Growing Up Diaspora

I recently wrote about the enormous diplomatic potential of the 14.95 million American youth who are first- or second-generation diaspora members. Impressed by the sheer size of this population, I started to wonder whether this is a new phenomenon or part of ongoing demographic shifts. With this question swirling around in my head, I spent a few hours doing research and a few more hours analyzing what I found.  Keep reading to hear about what I uncovered.

The best resource I found turned out to be close to home: a new report written by two of my colleagues at the Migration Policy Institute entitled Up for Grabs: The Gains and Prospects of First- and Second-Generation Young Adults. Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix included a fascinating table of historic census data on young adults with recent immigrant heritage  that I used as a basis for the chart below.

In my table, first generation youth include foreign-born young adults living in the US between the ages of 16 and 26. Second generation youth were born in the U.S. and have a foreign-born parent(s). From this analysis, I learned that between 1995 and 2010, over half of the growth in the number of Americans between 16 and 26 years old came from an increase in the number of first- and second- generation diaspora youth.

I also found that there were 28 percent more first- and second generation young adults in the US in 2010 than 1995. In 1995, 11.7 million Americans from 16 to 26 years old fit into this population group. Over the next fifteen years, this population group grew by roughly 3.3 million. In contrast, in 2010 there were only 7 percent more American youths in the third generation or higher than in 1995. Between these years, this population increased by approximately 3 million.

The graph I built highlights the differences between growth of first- and second generation youth populations. The size of the second-generation grew steadily between 1995 and 2010. The US had 65 percent more second-generation American youths in 2010 than in 1995.

However, growth in the size of the first-generation diaspora youth population started to drop off around 2007 and continued to decline through 2010. The population of first-generation diaspora youths grew by 35 percent between 1995 and 2007, but between 2007 and 2010 it shrank by 19 percent, from 10.5 million to 8.4 million.

Therefore, in answer to the original question of whether this is a new phenomenon or part of ongoing demographic shifts, it seems that it is part of ongoing demographic shifts. The number of second-generation diaspora youth has been steadily increasing since 1995.  The size of the first generation youth population has remained stable, including around 20 percent of the total youth population over the past 15 years.

As my generation grows up and takes the reins from our parents and grandparents, I wonder if and how our deep understanding of foreign countries and cultures will change the course we take as a nation.

We are interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic. Do you think having so many young diaspora members will shape how this rising generation of leaders interacts with the world?  Why or why not?  How does being part of a diaspora affect your views on international engagement?