Essentials of Hispanic Acculturation

Functional acculturation is key to understanding the U.S. Hispanic experience. It illustrates the shift from Spanish to English and how this segment navigates Anglo-American society. Our series on Essentials of Hispanic marketing begins with what brands need to know about functional acculturation from definitions to population estimates to growth. 

The U.S. Hispanic boom has been powered by immigration. Driven by the post-1965 immigration wave, there are now 57 million total Hispanics in the U.S., up from just 10 million in 1970. With so many foreign born Latinos settling in America and starting families, most U.S. Hispanics have firsthand experience adapting to U.S. culture and the English language.

The Basics

To help our clients better understand this process, we created the functional acculturation construct.

Functional acculturation is the ability to functionally navigate Anglo-American society.  Incorporating language use, self-identity, and language capability, it’s the the most extrinsic or outward-facing aspect of a person’s “Hispanic-ness”.

Hispanic population acculturation chart

The Numbers

U.S. Hispanics fall into one of three functional acculturation groups ordered from most- to least-acculturated.

  • Acculturated (14.2MM): Most Americanized in identity and although they often have some Spanish skills, they use English heavily.
  • Bicultural (21.8MM): Have dual identities and are active participants in both worlds. Often at least proficient in English.
  • Unacculturated (16.0MM): Identify as Hispanic over American and stronger Spanish speakers than English.

While second generation immigrants are generally more acculturated, the process isn’t always linear. Biculturals, for example, move towards a more Latin or more American mindset based on a situation’s emotional tone.

The Opportunity

In 2018, the functional acculturation construct remains a key to understanding the U.S. Hispanic experience and is a strong predictor of attitudes and behaviors. This is especially important for marketers: brands that understand the nuances of acculturation, and language can build trust, foster real emotional engagement, and continue to win with this dynamic consumer base.

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