Dissertation Abstracts

Educational Success of Migrants' Children

Author: Beck, Michael , michael.beck@phsg.ch
Department: Department of Educational Sociology
University: University of Bern, Switzerland
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Rolf Becker
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: German

Keywords: Educational Inequali , Migration , Educational Decision
Areas of Research: Education , Rational Choice , Migration


In Switzerland, the educational outcomes of migrants are often inferior compared to autochthonous children. These findings sparked a controversial discussion about the educational opportunities of immigrants: they provide evidence for migrant pupils’ ethnic penalties and the structural inequality of educational opportunities in the Swiss educational system. A crucial point of educational success concerning social origin and ethnicity is the transition from primary to lower secondary school. The theoretical approach of primary and secondary effects of origin assumes that the inequality of educational opportunities is an aggregated result of parents’ socially distinctive estimation about educational benefits and costs, differing prerequisites for school performance that depend on socioeconomic origin, and the institutional procedures working at the transition to the secondary school tracks. Their main interest lies in the forming of educational aspirations and perceptions of educational costs and benefits. I link a differentiated definition of the status of immigration and family characteristics, using measures of families’ capital stocks and attitudes about education, as well as school class characteristics in order to examine if and how these variables shape the parents’ educational aspirations and their perception of costs, benefits, and probabilities of educational success. The research examines how families’ socioeconomic and ethnic background affect the transition from primary to secondary school through those aspirations and perceptions. The research addresses whether such aspirations and perceptions differ between autochthonous and migrant parents and whether these differences could, in turn, explain possible differing educational outcomes through differing educational decisions as a secondary effect of social and ethnic origin.

The data used was collected during the DEBIMISS panel study (two waves), which was funded by the SNF (Swiss National Science Foundation) and realized by the Department of Sociology of Education (University of Berne).
The DEBIMISS Study looks at the formation of educational aspirations and the educational transition from primary to secondary school. Furthermore the focus of DEBIMISS is on the differences between the immigrant and autochthonous population in educational aspirations and decisions. I present empirical results from two waves of that took place in the German-speaking Swiss cities of Bern and Zurich in autumn 2009 and spring 2011. In this study, children and parents (N = 521) were interviewed before and after the screening for the transition from primary to lower secondary school.

The results show that the parents’ educational aspirations and their perception of costs, benefits, and probabilities of educational success differ with regard to socioeconomic position and immigration background. Most of those differences can be explained by factors like household income and school performance.

Differences are also shown in the transition rates to the more demanding tracks of secondary schools based on socioeconomic position and immigration background. Controlling for school performance those differences are not significant anymore. However, higher expectations for the successful completion of certain school tracks are shown to have a positive impact on transition rates even when controlling for school performance.