Hispanics make up 15.5 percent of America's population, the largest minority group in America. Of these, 14.4 million are Hispanic women.
The demographic portrait of the social and economic characteristics of Hispanic women in America compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center sheds light on a number of concerns for our country.
In the 1990s, immigration was the driving force of the increase in our Hispanic population. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data see a reversal in Hispanic growth patterns in this country. Nearly two-thirds of Hispanic growth in 2006-07 came from births rather than immigration. The reversal is due to two important demographic factors: Hispanic women are younger than non-Hispanic women in America and have higher fertility rates.
In 2006, annual births to Hispanic women exceeded one million for the first time. One in four children under the age of 5 in America is Hispanic.
How big are the gaps in age and fertility rates among the various groups? The median age of Hispanic women is 41; of non-Hispanic women, 47. Native-born Hispanic women have a median age of 39, compared with 42 for immigrant Hispanic women.
Apart from median age, 42 percent of Hispanic women are ages 18 to 34, as opposed to only 28 percent of non-Hispanic women. Native-born Hispanic women are nearly twice as likely as immigrant Hispanic women to be 24 or younger: 22 percent for native-born, compared to 12 percent for immigrants.
We also see differences at the other end of the age spectrum. Almost 20 percent of non-Hispanic American women are 65 or older, as compared to just 10 percent of Hispanic women.
Overall, the fertility rate of Hispanic women is one-third higher than that of non-Hispanic women. American Community Survey (2006) data show that non-Hispanic women had 63 births per 1,000 women, whereas Hispanic women had 84 births per 1,000 women. This difference is attributed largely to the fertility rate of immigrant Hispanic women, who had 96 births per 1,000 women, compared to 73 births per 1,000 women for native-born Hispanic women in America.
In terms of marriage rates, the differences between Hispanic and non-Hispanic women are negligible. They are equally likely to be married (54 percent). We do see differences between Hispanic women immigrants, with 63 percent married, compared to 44 percent native-born Hispanic women, but these differences result at least in part from the fact that native-born Hispanic women are younger.
An interesting finding related to out-of-wedlock birth rates is the discrepancy between immigrant Hispanic women (35 percent) and native-born Hispanic women (50 percent). As previous findings may show, this may relate to the tendency of immigrant Hispanic women to be more traditional in their social values.
The majority of immigrant Hispanic women have arrived in America since 1990. Strikingly, 60 percent of immigrant Hispanic women in the United States were born in México.
Women from Central America are the second largest group of Hispanic immigrant women, but comprise only 14 percent of the total. Within this Central America group, nearly half of the women originated from El Salvador.
South America is the home continent of close to 12 percent of Hispanic female immigrants, with nearly half born in Colombia. Women from the Caribbean countries make up almost 13 percent of all Hispanic female immigrants, and nearly all were born either in Cuba or the Dominican Republic. Only 2.6 percent of immigrant Hispanic women come from any other country.
When we compare citizenship rates, 55 percent of non-Hispanic immigrant women and 31 percent of Hispanic immigrant women are naturalized citizens.
Along with lack of citizenship, Hispanic women and, once again, especially immigrant Hispanic women, are much less likely to have health insurance than non-Hispanic women. Overall, Hispanic women are nearly three times more likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanic women.
When we look at the education picture for Hispanic women in America, first we see that Hispanic women are less educated than non-Hispanic women: 36 percent of Hispanic women have less than a high school education. Only 10 percent of non-Hispanic women have not graduated from high school.
A notable difference among Hispanic women in America is that native-born Hispanic women are much more likely to have a high school education or a college education than are foreign-born Hispanic women. The data show a significant difference between immigrant and native-born Hispanic women: 49 percent of Hispanic women immigrants have not completed high school while only 22 percent of native-born Hispanic women do not have a high school diploma.
Susan Minushkin, deputy director of the Pew Hispanic Center, is not surprised by the discrepancy between immigrant and native-born Hispanic women in terms of high school completion.
"Given that the report focuses on adult women, and that most immigrant women are from México, it is not at all surprising that immigrant women would have lower levels of high school completion rates - the mandatory (free and universal) education for Mexicans is ninth grade, and this is up from sixth grade in the 1980s," she said.
