnic cultures. Therefore, assimilation theory has no relevance when explaining their diverse adaptation paths and experiences. However, cultural pluralism theory, revisionist assimilation theory, and segmented assimilation theory appear to be applicable to the experiences of various Eastern European groups across different adaptation dimensions. The effect of a variety of individual and country-level factors on various dimensions of adaptation was tested. Age and length of stay are among the key determinants of cultural adaptation. The degree of socioeconomic adaptation of immigrants increases with length of stay, age, and English proficiency. Married immigrants tend to adapt better socioeconomically across all measures of this adaptation dimension. Length of stay, marital status, education, and self-employment consistently increase the degree of structural adaptation among immigrants. Immigrants who reside in the United States for a longer period of time, are males, have more education, and are married tend to adapt better politically than their respective counterparts. In addition to a variety of individual factors, results show that adaptation of new Eastern European immigrants is affected by socioeconomic and political conditions in their countries of origin. Immigrants from economically stronger, ethnically homogeneous countries where political and personal freedoms are granted to the citizens tend to adapt better culturally and socioeconomically. However, immigrants originating in countries with weaker economies tend to adapt better structurally and politically than immigrants from economically more stable countries. In addition, ethnic diversity and limited political and personal freedoms in home countries facilitate immigrants` structural and political adaptation in the United States. This dissertation has important implications not only for scholars of immigration, but also for policy makers, and immigrant groups themselves. Collectively, Eastern European immigrants adapt well in the United States, but this overall trend conceals wide cross-group differences. This study will, hopefully, draw the attention of policy makers to this understudied immigrant population, and will lead to an improvement in policies and increased support for groups in need. It is hoped that the information on different dimensions of adaptation included in this dissertation may be beneficial to immigrants themselves, and help later waves of Eastern European immigrants live lives that are more meaningful.

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Adaptation experience, Eastern European, Immigration, East European studies
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