Intergenerational mobility among second generation immigrants

Marco Francesconi, University of Essex

[Project number 30050]

The degree of intergenerational mobility is an important aspect of how societies function. The extent to which children from a disadvantaged background can aspire to better themselves, or conversely the extent to which children from the highest strata can expect to inherit the same position as their parents', speaks to important social issues such as the long-term consequences of child poverty or more generally to equality of opportunity. This is a topic that is particularly relevant to immigrants and their integration into host countries. From the perspective of individuals and their families the large costs of emigrating and settling in a new land are often shouldered because of the perceived benefits for the children. In this sense it is important to understand the long-run attainments of immigrant children. A good deal of intergenerational mobility may imply that disadvantages in childhood will not echo into adulthood, while a lack of mobility would suggest that the consequences of low income in the present are even more costly as the next generation will grow up to be low income adults.

Most of the existing literature examines this relationship for the general population, both in Britain and in many other countries. There are only a few studies that address the issue for immigrants, and these refer almost exclusively to the United States (Card et al. 2000) and Canada (Aydemir, et al. 2005). An exception for Britain is given by the work of Platt (2005a and 2005b), which emphasises the ethnic minority dimension rather than the immigration aspect in intergenerational links. Platt's more recent and still on-going study builds on her previous work and aims at identifying intergenerational patterns of social mobility by ethnic groups, between migrant (first) generation and second generation (Platt, 2003).

The main objective of the proposed project is to provide further evidence on intergenerational mobility between first and second generation Britons.

Although there are estimates of intergenerational mobility available for the British population as a whole (Dearden et al. 1997; Ermisch et al. 2005), the availability of information on family background in the four available waves of the Longitudinal Studies offers a unique opportunity to examine this issue for immigrants and their children.

The large sample sizes in the LS data also provide an opportunity to highlight a number of methodological issues raised in existing studies that estimate the correlation in the educational attainments between parents and children. Interestingly, the existing North American studies on second generation immigrants (mentioned above) do not have direct access to parental information on outcomes. Rather, they have to resort to mean cell estimates using children's information on parents' age (and, more rarely, education), and estimate intergenerational equations based on grouped estimators. The LS instead provides direct information on parental outcomes (from parents themselves in either of the relevant waves) as well as on children (the child outcomes data will be drawn from the latest wave). This will allow us to estimate intergenerational equations at the individual level, gaining in terms of both sample sizes and precision in tracking individual variation across parent-child pairs in different ethnic groups. At present, except for the LS data, no other existing data could be used to address these issues in Britain.


Aydemir, Abdurrahman, Wen-Hao Chen, and Miles Corak. 2005. "Intergenerational earnings mobility among the children of Canadian immigrants." Unpublished paper, Statistics Canada, May.

Card, David, John DiNardo, and Eugena Estes. 2000. "The more things change, immigrants and the children of immigrants in the 1940s, the 1970s, and the 1990s." In Issues in the Economics of Immigration edited by George J. Borjas. Chicago: NBER and University of Chicago Press.

Dearden, Lorraine, Stephen Machin, and Howard Reed. 1997. "Intergenerational mobility in Britain." Economic Journal, 107, 47-66.

Ermisch, John, Marco Francesconi, Thomas Siedler. 2005. "Intergenerational economic mobility and assortative mating." Economic Journal (forthcoming).

Platt, Lucinda. 2003. Exploring the social mobility of ethnic minority groups in Britain. CeLSIUS project (approved 7 August).

Platt, Lucinda. 2005a. Migration and mobility: Exploring the impact of origins and achievement on the life chances of Britain's ethnic minorities. Joseph Rowntree Foundation (forthcoming).

Platt, Lucinda. 2005b. The intergenerational social mobility of minority ethnic groups. Sociology, 39.3.

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