Intergenerational returns to migration? Comparing educational performance on both sides of the German border

Publication type

ISER Working Paper Series

Series Number



ISER Working Paper Series


Publication date

October 22, 2010


A key motivation for immigration is greater opportunity for one's children. Yet research on the returns
to migration usually focuses on the wage gains of the foreign born only. This paper examines
intergenerational returns to migration by comparing the educational performance of the children of
immigrants to the children in their parents' home countries. I utilize the 2003 and 2006 Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA) data which includes internationally standardized test scores
for Italian, Polish, Turkish, former Yugoslavian, and former Soviet origin youth attending school in
Germany, as well as nonmigrant youth attending school in the origin countries. Controlling for
demographic characteristics and family background, I find that the children of immigrants in
Germany perform better than non-migrants in every origin country with the exception of Italy.
Whether the generally superior performance of immigrant children in Germany relative to
non-migrant children in the home country is due to the special characteristics of the immigrants
themselves, or a more favourable educational environment in Germany, is difficult to measure. In the
second part of the paper, I therefore apply several qualitative and descriptive methods to address the
contours of selection among migrant parents, among them a series of counterfactual simulations as
well as a description of the home and school environment reported by youth in the origin country and
in Germany. I find that unobserved immigrant characteristics accounts for some, but not all, of the
immigrant advantage I observe.
In the third part of the paper, I relate the findings reported here to current debates surrounding
the gains and losses associated with migration. Although the decision to migrate is frequently
conceptualized as a choice to maximize wages and financial gain, the decision to settle in the
receiving country is linked to the perceived superiority of the educational opportunities available to
children. This paper is the first to test that assumption, similar to empirical work addressing relative
wages of immigrants and non-migrants in the sending state. Though the immigrant advantage in
educational attainment I report is fairly modest due to the middle to high level of educational
performance in the sending countries I observe, my conclusion of the general positive impact of
migration on intergenerational educational mobility is similar to recent findings of the positive
impacts of immigration on the intragenerational wage mobility of migrant workers.


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