Parental education and income have positive effect on educational attainment of childhood immigrants

Julia Hornstein
Published: September 28, 2023

A recent Statistics Canada study examined the effect of mother and father’s education on the likelihood of a childhood immigrant completing post-secondary education. Further, the study determined whether there was a significant variation in these relationships among immigrants from different source regions.

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Parental education and the educational outcomes of the children can be positively correlated for many reasons. For example, parents with higher levels of education likely pass on their positive view of education to their children, and educational expectations and aspirations of children in more highly educated families may also be higher.

The study used a sample consisting of over 100,000 childhood immigrants who arrived in Canada at age 17 or younger and who were aged 25 to 44 in the 2016 Census.

Study findings

First, higher levels of parental education were associated with significantly higher rates of completing a bachelor’s degree or higher among childhood immigrants, especially when both parents were highly educated.

When the father had a degree, 64% of childhood immigrants completed a degree, compared with 33% of those whose father had a high school education or less.

Controlling for other variables, childhood immigrants with a degree-holding father were 15 percentage points more likely to acquire a degree themselves than when their father had a high school education or less. The effect of mothers’ education was similar.

Furthermore, if both parents had a degree, the effect almost doubled. Childhood immigrants with two degree-holding parents were 27 percentage points more likely to complete a degree than if both parents had a high school education or less, controlling for other variables.

Second, there was some variation by source region. The effect of parental education was weaker among immigrant families from East Asia and Southeast Asia compared to families from Europe and English speaking developed countries.

Third, when educational attainment was expanded to include trades or college certification, the results changed. The effect of parental education on children’s educational attainment was much weaker. In addition, the variation among source regions was considerably less. According to the study, these changes occurred because many immigrant families from East and Southeast Asia focus on university graduation while immigrant families from other regions are more likely to consider options like college or trades programs.

Finally, family income during the first five years after entry to Canada had only a small effect on the likelihood of childhood immigrants completing a degree, or any form of postsecondary certification, after controlling for parental education and other background variables.

Significance of the study’s findings

The strong effect of parental education on child’s education has policy implications. By selecting highly educated immigrants, Canada is able to maintain strong educational outcomes among the next generations.

Including all types of postsecondary programs such as trades programs show the differences in postsecondary educational patterns among immigrant children. The significant variation by source region demonstrates how source country can affect the types of skills brought to the labour market and the types of jobs childhood immigrants compete for.

Finally, the relatively small effect of family income is important for immigrant families as many struggle economically in the first years after immigration. Low family incomes do not have a large effect on the educational outcomes of their children.

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