Professor Feliciano

Cynthia Feliciano

Professor of Sociology
Director of Graduate Studies in Sociology
PhD, University of California Los Angeles
research interests:
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Immigration
  • Education
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contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
  • CB 1112
  • One Brookings Drive
  • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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Professor Feliciano’s research focuses on the development and consequences of group boundaries and inequalities based on race, ethnicity, class, and gender, especially as they relate to the descendants of Latin American, Caribbean, and Asian immigrants in the United States.

Her work primarily, but not exclusively, focuses on how descendants of Latin American, Caribbean, and Asian immigrants are incorporated in the United States, a question at the center of prominent theoretical debates, and of great practical importance given current demographic trends. She pursues these issues through two main strands of research: determinants of educational inequality, and ethnic and racial boundary-making and relations. Her work on educational inequality has focused on how contextualizing immigrant parents’ pre-migration educational attainment helps explain ethnic and racial differences in educational outcomes and the educational advantage among children of immigrants. Her work on ethnic and racial boundary-making and relations has focused on patterns of racial preferences in dating and marriage, as well as ethnic identity and racial classification. Her most recent project examines educational and occupational attainment, intergenerational mobility, family and identity formation, and other aspects of cultural and socioeconomic change among children of immigrants across their life course, from mid-adolescence to middle adulthood.

Professor Feliciano is the author of Unequal Origins: Immigrant Selection and the Education of the Second Generation (LFB Scholarly 2006), and numerous articles in journals including American Sociological Review, Social Problems, Social Forces, Sociology of Education, and Demography. She received her B.A. from Boston University and her Ph.D. from UCLA, and has been a fellow of the Ford Foundation, the University of California President’s Postdoctoral Program, the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, and the Russell Sage Foundation. Before coming to Washington University in St. Louis, she was on the faculty at the University of California, Irvine.

Unequal Origins: Immigrant Selection and the Education of the Second Generation

Unequal Origins: Immigrant Selection and the Education of the Second Generation

Feliciano examines how immigrants compare to those left behind in their origin countries, and how that selection affects the educational adaptation of children of immigrants in the United States. Her findings contradict the assumption that immigrants are negatively selected: nearly all immigrants are more educated than the populations in their home countries, but Asian immigrants are the most highly selected. This helps explain the Asian second generations' superior educational attainment as compared to Europeans, Afro-Caribbeans, or Latin Americans. The book challenges cultural explanations for ethnic differences by highlighting how inequalities in the relative pre-migration educational attainments of immigrants are reproduced among their children in the U.S.