Second-generation Immigrants Outperform Mainstream Populations in the US, Canada, and Australia

TORONTO, ON – A new study published by the Social Science Research journal reveals that second-generation Chinese and South Asian immigrants in the US, Canada, and Australia are more successful than the respective mainstream populations (third- and higher-generation whites).

Jeffrey G. Reitz and Naoko Hawkins from the University of Toronto and Heather Zhang from McGill University examined survey and census data from these countries to compare the achievements of immigrants and their offspring.

Data showed that immigrants in the US, Canada, and Australia have varied degrees of success due to each country’s different educational and labour market institutions. For instance, in the US, Chinese immigrants often have fewer years of education than the mainstream population; in Australia, they have more.

However, Reitz, Hawkins, and Zhang also discovered that these cross-national differences in immigrant success are largely eliminated for the second generation, many of whom outperform the mainstream population. For example, in all three countries, second-generation Whites, Afro-Caribbeans, Chinese, South Asians, and other Asians all have, on average, more education than higher-generation Whites of the same age.

The Chinese second generation in particular is much more educated. In the US, this group’s average number of years of education is about 15% above that of the mainstream population. In Canada this average is 20% higher than the mainstream’s; in Australia it is 17% higher.

Additionally, in all three countries, the second generation from almost all ethnic immigrant groups obtains more managerial and professional jobs than does the mainstream population. Reflective of their higher education, second-generation Chinese and South Asians are notably more successful in occupational attainment. In all three countries the number of second-generation Chinese and South Asians who work in managerial and professional occupations is nearly double that of the mainstream population of the same age.

Results for second-generation Afro-Caribbean blacks in the US and Canada showed that they have, on average, the same amount of education as their respective mainstream populations, but are not as successful in obtaining skilled occupations. Nevertheless, their group achieves remarkable upward mobility from the first generation to the second, especially in the US.

Reitz comments that “from a Canadian perspective, the findings are a welcome indication that the children of immigrants are doing well. However, those who have attributed such success to distinctive Canadian integration policies such as multiculturalism will find their views refuted by the fact that similar success is experienced by the children of similar immigrants in the United States and Australia.”

These findings bring about the question as to why inheritance of social class does not apply to immigrants in these countries in the same way that it does to the mainstream population. The answer may lie in the immigrant parents’ high education levels: despite the economic hardship they experience, many immigrants impart the value of education to their children, which in turn helps ensure their employment success. In addition, the children, born and raised in their host society, have fewer employment difficulties than their parents did.

A summary of the research can be found at

*Source: University of Toronto

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