Immigrants' children among Canada's best educated

More than 44% of second-generation immigrants 25 to 37 years old had at least 16 years of education, study finds

The Globe and Mail
October 9, 2008

Children of immigrants - even those without university backgrounds - are better educated than their Canadian-born counterparts, according to a groundbreaking new study based on 2001 census data that tracks families over time.

Second-generation Asian-Canadian women 25 to 37 years old are the most well-educated members of society. Fifty-eight per cent of them have university degrees, compared with 25 per cent of Canadians of a similar age from non-immigrant families.

The offspring of immigrants 25 to 37 years old also earned 6 per cent more on average than their Canadian counterparts.

However, one key group is excluded from this success story of intergenerational mobility: sons of immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and other Caribbean and Latin American countries.

They are reasonably well educated, with 22 per cent having university degrees compared with 19 per cent of men from non-immigrant backgrounds.

However, they earn 15 per cent less than the Canadian average. Their sisters did much better, earning 4 per cent more than the Canadian average.

"The study offers a more precise picture of where discontent and disengagement might arise in Canadian society," notes Miles Corak, a University of Ottawa professor and author of the study.

It is based on Statistics Canada 2001 census data published this week by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, a Montreal-based think tank.

"We have much to celebrate. However, there are some hot spots and we need to look inside those communities to see what's going on."

Family dynamics, labour market obstacles, discrimination and other factors help explain the poor outcomes for men of Caribbean or Latin American origin, most of whom are black.

Black men are seen as threatening, unemployed and criminal, said Minelle Mahtani, assistant professor of geography and journalism at the University of Toronto.

"These perceptions cause young men to feel hopeless about the future and to experience despair and disengagement," said Prof. Mahtani, a specialist in diversity. "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Stereotypes about black women are largely positive: They are seen as exotic and attractive.

Caribbean immigrants have also suffered the effects of separation and family breakdown. Many people from Jamaica came to Canada under the live-in caregiver program in the 1980s and had to leave children and spouses for several years.

Sonia Deacon of the Jamaican-Canadian Association said it is hard to pinpoint why the sons of Caribbean and Latin American immigrants aren't progressing, but discrimination and a lack of positive male role models are factors.

"They may also have unrealistic expectations and expect instant gratification, believing Canada is the land of milk and honey," said Ms. Deacon, whose non-profit Toronto organization offers programs and settlement services.

"But there are so many challenges: the lifestyle, the policing, the food, the system. Everything."

The advancement of the children of immigrants is the best test for Canada's immigration model. Most first-generation newcomers struggle to find work, learn English and gain Canadian job experience. But they have high expectations for their children.

Prof. Corak pointed out that those throwing Molotov cocktails in the suburbs of Paris during the autumn of 2005 were the children of immigrants, who felt excluded from society.

Canada's track record for second-generation immigrants is much better, especially in terms of educational mobility.

The study found that more than 44 per cent of second-generation immigrants 25 to 37 had at least 16 years of education, compared with just 30 per cent in this age cohort whose parents were born here.

Seventy-two per cent of second-generation immigrant women in this age cohort were employed - the highest rate in the country.

Immigrant parents with less education were also more likely to have highly educated children - a finding that is not replicated in non-immigrant families.

As well, Canada is one of only three countries in the OECD where second-generation immigrants scored higher in primary school than native-born children in math and reading tests, according to a 2004 study.

The immigrants included in Prof. Corak's paper arrived before 1980, and their children entered the labour market in the 1990s.

He didn't study the rising high school drop-out rates in Toronto's black community in recent years - although his research could explain the roots of this problem. If black youths see their well-educated fathers and older friends doing poorly in the labour market, they may be less motivated to finish school.

About 10 per cent of Canada's immigrants come from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.

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