Health care and education are two areas where policy makers can make strides to improve the overall well-being for Latino children.

Health care and education are two areas where policy makers can make strides to improve the overall well-being for Latino children. (Photo/Getty Images )

Study: First generation immigrant children do better in school than US-born kids

Immigrant children who came to the U.S. before they were teens do better in academic achievement and school engagement than native-born children, according to a new study by Johns Hopkins University, and the advantages extend to adulthood. The study also found Hispanic immigrant children do as well as Asian children, provided they have similar socio-economic and family backgrounds.

“Some people are pessimistic about the fact that almost a quarter of our schoolchildren are children of immigrants, but I think it is actually pretty good, since they are doing better,” says Dr. Lingxin Hao, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, the study’s lead author. “The findings could give us a more realistic and precise prediction for the future labor force,” Dr. Hao adds. The study was just published in the September/October 2012 issue of the journal Child Development. 

The study looked at over 10,700 children ages 13 to 17 and followed their outcomes until they were between 25 and 32, using a wide variety of data available from government sources. Dr. Hao found that “1.5 generation” children, those born outside the U.S. and then brought here before their teens, did better than “second generation” children, which are children who are born in the U.S. to either one or both foreign-born parents, and “third generation” children, who are native-born children to native-born parents. The 1.5 generation immigrants did better on educational, social and behavioral outcomes. One important finding is that foreign-born immigrant children do better in STEM fields like math and science, an important finding as one looks at future workforce projections.

There are several reasons why foreign-born immigrant children show these educational and social advantages, often referred to as the “immigrant paradox” by educators and sociologists.

“The first thing is family,” explains Dr. Hao. “Immigrants who come to the U.S. are self-selective; they overcome difficulties to create a better life, and foreign-born immigrant parents transmit this motivation, values and expectations to their children,” she explains. Children absorb these expectations and their actions demonstrate a ‘mom and dad made all this sacrifice for me, I better do okay’ type of behavior.

The second thing is the tight-knit interaction within immigrant communities. A low-income immigrant parent might not know advanced math or science, for example, but he or she will point to someone else in the immigrant community “who has made it,” explains Dr. Hao, and point that high achiever to their children, expecting they will do well.

The third factor is not about the parents, but about the immigrant children themselves. Foreign-born immigrant children seem to benefit from the “dual culture” inherent in having been born in a different country, absorbing those cultural values, and then coming here and navigating a different culture. “The 1.5 generation is able to combine the best of two cultures to navigate the educational system and the labor market,” says Dr. Hao.

The study also finds Latino immigrant children do not lag behind Asian immigrant children, provided some factors are similar. The more important factors are two parents versus one parent households, better-educated parents, and better school districts, including those which offer more advanced classes, lower class sizes and higher attendance levels. “We found children are very constrained by their educational context; some schools don’t even offer high-level courses, yet 1.5 generation children will still reach higher, even in underperforming schools,” says Dr. Hao.

“Our findings provide fresh evidence for policy makers who are concerned with the quality of immigrant generations and the skill composition of the future labor force,” says Dr. Hao. More importantly, researchers like Dr. Hao hope that the findings lead policy makers to work on ways to keep the “protective factor” foreign-born immigrant children have, which allows them to do well “and be resilient despite their lower socioeconomic and racial-minority backgrounds.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,290 other followers

%d bloggers like this: