Was migrating beneficial? Comparing social mobility of Turks in Western Europe to Turks in Turkey and Western European natives

Publication type

Research Paper

Series Number



Institute of Education Department of Quantitative Social Science Working Papers


Publication date

March 15, 2014


Research on educational and occupational achievement of immigrants in Europe has mainly followed an assimilationist approach, focused on comparisons with natives or other immigrant groups (see for example Heath & Cheung 2007). However, this may not be at all the perspective that migrants themselves find most relevant, if we assume that people move to improve their life chances relative to what they would have been in the origin society without migrating. Following this argument, the paper studies social mobility and status attainment among Turkish migrants and their descendants in nine Western European countries in comparison with Turks in Turkey (and native populations in Western Europe). The emphasis is therefore on the origins, through a twofold perspective: with respect to parents and with respect to non-migrants in Turkey. This way, the widely used approach of 'ethnic penalties' (also included in the analysis) is complemented with a focus on the benefits (and limitations) of migrating, not only in terms of average achievements with respect to those left behind, but also in terms of the possibilities that migration opens for social mobility processes. The study is based on a combined dataset from the European Social Survey (2002-2010) and the European Values Study (2008). Among the main findings, the paper shows that 'ethnic penalties' in terms of occupational status have been declining between the generations, as more Turks in Western Europe have been educated in the destination country. However, the comparison with Turks in Turkey shows that migration has not favoured immigrants on all accounts. While second generation Turks are on average less dependent on their parental background than Turks in Turkey, and those with lower class backgrounds (which comprises most of cases) are indeed better able to move relative to their parents in terms of education, they continue to be disadvantaged in terms of the occupations they get. This is due to the fact that in Turkey the same education leads to a higher occupational status, which makes the occupational 'gains' that second generation Turks obtain in Western Europe (on average) transform into lags with respect to those left behind. These lags also seem to be particularly pronounced for higher educated women.






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