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Lucubrate Magazine, Issue 35, August 3rd, 2018

Intergenerational mobility outcomes among the children of immigrants vary significantly. We can find this both within and across countries, particularly along the lines of gender and parental origin countries. The good news, however, is that in all countries considered, children of low-educated immigrants on average tend to fare better than their parents.

A report published in 2018 discusses the social mobility of immigrants in OECD and the European Union; “Catching Up? Country Studies on Intergenerational Mobility and Children of Immigrants”

Social Mobility and Social Cohesion

Social mobility is a crucial objective for policy to foster inclusive economies and societies. How immigrants and their children, who are now accounting for almost one-in-five persons in the OECD, are faring in this respect, is particularly important for social cohesion. It is not surprising that many persons who have immigrated as adults face specific difficulties to progress, linked among others to the fact that they have been raised and educated in a different environment and education system, and that they may not have the same command of the host language as the native-born. One would, however, generally expect that for children of immigrants, especially those who are native-born, these barriers would disappear and they could enjoy the same opportunity for social mobility as their peers. Evidence from previous work by the OECD and the European Union suggests that native-born children of immigrants tend to still lag behind their peers with native-born parents in many OECD countries, especially in Europe. This is particularly worrying since these are a significant and growing group in most states.

Photo: Kaique Rocha

Intergenerational Mobility Patterns Vary

The consequences of past immigration and integration are reflected in today ‘s intergenerational mobility of immigrants’ native-born children. Among these OECD countries, Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands share the experience of large-scale low-educated immigration, the so-called “guest workers,” in the post-World War CI economic boom period. The native-born children of these immigrants generally had relatively lower starting conditions regarding socio-economic characteristics compared to their peers with native-born parents. In contrast, immigration to Canada has been mostly high-educated, although not all immigrant groups have the same background, and intergenerational mobility patterns vary across groups. The native-born children of many Asian immigrants in Canada, for example, have a remarkably high university attendance rate that is relatively insensitive to parents ‘ education, family income, and even their high school results.

Data from France suggest that immigrant parents frequently have high aspirations for their children, 1nore than native-born parents in a similar situation. They do not always have the capabilities or the institutional knowledge to support their children in the same way that native parents can. For example, less than 5% of children with Turkish immigrant parents receive help with homework from their mothers in France compared to over 60% of children with native-born mothers. Pre-school is of particular importance to ensure a head start, but children of immigrants are frequently underrepresented. In Austria in 2011, children whose parents were born outside of the EU were six times less likely to attend preschool than children whose parents were born in Austria. Evidence from the Netherlands also suggests that a fair share of children of immigrants “at risk” are not reached by pre-school offers.

Children of Immigrants in Europe are more Likely to Move Up

A common finding across countries is that the education and labor market trajectories of immigrants’ children are generally less determined by their parents than is the case for children of native-born parents. Because of their usually lower starting points, children of immigrants in Europe are more likely to move up from one generation to the next than the children of natives. This is particularly visible among the group with a Turkish immigrant background in Germany: Almost 50% of women and about 30% of men had no educational degree in 2012. In contrast, less than 10% of their children born in Germany had left school without any diploma. Interestingly, the share of Turkish immigrant women holding no educational degree was much higher in 2012 (49%) than in 2000 (33%).

Photo: Min An

Gender Differences

In  France, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Canada, daughters of immigrants outperform sons in school – but not in Austria and the United States. The better performance of women is particularly pronounced among native-born whose parents came from the Maghreb in France, the Ned1erlands, and Sweden. Indeed in Sweden, there is no significant relationship between their education and that of their mothers. For sons of immigrants, however, low levels of mothers’ education seem to have a particularly negative impact on educational attainment. One explanation put forward is the potential for bias and negative stereotyping that could affect boys more than girls. In France, sons of immigrants report unfair treatment at school more often than daughters. Despite the good performance of many immigrants’ daughters at school, they tend to be more disadvantaged than their male counterparts when entering the labor market. Fewer daughters of immigrants are active in the labor market, and more remain at home, especially after they have their first child. In the Netherlands, one-quarter of the daughters of Turkish and Moroccan immigrants stop working in a paid job after having their first child, compared with 10% of women with native Dutch parents.

Country Differences

The entrenched disadvantage is less common among the children of immigrants in  North America. In  Canada, the educational attainment of the children of immigrants exceeds that of same-aged children of native-born parents. Children of immigrants in North America have labor ean1ings that are either indistinguishable from those of the children of natives, with or without controlling for observable characteristics (as is the case in the United States), or higher (in Canada). In Canada, there even seems to be an earnings premium for certain groups, related to the higher educational attainment of immigrants’ children and their concentration in Metropolitan areas, where earnings are higher.

In the European OECD countries considered here, labor market outcomes for the children of immigrants are more mixed. Unemployment is a particular challenge for the low-educated children of immigrants. In the Netherlands, for example, the unemployment rate among the children of Moroccan immigrants is 54% one-and-a-half years after they drop out of school – three times higher than among early school leavers with native Dutch parents.

Intergenerational Mobility Outcomes Among the Children of Immigrants Vary Significantly

In conclusion, intergenerational mobility outcomes among the children of immigrants vary significantly. This holds both within and across countries, particularly along the lines of gender and parental origin countries. The good news, however, is that in all countries considered, children of low-educated immigrants on average tend to fare better than their parents.


From “Catching Up? Country Studies on Intergenerational Mobility and Children of Immigrants”, OECD Publishing, Paris (2018)

Category: Development, orld

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Lucubrate Magazine
Lucubrate Magazine

Lucubrate Magazine highlights trends in education and development. Development in this context can be technological, educational, individual, social or global, and everything related to education.
Lucubrate Magazine is a global based on the web magazine with the main office in Norway.

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