Immigrant children from poor countries academically outperform those from developed countries

September 30, 2008,

Immigrants who seek a better life in Western countries may not be able to escape the influence of their home country when it comes to their children's academic performance, according to findings from the October issue of the American Sociological Review.

Sociologists Mark Levels, Jaap Dronkers and Gerbert Kraaykamp find that large-scale influences such as country of origin, destination country and immigrant community play a role in educational outcomes for immigrant children in their host country.

The research, which looked at the mathematical literacy scores of thousands of 15-year-old immigrants to 13 Western nations from 35 different native countries, indicates that economic development and political conditions in an immigrant's home country impact the child's academic success in his or her destination country. Counter-intuitively, immigrant children from countries with lower levels of economic development have better scholastic performance than comparable children who emigrate from countries with higher levels of economic development.

Children of immigrants from politically unstable countries have poorer scholastic performance compared to other immigrant children. "Adult political immigrants are known to face serious negative consequences that can be related to the political situations in their origin countries," said sociologist Mark Levels, junior researcher in the Department of Sociology at Radboud University, Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. "We found that these consequences carry across generations to affect their children's educational chances as well. Our findings therefore have urgent implications in countries that receive a large number of these immigrants."

"Specific educational programs designed to counter the negative effects of political migration may be essential to ensure that the children of politically motivated immigrants achieve their full potential," Levels said.

The study authors also analyzed the impact of policies and political conditions in destination countries. In traditional immigrant-receiving countries such as Australia and New Zealand, they found that immigrant children academically outperformed their counterparts in other Western nations. The authors theorize that this finding is likely the result of restrictive immigration policies that ensure that better qualified adults emigrate (e.g., those with employment and high levels of education), rather than a receptive climate toward immigrants or education policies designed to meet their needs.

The size and socioeconomic characteristics of immigrant communities also played a role in the academic performance of their children. Children from immigrant communities with higher socioeconomic status relative to the native population had higher scholastic performance than those from other immigrant communities. Likewise, children from large immigrant communities were more likely to perform better academically than children from smaller immigrant communities.

Data for this study came from the 2003 wave of the Project for International Student Assessment (PISA) from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the first large cross-national OECD dataset to contain information on the origin of first- and second-generation migrants. The sample was comprised of 7,403 15-year-old immigrant children from 35 different native countries living in 13 destination/host countries. Scholastic performance was based on PISA measurement of mathematical literacy scores.

Jaap Dronkers, professor of social inequality and stratification at the European University Institute in San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy, and Gerbert Kraaykamp, professor of empirical sociology at Radboud University, Nijmegen, co-authored the report with Mark Levels.

Source: American Sociological Association

Explore further: Scorecarding the dictators: How rating countries' behavior can change it

Related Stories

Immigration to U.S. Westernizes Asian guts

November 2, 2018

Have you ever lived long enough in another country to see changes in your overall health? Or perhaps, you have noticed that after a friend moved to the U.S. his health seemed to deteriorate.

Recommended for you

Frog choruses inspire wireless sensor networks

January 21, 2019

If you've ever camped by a pond, you know frogs make a racket at night; but what you might not know is how functional and regulated their choruses really are. Frogs communicate with sound, and amid their ruckus is an internally ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.8 / 5 (4) Sep 30, 2008
I think this study is only half-baked. Consider young mexican born children. They come from a politically stable country, yet have not succeeded scholastically in the U.S. There is a language difference but far less of a difference than children born in Vietnam or China.
not rated yet Oct 01, 2008
The interesting question is what people prefer when it comes to immigration.

Would you rather the newcomers were smarter so that your country as a whole benefits?
Or would you rather they were dumber so they are no competition to local population?

Would it change if the question were more personal:

Would you rather the newcomers were smarter then you so that your country as a whole benefits?
Or would you rather they were dumber then you so they are no competition to you and your children?
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2008
Smarter, and willing to integrate.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.