The optimism trap: Migrants’ educational choices in stratified education systems

Abstract

Immigrant children’s ambitious educational choices have often been linked to their families' high level of optimism and motivation for upward mobility. However, previous research has mostly neglected alternative explanations such as information asymmetries or anticipated discrimination. Moreover, immigrant children’s higher dropout rates at the higher secondary and university level suggest that low performing migrant students could have benefitted more from pursuing less ambitious tracks, especially in countries that offer viable vocational alternatives. We examine ethnic minority’s educational choices using a sample of academically low performing, lower secondary school students in Germany’s highly stratified education system. We find that their families' optimism diverts migrant students from viable vocational alternatives. Information asymmetries and anticipated discrimination do not explain their high educational ambitions. While our findings further support the immigrant optimism hypothesis, we discuss how its effect may have different implications depending on the education system.

Publication
Social Science Research
Jasper Dag Tjaden
Jasper Dag Tjaden
Professor for Applied Social Research and Public Policy

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