Spanish Fades with Generations

Although U.S. Latinos believe it’s important for future generations of Hispanics to speak Spanish and the vast majority speak the language to their children, less Latino parents ensure their children speak Spanish as they become second- and third-generation, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.

Overall, 85% of Latino parents say they speak Spanish to their children, according to the Center’s 2015 National Survey of Latinos. Among immigrant parents, the figure increases to 97%, but it drops to 71% among U.S.-born second-generation Latino parents (those with at least one immigrant parent). And it falls to just 49% among third or higher generation Latino parents – those born in the U.S. to U.S.-born parents.

Spanish use also declines in mixed families. Over 90% of Latino parents with a Latino spouse or partner speak Spanish to their children, but only 55% of Latino parents with a non-Latino-partner or spouse say they speak Spanish to their children.

Encouragement to Speak Spanish

About 70% of all Hispanic parents say they often encourage their children to speak Spanish, but again, successive generations are less likely to continue doing this.

Ninety percent of Latinos say Spanish was spoken in their home when they were growing up, and 81% say their parents often or sometimes encouraged them to speak Spanish when growing up. It is worth noting that 20% of Latino adults say their parents often or sometimes discouraged them from speaking Spanish when growing up.) Today, nearly all Latinos (96%) say their parents speak Spanish, and unlike some other measures, this percentage is relatively steady across generations.

Nearly all Hispanic adults also express a desire for the language to live on: 88% say it’s important to them that future generations of Hispanics living in the U.S. be able to speak Spanish, and this view holds across generations.

The Center’s 2015 survey findings also show that Spanish dominance is on the decline among second- and third-generation Latinos. While 61% of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. are Spanish dominant (and another 32% are bilingual), the share who are Spanish dominant drops to 6% among second-generation Hispanics and to less than 1% among third or higher generation Hispanics. Meanwhile, the share of Hispanics who are English dominant rises across generations: Just seven percent of immigrant Hispanics are English dominant, a share that rises to 75% among third-generation Hispanics.

Overall, about 40 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish at home, making it the country’s second-most spoken language. At the same time, growth in the number of Spanish-speaking Hispanics has slowed, according to the Center’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. As a result, the share of Hispanics who speak Spanish at home has declined, while the share that speaks only English at home has increased, especially among children.

These trends are expected to continue as Hispanics born in the U.S. increasingly drive the group’s population growth, in large part due to slowing immigration from Mexico (and, to a lesser extent, high intermarriage rates). Already, most U.S. Hispanics say a person doesn’t need to speak Spanish to be considered Hispanic.

 

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