Navigation path

Additional tools

  • Print version
  • Decrease text
  • Increase text

Education and integration of second-generation migrant children in Europe


Migration is essential in responding to the challenges posed by and ageing European society, but differences between the socioeconomic status of migrants and natives persist, and are to some extent passed down to generations born in the host country. The socioeconomic situation of second generation migrants with a foreign background (both parents born abroad), while being more positive than that of first-generation migrants, still shows disadvantages compared to the situation of individuals with a native background. While according to Eurostat statistics, migrants as a group suffer from disadvantages in terms of educational outcomes, income and employment rates, in the second generation (native born persons with one or both parents born abroad).  Some of these disadvantages have been reduced or even, in the case of second-generation migrants with a mixed background (one parent born abroad), sometimes reversed.  However, levels of educational attainment of second-generation migrants, differ considerably between Member States.

children playing at school, (c) IStock

Second-generation migrant children and the education system

Second-generation migrants refer to two different groups of immediate descendants of migrants. The first group, with a mixed background, is defined as individuals who are native born and who have one foreign-born parent and one native-born parent. The second group, with a foreign background, is defined as individuals who are native born with both parents foreign born.

Studies conducted at Member-State level or focusing on particular migrant groups have indicated that the setup of the school system influences integration. Young second-generation migrants with a foreign background are generally at greater risk of leavingthe education and training system without having obtained an upper secondary qualification. When comparing the shares of early school-leavers among second-generation migrants with a foreign background and among first-generation migrants, the situation of second generation migrants is much better; here is a substantially lower proportion of early school leavers with a foreign background compared to young foreign-born persons (17 % compared to 26 % respectively). For both men and women, at EU level, the shares of second-generation  migrants with low educational attainment tend to be slightly lower than their counterparts with native-born parents. One the one hand, this trend suggests that education systems are working to integrate the children of immigrants though it remains challenging to assesspdf the level of efficiency against the potential of integration through schooling. One the other hand, as the studies on integration of second-generation migrants in Sweden presented by Professor Kirk Scott at the 2013 Demography Forum in Brussels, the socioeconomic background (income and education of parents) of migrant children is a major factor in the difference between their grades and those of native pupils. Once controlled for these factors, the discrepancy between educational attainment is significantly reduced, pointing towards a more socio-economic than cultural cause underpinning/ leading to the divergence.

Factors improving educational attainment and integration: relationships with schools, family and friends

Participating in education and support structures which are tailored to the social background of migrant children have been found to have a major role in facilitating integration. A studypdf performed for the TIES European project on second-generation Turkish children across Europe found that starting school at an early age reduces the gap between children with migrant backgrounds and children of natives. Entering kindergarten at the age of two or three seems to be most effective.  Although a large proportion of first-generation migrant peers correlates to worse grades in both native and second-generation peers, segregated schools can have an additional negative effect, as they have found to be linked to lower probabilities of continuing education. Similarly, in school systems with early selection, longer or alternative routes to higher education are important for providing extra opportunities for children of immigrants to enrol in tertiary education.

The role of cooperation between parents and schools, as well as the composition of the child’s friendship circles are also important for improving educational attainment and overall integration. Migrant parents are often able to provide only socio-emotional and not practical help to their children, requiring a different support strategy from schools.  Furthermore, schools can often build on the role of older siblings, who perform many of the tasks of parents in migrant families, and can be involved in mentoring activities. According to studies on Germany, friendships, in particular diversified friendship circles, are also a major enabler of successful integration, in terms of educational attainment, labour-market performance and bonding to the community of the host country.

In conclusion, accounting for the specificities of the socio-economic and cultural background of second-generation migrants appears to have the potential to significantly facilitate integration, educational and labour-market success of these children.