First-generation Americans earn less but are still expected to support their families


By Shalene Gupta

First-generation Americans (either born in the United States to immigrant parents or the first in their families to get U.S. citizenship) must straddle their parents’ culture as well as American culture. Often this means helping their parents navigate an unfamiliar country or language at a very young age, or code-switching between home and work and school.

In addition to being caught between different cultural expectations, a new study from Credit Karma finds that these Americans are often caught between different financial expectations as well. Credit Karma surveyed over 1,000 first-generation Americans about their finances. Here are the key findings:

    Family providers: 47% said they are helping their parents and extended family financially, and 39% said this support was preventing them from achieving their own financial goals, including paying off debt and building credit. About a quarter said the support was preventing them from paying for basic necessities.

    Wage inequity: 61% said they found someone else at their company in a similar role who earns more than they do. Meanwhile, 35% believe that being first-generation American has a negative impact on their earning potential.

    Learning by doing: However, 62% said that they are financially literate because they have had to help their parents manage their finances, and 43% said this has helped them learn how to manage their own finances.

“As a daughter of an immigrant, I’ve witnessed how much hard work and sacrifice goes into making a new life in America and understand it can come with a number of difficult tradeoffs,” said Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma, in a statement.

She recommends first-generation Americans assess their financial position by calculating their fixed monthly costs, and then how much they need to put down toward savings and paying off debts. “Once you have those costs mapped out you should be able to determine exactly how much you can contribute to your family without compromising your own financial goals,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of respondents who said they are helping their family financially. It’s 47%.

Fast Company