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It' about class: Why children with immigrant parents have lower grades but higher ambitions

Previous research has shown that children of immigrant parents have worse grades in school than children with at least one parent born in Sweden. Yet, these children have higher ambitions with their education and they tend to apply for college preparatory high school program to a larger degree. How can this be? Per Engzell, who recently completed his doctorate in sociology, might have an answer.

Per shows in his research that it is relevant to compare the level of education of the parents to the general education levels in the country they originate from. A level of education that might not be very impressive in a country such as Sweden, might be considered elite in the country of their origin.

If the parents come from a more highly educated group in the country of origin than the average, then the aim for their children in their new country is largely academic studies and higher positions in society. An interpretation of this is that the children are inclined to pursue a position similar to what the parents had in their country of origin.

- The study shows how general social mechanisms may explain differences between different ethnic groups. It is not about cultural groups being fundamentally different, says Per Engzell in a press release from Stockholm university.

Sociologists often measure class by comparing individual's professions. But once in Sweden many immigrants experience a trip down the classes - many have jobs that do not correspond to their socio-economic status in the country of origin. Therefore, one can get a better idea of ​​the parents' social background if you look at their level of education in the country of origin, than if you look at what profession they have in Sweden.

- Integration is one of the biggest political challenges we have today. It is important to acquire this knowledge to see what the problem is and what is not, when we want to help these groups, says Per Engzell.

Read more about Per EngzellPer works for the project "Children's living conditions in a changing society"