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Early Learning Practices in Immigrant Families

Immigrant Mexican mothers report stable home environments and strong mental health, but are less likely to read to their young children than American-born white mothers.

Meanwhile, immigrant Chinese mothers are more likely to read to their young children than American-born white mothers, but report more household conflict and weaker mental health.

These insights into how families function in immigrant households in the United States come from a new study that examines how migration history, cultural practices, and social class impact social-emotional development and early learning practices in homes with young children. The findings challenge some of the conventional thinking on the disadvantages for children born into immigrant families.

For example, the researchers found that low-income Latino immigrant families often display parenting skills that contribute to strong social-emotional development in children and may counter the negative impacts of poverty. Specifically, Mexican-heritage mothers reported fewer conflicts with spouses and fewer depressive symptoms than their peers who were native-born whites and Asian-born immigrants.

These same households, however, were far less likely to report reading with their children. Mexican-origin mothers read with their preschool-age child 70 percent less frequently than native-born white peers, and 83 percent less frequently than Chinese-origin mothers. The Latino immigrant mothers overall had lower education levels, had higher ratios of children per adult in their homes, and were more likely to work outside the home.

The study's authors are Sunyoung Jung from the University of Inchon in Korea, Bruce Fuller from the University of California, Berkeley, and Claudia Galindo from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Their findings were published today in the journal Child Development. The researchers used data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that included more than 5,000 immigrant Latino, immigrant Asian, and American-born white mothers and their preschool children.

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