Segmented Assimilation Theory: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Assimilation & Acculturation
  • 1:44 Theory of Segmented…
  • 3:57 Examples of Segmented…
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson, we'll talk about the theory of segmented assimilation, which explains how immigrants experience and adapt to the mainstream culture in different ways. We'll go over some important definitions and talk about some examples of segmented assimilation.

Assimilation & the Immigrant Experience

You've probably heard the familiar expression that the United States is like a melting pot. This concept is used to describe the way that the United States is home to immigrants from many different countries around the world. Immigrants from far reaches of the globe come to the U.S. for many reasons. When immigrants arrive, they bring with them important cultural traditions from their home countries.

But, when immigrants settle in a new country, there is often an expectation that they will adopt some of the aspects of their new culture. Sociologists talk about this as assimilation, which is a process that occurs when immigrant groups begin to adopt the norms of the dominant culture. This could be things like learning the major language of the country, subscribing to the values held by many in the culture, or celebrating major national holidays.

Assimilation is a social process where groups in a society begin to look less different from one another. Assimilation involves a process known as acculturation, which is the transfer of values, norms, beliefs, and the like to a minority group.

The key difference between assimilation and acculturation is that acculturation can happen in two ways: first, immigrant groups can be influenced by the dominant culture, and second, immigrants can influence the dominant culture.

On the other hand, assimilation is when immigrant groups are incorporated into the larger culture. It doesn't go the other way in the case of assimilation. But, assimilation does not always happen in the same way, and it is not always a smooth process. There are often many barriers that prevent immigrant groups from adapting or assimilating into the dominant culture in society. Let's talk about a theory that explains this, known as segmented assimilation.

Theory of Segmented Assimilation

Segmented assimilation is a theory that suggests different immigrant groups assimilate into different segments of society. This perspective stresses that the United States is an unequal, or stratified, society, and thus when immigrants arrive in the U.S. there are different segments available to them, depending on things like socioeconomic status. Segmented assimilation is largely formulated based upon the experience of second-generation immigrants. So, the theory is trying to describe what happens to the children of immigrants.

Sociologists see a number of different routes that immigrants and their children can take when they arrive in the U.S. The first is most like a classical model of assimilation. On this path, immigrants arrive here and are then able to integrate into the middle class. These immigrants have a relatively easy time adjusting to life in their new home.

A second path involves downward mobility. On this path, immigrants assimilate into poorer segments of society. They often experience poverty and lack of opportunity on this route. Scholars have referred to a third path, which involves maintaining many of the immigrants' own cultural values and traditions while trying to integrate economically into the mainstream culture. This route usually results in better economic outcomes.

Sociologists see these paths mapping onto different kinds of acculturation as well. Consonant acculturation happens when parents and their children adapt to mainstream culture at similar rates and in a similar way. So, both parents and their children let go of former traditions and aspects of culture. This form of acculturation is also thought to be characterized by increased upward mobility.

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