Un -equal opportunity: Sex and school among first and second generation Mexican immigrant adolescent girls

Jane Suzanne Morgan, Florida International University


The purpose of this dissertation was to determine the interactions of sexuality and education among low socioeconomic status first and second generation Mexican immigrant adolescent girls. Much of the existing research differentiates between immigrant generations with little examination of the differences within a particular immigrant generation. This study utilized qualitative methods to examine how various social institutions intersected to influence the young women's decisions about education and sexuality. The methodology included more than three years of participant observation in a South Florida high school and surrounding community; structured and unstructured interviews with twenty young women, their family members, school personnel, and community activists; and surveys conducted with the young women and their parent or guardian. Moving beyond the limits of essentialist immigration theories, this project revealed within group (i.e. immigrant generation) complexities as well as between group similarities. The data included in this dissertation delineate how relationships of power and control permeated the lives of first and second generation Mexican immigrant adolescent girls. The lens of this dissertation is focused on the salient issues of sexuality and education: two dominant forces in many adolescent lives. I found the young women represented a variety of positions on the academic orientation and sexuality continuums and engaged in activities that both reinforced and countered their stated positions on each of these issues. Specifically, first and second generation immigrants are often viewed as maintaining opposing viewpoints about both education and female sexuality however, for these young women the within group variation was larger than the between group variation. While all the young women in this study expressed a belief in the value of education, they engaged in activities that both fortified and contradicted that expressed position. Additionally, although acculturation can lead to increased sexual activity and decreased engagement with education, the first generation immigrant young women in this study became pregnant and/or withdrew from school in equal proportions to their second generation counterparts. In summary, structural forces combined, often inadvertently, and contributed to these young women's spiraling negative academic orientation and/or rational choice of motherhood. Finally, the findings are linked to policy implications.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Morgan, Jane Suzanne, "Un -equal opportunity: Sex and school among first and second generation Mexican immigrant adolescent girls" (2001). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3031606.