College data show a similar difference between native-born and immigrant Hispanic women: 46 percent of native-born Hispanic women have at least some college education while only 24 percent of immigrant Hispanic women do.
Again, we see differences based on country of origin. Foreign-born Hispanic women from South America have the highest levels of education. Half of this group has attended college, and they are twice as likely as Central American immigrant women to have at least some college education. South American immigrant women are three times as likely to have some college education as are women from México.
Minushkin added, "The significance of the data lies in how it illuminates the differences among the various subgroups of Hispanic women in America."
The importance of education in influencing socioeconomic status has already been widely established. When we look at labor force characteristics of Hispanic women in America, we can certainly see the effects of their undereducation.
First, we see that an equal number of Hispanic women and non-Hispanic women in America participate in the labor force, that is, they are either employed or actively seeking employment. More native-born Hispanic women (64 percent) are employed or seeking employment than are immigrant Hispanic women (54 percent).
Native-born Hispanic women are also more likely than immigrant Hispanic women to be employed either hill or part time (6l percent) as compared with immigrant Hispanic women (51 percent). Of all immigrant Hispanic women in America, those from Mexico are least likely to be employed (46 percent), compared with immigrant Hispanic women from the Caribbean (52 percent), 61 percent from South America and 63 percent from Central America.
Comparing income between Hispanic and non-Hispanic women in America, the most striking finding is that Hispanic women who are employed full time earn lower median weekly wages than non-Hispanic women. Non-Hispanic women earn 34 percent higher weekly wages $615 compared to $460 for Hispanic women.
There are wage-earning differences also found between native-born Hispanic women and immigrant Hispanic women. Native-born full-time employees earn 35 percent higher weekly wages man their immigrant Hispanic women cohort. Here the difference is $540 versus $400 as the median weekly earnings. Again, immigrant Hispanic women from México have the lowest median weekly earnings of all immigrant Hispanic women. They earn 9 percent less than immigrant women from Central America. Mexican immigrant women earn 15 percent less man women from the Caribbean, and 31 percent less than immigrant Hispanic women from South America.
Hispanic women are also more likely to live in lower-income households than are non-Hispanic women, and not surprisingly, given all this data, Hispanic women are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty as nonHispanic women. Twenty percent of Hispanic women live in poverty, as opposed to 11 percent of non-Hispanic women.
Hispanic women are more likely to work in blue-collar jobs than are non-Hispanic women. We find a large number of Hispanic women working in jobs such as building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, food preparation and serving-related jobs, personal care and service occupations.
Fifteen percent of Hispanic women work in the wholesale/retail trade industry, and this is comparable to the proportion of non-Hispanic women in these areas. We also see similarities between Hispanic and non-Hispanic women in the most commonly held jobs by Hispanic women, that is office and administrative support occupations. About a fifth of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic women hold office-related positions.
Immigrant Hispanic women are much more likely than native-born Hispanic women in America to work in agricultural, manufacturing and service-oriented industries. At least two-thirds of the Hispanic women working in these areas are immigrants.
This group's poverty levels, lack of health care, labor force characteristics - including being stuck in the lowest-paying jobs and still experiencing wage discrimination - and their undereducation make a strong case for addressing their plight.
The connections between level of education and socioeconomic status, and education and other benefits, such as likelihood of having health care and the likelihood of civic participation, have been well documented. Emphasis needs to be placed on educational attainment for both nativeborn and immigrant Hispanic women in America.
As our nation strives to stay afloat in the global economic world, how can we afford not to educate this large segment of the population? Plans to educate Hispanic women, and all minorities of both genders, must involve bold initiatives to narrow the academic achievement gaps.
The full report, Gonzales, F. (2008), Hispanic Women in the United States, 2007, is available at www.pewhispanic.org.

The majority of immigrant Hispanic women have arrived in America since 1990. Strikingly, 60 percent of immigrant Hispanic women in the United States were born in México.

[Author Affiliation]
Angela Provitera McGlynn, professor emeritus of psychology, Mercer County Community College, is a national consultant on teaching and learning.