Comparison of Immigrant Children in Four Nations Shows Strengths, Lags

Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2012

OTTAWA, September 11, 2012 — Young children whose families immigrate to Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States are as prepared and capable of starting school as their native-born counterparts, with one exception: vocabulary and language development. That’s the finding of a new study published in the September/October 2012 issue of the journal Child Development in a special section on the children of immigrants.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Bristol, Columbia University, the London School of Economics and Political Science, the University of New South Wales, the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), and University of Ottawa social mobility expert Miles Corak and graduate student Ali A. Ghanghro.

Professor Corak states, "With the possible exception of reading skills, immigrant children are not any more or any less disadvantaged by their family background when they start school. But the disadvantages that do exist are overcome to a much greater degree as they progress through school in Australia and Canada than they are in the United Kingdom and the United States."

According to lead author Elizabeth Washbrook, lecturer in education at the University of Bristol, “The differences between immigrant families according to their home language are more striking than the differences across the four countries, with children of immigrants doing worse than their counterparts with native-born parents on vocabulary tests, particularly if a language other than the official language is spoken at home. But these second-generation immigrants are not generally disadvantaged in nonverbal cognitive domains, nor are there notable behavioural differences, which suggests that the cross-country differences in cognitive outcomes during the teen years documented in the existing literature are much less evident during the early years.”

Specifically, the children studied did as well in the areas of hyperactive and antisocial behaviours, aggressive behaviour and nonverbal skills as their counterparts who had native-born parents. This suggests that, with the exception of language, children from immigrant families receive, on average, a start in life that is similar to that of other children.

This finding contrasts with research on older second-generation immigrants, which has shown, for example, that second-generation teens in Canada and Australia perform as well as or even better than teens of native-born parents in reading, math and science tests, while second-generation teens in the United Kingdom and the United States tend to perform worse in these areas than their peers who have native-born parents. 

View the Society for Research in Child Development news release for further details.

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Maria Scopelliti
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University of Ottawa
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