The dynamics of cultural assimilation in an immigrant society

Guy Stecklov, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Ahmad S. Hleihel, Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel
Joshua R. Goldstein, University of California, Berkeley

The analysis of first names offers a novel and powerful tool for gaining insight into the cultural assimilation of immigrants and the transformation of immigrant societies. Israel, which has experienced repeated waves of immigrants over the past 60 years, each wave with a different linguistic, cultural, and socio-economic background, is the ideal setting in which to study the causes and consequences of immigrant assimilation. Within this context, we explore how decisions are made by immigrants in balancing conflicting needs and desires: on the one hand in maintaining ethnic identity and the other in adapting to their host societies. Our approach, which is based on comparing the relative frequency of particular first names among the children of immigrants to those same first names among the children of natives, provides a statistical analysis of cultural assimilation. Our analysis builds on several data sources both on population census files for Israel from 1972, 1983, 1995 and 2008 and on the Israeli population registry. This combination of files enables us to link children and the degree of ethnic distinctiveness associated with their name, to census data, which provides information on both their own and their parental socioeconomic characteristics. Our project sheds light on assimilation from a new perspective – one that is statistically based and founded on explicit choices parents make in choosing between traditional identities and incorporation into host societies. It paves the way for additional, future empirical research on the varying trajectories of ethnic identity formation and their implications for reproducing inequality across immigrant generations. More broadly, it offers a novel approach for shedding light onto decisions on ethnic identity using traditional data sources, including census and survey-based data.

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Presented in Poster Session 3