JOHNS HOPKINS (US) — Children of immigrants outperform children whose family trees have deeper roots in the US, learning more in school and making smoother transitions into adulthood, sociologists say.
Researchers tracked nearly 11,000 children from as young as age 13 into their early 30s. Comparing children with similar socioeconomic status and school conditions, they found that the best students, and later the most successful young adults, were born in foreign countries and came to the United States before reaching their teens. American-born children whose parents were immigrants followed closely in terms of achievement.
As reported in the September/October edition of the journal Child Development, the advantages were comparable for both Asian and Hispanic children.
The study affirms the traditional ideal of the American immigrant success story at a time when immigration is often seen as a problem. Today, almost one quarter of American children are the children of immigrants, based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2009, so this study suggests good things for the quality and skill level of the US labor force down the line, says lead author Lingxin Hao, professor of sociology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
“Our findings challenge the view that children of immigrants are lagging behind children of native-born parents in the transitioning to adulthood. Given the same backgrounds, children of immigrants are actually more likely to follow the best trajectory leading to positive early adult outcomes.”
Hao and graduate student Han S. Woo, followed data linked to individual children from ages 13 to 17 up to ages 25 to 32 to see which groups of children followed the best trajectory in terms of academic achievement, measured by the level of difficulty in the math and science courses the students completed.
They also looked at school engagement, or the proportion of courses each high schooler passed in an academic year, assuming that if students were engaged in their work, they should pass every class.
To measure success when the subjects reached their 20s and 30s, Hao and Woo looked at the highest academic degrees attained and at general psychological well-being, using a scale based on feelings of social belonging, control of life circumstances, and confidence in handling personal problems.
What explains the more positive trajectory for children of immigrants? Hao suggests that there is a greater sense of community among immigrants out of necessity: newcomers often need a lot of assistance when they first arrive in the United States.
But Hao, who is from China, thinks there is also a great deal of inspiration to be found among the immigrant community. Parents, she says, might be working multiple low-level jobs and encourage their children to seek a better life for themselves. The success stories of immigrants who have “made it” are also held up as role models for immigrant children, something children of native-born parents might be lacking, Hao says.
To that end, this research can inform education and labor-force policy makers when it comes to new plans to help lower socioeconomic groups move ahead.
“With 24 percent of all American children from immigrant families, our findings provide fresh evidence for policymakers who are concerned with the quality of immigrant generations and the skill composition of the future labor force,” Hao says.
“My hope is that policymakers will look at our findings and work on ways to create similar ‘protective factors’ for all racial minority children, because these factors allow children from immigrant families to do well and be resilient despite their lower socioeconomic and racial-minority backgrounds.”
Hao and Woo analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement study, both funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Their study was funded by an NICHD training grant to the Johns Hopkins University Population Center.
Source: Johns Hopkins University