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Preparing for Success in Canada and the United States: The Determinants of Educational Attainment Among the Children of Immigrants


  • Hou, Feng
  • Picot, Garnett


This paper reviews the recent research on the determinants of the educational attainment among the children of immigrants born in Canada and the United States, also known as the second generation. The focus is on the gap in educational attainment between the second and third-and-higher generations (the children of domestic-born parents), as well as the intergenerational transmission of education between immigrants and their children. On average, the children of immigrants have educational levels significantly above those of their counterparts in Canada with Canadian-born parents. In the U.S., educational levels are roughly the same between these two groups. In both countries, conditional on the educational attainment of the parents and location of residence, the children of immigrants attain higher levels of education than the third-and-higher generations. Parental education and residential location are major determinants of the numerically positive gap in educational attainment between the children of immigrants and the children of Canadian-born or American-born parents. However, even after accounting for these and other demographic background variables, much of the positive gap between the second generation and the third-and-higher generations remains in Canada. In Canada, parental education is less important as a determinant of educational attainment for the children in immigrant families than for those with Canadian-born parents. Less educated immigrant parents are more likely to see their children attain higher levels of education than are their Canadian-born counterparts. Outcomes vary significantly by ethnic/source region group in both countries. In the U.S., some second-generation ethnic/source region groups, such as those with Mexican, Puerto Rican and other Central/South American backgrounds, have relatively low levels of education (unadjusted data with no controls). However, conditional on background characteristics, these second-generation groups achieve higher levels than their third-and-higher-generation counterparts. In contrast, in Canada, children of the larger and increasingly numerically important immigrant groups (Chinese, South Asians, Africans, etc.) register superior educational attainment levels to those of the third-and-higher generations. This result is partly related to the high levels of parental education and of group-level 'ethnic capital' among these immigrant groups.

Suggested Citation

  • Hou, Feng & Picot, Garnett, 2011. "Preparing for Success in Canada and the United States: The Determinants of Educational Attainment Among the Children of Immigrants," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2011332e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
  • Handle: RePEc:stc:stcp3e:2011332e

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    Cited by:

    1. Garnett Picot & Feng Hou, 2013. "Why Immigrant Background Matters for University Participation: A Comparison of Switzerland and Canada," International Migration Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(3), pages 612-642, September.

    More about this item


    Children and youth; Education; training and learning; Educational attainment; Ethnic diversity and immigration; Ethnic groups and generations in Canada; Immigrant children and youth; Outcomes of education;

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