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Research by economists suggests that recent Mexican migrants are better educated and have higher socioeconomic status (SES) than previous migrants. Because factors associated with higher SES and improved education can lead to positive secular changes in overall body form, secular changes in the craniofacial complex were analyzed within a recent migrant group from Mexico. The Mexican group represents individuals in the act of migration, not yet influenced by the American environment, and thus can serve as a starting point for future studies of secular change in this population group. The excavation of a historic Hispanic cemetery in Tucson, Arizona, also allows for a comparison between historic Hispanics and recent migrants to explore craniofacial trends over a broad time period, as both groups originate from Mexico.

The present research addresses two main questions: (1) Are cranial secular changes evident in recent Mexican migrants? (2) Are historic Hispanics and recent Mexican migrants similar? By studying secular changes within a migrant population group, secular trends may be detected, which will be important for understanding the biological variation of the migrants themselves and will serve as a preliminary investigation of secular change within Mexican migrants. The comparison of a sample of recent Mexican migrants with a historic Hispanic sample, predominantly of Mexican origin, allows us to explore morphological similarities and differences between early and recent Mexicans within the United States.

Vault and face size and a total of 82 craniofacial interlandmark distances were used to explore secular changes within the recent Mexican migrants (females, n = 38; males, n = 178) and to explore the morphological similarities between historic Hispanics (females, n = 54; males, n = 58) and recent migrants. Sexes were separated, and multivariate adaptive regression splines and basis splines (quadratic with one knot) were used to assess the direction and magnitude of secular trends for the recent Mexican migrants. Because dates of birth were unavailable for the historic sample, partial least squares discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) was used to evaluate morphological differences between historic and recent Mexican migrant samples. The data were separated into a training data set and a testing data set to ensure realistic results.

Males had eight variables (four positive and four negative) and females had six variables (two positive and four negative) that demonstrated significant differences over time. In the PLS-DA, three components were identified as important in model creation and resulted in a classification accuracy of 87% when applied to a testing sample. The high classification accuracy demonstrates significant morphological differences between the two groups, with the historic Hispanic sample displaying overall larger craniofacial dimensions.

While differences in cranial morphology are evident between historic Hispanics and recent Mexican migrants, relatively few positive and negative secular trends were detected within the recent migrant sample.