Executive Summary

The consequences of past immigration and integration are reflected in today’s intergenerational mobility of immigrants’ native-born children. This publication presents a series of country case studies. 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 II economic boom period. The native-born children of these immigrants generally had relatively lower starting conditions in terms of socio-economic characteristics compared to their peers with native-born parents. In contrast, immigration to Canada has been largely 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 own high school results.

Data from France suggest that immigrant parents frequently have high aspirations for their children, more than native-born parents in a similar situation. Yet 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.

A common finding across countries is that the education and labour 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 generally 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%).

Gender differences are highlighted in the country studies. 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 Netherlands, 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. Yet, despite the good performance of many immigrants’ daughters at school, they tend to be more disadvantaged than their male counterparts when entering the labour market. Fewer daughters of immigrants are active in the labour 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.

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 labour earnings 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, labour 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.

In conclusion, the seven country chapters show that 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.