According to a new study published Tuesday, Mexican immigrant mothers performed better on some measures of parenting than white mothers did.
The study, conducted by a research team from the University of California, Berkeley, found that Mexican-origin mothers provide "warm and supportive home settings," engage in fewer conflicts with spouses and exhibit evidence of stronger mental health than their white peers, despite higher poverty rates.
The study, published in the scientific journal Child Development, adds "nuance" to America's immigration debate, the research team noted in a press release.
Over a three-year period, from 2003 to 2006, researchers visited the homes of and interviewed and observed 5,300 Mexican-born, Chinese-born and white native-born mothers. Mexican-origin mothers were found to have more than 20 percent fewer arguments with their spouses than their white peers, and nearly 40 percent fewer arguments than peers of Chinese heritage. Mexican immigrant mothers also had better results than their white counterparts on an independent assessment of depressive symptoms.
On the other hand, Mexican mothers read to their children infrequently and organized few educational activities that would advance school-related skills, especially when compared with Chinese-immigrant mothers. Mothers of Chinese origin performed better than the other two groups on pre-literacy measures and worse on social ones.
“Until now, little national evidence has been available to distinguish the home settings of major immigrant groups," said Claudia Galindo, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and one of the study authors. "And many policymakers have assumed that poverty necessarily leads to poor parenting.”
The researchers looked at data from a nationally representative sample of births drawn by the National Center for Education Statistics, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. All children involved in the survey were born in the United States in 2001.
Bruce Fuller, another author of the study, called the findings about Mexican mothers as a "surprise."
"Poverty is definitely a drag on the well-being of families, but at the same time, at least for Mexican immigrants, they have cultural strengths that buffer the negative effects of family," he said.
But the extent to which "culture" accounts for the well-being of these families isn't so clear. A recent study by the Community Service Society of New York found that Puerto Rican youth in New York City are more than twice as likely as their Mexican peers to be out of school and unemployed.
Some scholars and commentators have argued that the differences between low-income Mexican families and families from other low-income groups have to do with historical and economic factors. Many Puerto Ricans settled in urban areas in the 50 and 60s, just as the manufacturing sector, which had provided stable work to generations of new immigrants, entered a long period of decline.
Other observers say that non-citizen immigrants, by necessity, tend to have more ambition and resourcefulness than most people.
"That has an impact on the formation of families, and how people relate to families and your relationship to the labor market has a major impact as well," said Angelo Falcón, the director of the National Institute for Latino Policy.
These latest findings come amid much discussion by immigration scholars about the so-called "Latino Paradox" -– the finding that Hispanic immigrants tend to be healthier than their better-off, non-immigrant counterparts, despite the prevailing wisdom that richer people are healthier.