Executive summary

  • Natives with immigrant parents have lower educational attainment and weaker learning outcomes than their peers with native-born parents in most European OECD countries, especially in those countries which experienced large-scale immigration of low-educated immigrants in the past.

  • Native-born persons with two foreign-born parents are a growing group virtually everywhere. In the European Union, they account for 9% of all youth aged 15-34, but already for 11% of all children below the age of 15.

  • The amount of years immigrant parents have spent in the host country positively affects the educational outcomes of their children, mostly due to the parents’ language skills improving over time. More generally, there is evidence that good language skills of parents positively impact their children’s educational outcomes, particularly when they are young.

  • Educational aspirations are generally high among migrant families. However, while educational aspirations may support educational upward mobility, by itself they are not sufficient, particularly when support structures and knowledge on how to attain these goals is lacking.

  • Early childhood education – given that it is widely accessible, of good quality and non-segregated – can strongly increase educational mobility.

  • Natives with parents born outside the EU are 4 percentage points less likely to choose an academic higher education stream than their peers with native-born parents and similar education levels.

  • In many European countries, natives with low-educated immigrant parents have a lower probability of completing medium-level or higher education, as compared to natives with equally low-educated native-born parents.

  • Nevertheless, there is a convergence of educational attainment across generations. On average across European OECD countries, natives with immigrant parents have on average 1.3 years more schooling than their parents, while their peers with native-born parents have 0.7 years. Among parents, the difference in educational attainment between native-born and immigrants is roughly 1.2 years of schooling, while among the offspring generation this difference is reduced to roughly 0.7 years of schooling.

  • Schooling systems that produce more resilient students among the children of natives (defined as children who perform well in school despite their disadvantaged background, also described as children who are “succeeding against the odds”) also increase the likelihood that the children of immigrants will become more resilient.

  • Intergenerational upward mobility among children of EU is exceptionally high. Across all levels of parental education, adult children with EU parents have higher employment rates than both adult children of native parents and of parents born outside the EU.

  • In Europe, higher parental education translates less into higher labour market chances for the children of immigrants than for the children of natives. The native-born with low-educated parents of non-EU origin have roughly the same employment probability as their peers with low-educated native-born parents. However, having parents educated at a medium level increases the employment rate for natives with native-born parents by 10 percentage points, while the rate increases only by 5 percentage points for peers with non-EU parents. The picture is broadly the same for those with highly-educated parents.

  • In Europe, the employment gap between native-born children of non-EU immigrants and children of native-born decreases with the level of educational attainment, suggesting that a person’s own education is a stronger driver for labour market integration among children of non-EU immigrants than among children of natives. Low-educated natives with low-educated parents born outside the EU have an almost 8 percentage points lower employment rate than their peers with native parents, while the gap is only about half that for higher levels of education.

  • A full 15% of natives with non-EU parents have a mother with no completed formal education at all, which is five times the share in the other groups. The overrepresentation of mothers with no education among natives with non-EU origins indicates that they have a more challenging “starting point” which could partly explain their weaker performance on the labour market.

  • Immigrant mothers’ labour market participation seems to have an important impact on the outcomes of their children, more than for their peers with native-born parents. While this is observed for both genders, the association is particularly strong for women.

  • Natives with parents born outside the EU experience less occupational upward mobility than their peers with EU origins or with native-born parents. About a third of natives in the latter two categories manage to move upward on the occupational ladder. For natives with parents born outside the EU, only 1 in 5 manages to find work in an occupation requiring a higher skill level than his/her father needed in his occupation.

  • Intergenerational mobility patterns in the transmission of financial vulnerability do not differ across groups of natives. The financial situation in childhood is a significant predictor of poverty and deprivation, but this association disappears once educational attainment is accounted for. That suggests that the financial situation of the household during childhood mainly impacts future life chances through its impact on the child’s chances of receiving higher educational attainment.

  • About a dozen of OECD countries have policies in place to promote the employment of children of immigrants in the public sector. There is a wide range of tools, from information and advertisement campaigns to broad-based policies specifically targeted at children of immigrants which oblige public employers to make particular recruitment efforts with respect to this group.