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Are the kids alright? Looking at the economic success of second generation immigrants

June 4, 2016

Calgary Herald | University of Toronto professor Monica Boyd posed the question to an audience on this week: “Are the children of first generation immigrants prospering economically and educationally?”

Generally her research found that second generation immigrants are indeed thriving in Canada, but the reasons why were interesting.

Her statistical research showed that first generation immigrants fall into a wealth gap that will never be filled. Essentially, a first generation immigrant now will rarely catch up and make the same amount of money they made back home. While it may take decades for them to catch up if they do, the reasoning for immigration across the board is: it’s for the kids.

“Canada doesn’t want me, Canada wants my children,” said Boyd, quoting what a migrant once said.

She says that for many immigrants, that’s the mentality.

That’s why it’s important to ask whether second generation immigrants are as successful educationally and economically as more established Canadians, especially because two-thirds of population growth is from migrant communities today, she says.

As a sociologist, Boyd’s research consisted of cross-referencing data about second generation Canadians to comparable data about Canadians whose families have lived here for three or more generations.

One of the reasons second generation immigrants are adapting so successfully, is because statistically, they are very well educated. Boyd’s research found that while only 24 per cent of third-plus generation 25-39 year olds went to university, over 70 per cent of second generation immigrants from China of the same age went to university. For Indians and Pakistani second generation people of the same age, the number was still double — 50 per cent of people going to university.

There seems to be not only a higher educational level, but a higher aspiration component the “1.5 and second generation” get from their parents,” said Boyd to an audience at the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“A sociologist in the Department of Education at Harvard University has looked at what makes many of the 1.5 and second generation racial groups in the United States so successful in education, and she simply said that the parents will them to succeed. It’s the aspirational drive, coupled with the ‘we did this for you.’”

It’s a defining factor, Boyd says, that generally the level of education a child receives is correlated with the amount of education their parents achieve.

That’s not the case with the children of immigrants however, due to the “will to succeed” immigrants instill in their children.

A case in point is Khosro Ghavami, a refugee from Iran, whose three daughters are doing very well in the way of education.

“Growing up, my parents worked unbelievably hard to make sure we had every opportunity,” said Kiyana Ghavami, Khosro’s second daughter, currently in her third year of university working toward a medical degree.

“Yeah, our parents gave us all these opportunities, and how could you not repay them for that in a sense, how could you not do something with everything that they’ve worked so hard to give you,” said explained Kiyana.

She laughed that her parents must have put her into every sport imaginable while trying to get her to learn as many languages as possible, including French and Farsi.

Her older sister is about to enter a medical residency for neurology after having completed medical school. Her youngest sister is still in high school, but it seems the seed has been planted, and the parents’ aspirations have been passed on to their children.

The overall story is generally warm and fuzzy, echoing that of the Ghavami family. Boyd warns, however, that we can’t become complacent and tell ourselves that problems don’t exist.

Her studies revealed that for some reason, second generation men of visible ethnicity aren’t making the same amount of money that a third-plus generation male would with the same level of education. The reasons why are unknown, and probably due to many differing variables, but the reasons why this is so are still important to find.

But, compared to the economic strife the first generation of immigrants face in their new country, for the most part the answer is yes; the kids are alright.

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