Media Briefings

Children Of Immigrant Groups Do Better Than Their Parents In European Labour Markets – But Still Not As Well As Children Of Native-Born Parents

  • Published Date: March 2010

The labour market performance of most immigrant groups in France, Germany and the UK
is worse on average than that of the native population, according to research by Professor
Alan Manning and colleagues.
But their study, published in the February 2010 Economic Journal, also shows that while
the children of immigrants have worse economic outcomes than the children of native-born
parents, they often do better than their own parents. This suggests perhaps that education
systems are working to integrate the children of immigrants, the researchers conclude,
though it is much harder to say whether progress is as fast as it could be.
Immigration is currently high up the political agenda in most European countries as they
struggle to deal with the increased flow of migrants that many have experienced in recent
years. Many countries have a sizeable fraction of the population who are hostile to
immigration, especially to immigrants from poorer countries or those of a different ethnicity
to the majority.
In this climate, it is critically important to understand more about how immigrants fare – and
not just the first-generation immigrants but their children too. After all, the longer-run effects
of immigration are probably much more influenced by how the descendants of immigrants
fare than the immigrants themselves.
This study compares the experiences of first- and second-generation immigrants in France,
Germany and the UK in terms of their education, earnings and employment. These
countries all experienced large-scale immigration in the 1950s and 1960s so that enough
time has elapsed to be able to evaluate how the immigrants’ children are getting on.
Although these countries have all had sizeable immigrant populations for a considerable
time, they also differ in important ways. First, the ethnic composition of immigrant inflows is
different: immigrants in France and the UK came from former colonies of those countries,
while Germany employed immigrants from southern Europe and Turkey.
Second, these countries have adopted very different policies towards the integration of
immigrants. Put very crudely, the UK has sought to accommodate and celebrate cultural
and ethnic diversity, while France has sought to deny its existence (at least in the public
sphere) in the interest of ‘equal treatment’. The proposed banning of the burqa is a good
example of the latter approach.
In contrast with both these countries, which typically granted immigrants full citizenship,
Germany did not, until relatively recently, give citizenship to immigrants or their children
who were not ethnically German. Long after it was clear that they had come to stay,
Germany thought of its immigrants as only temporary residents.
Other European countries with more recent immigration are considering which, if any, of
these models would be the best one to adopt to facilitate the integration of immigrants and
their children. So it is important to know how immigrants have fared in France, Germany
and the UK.
The central finding of the research is that in all three countries, the labour market
performance of most immigrant groups as well as their descendants is, on average, worse
than that of the native population (after controlling for education, potential experience and
regional allocation).
But the study also finds that the gap in educational attainment between natives and
immigrants is much reduced in the second generation compared with the first generation.
While there is considerable heterogeneity across immigrant groups and the children of
immigrants still do worse than the children of native-born parents, they often do better than
their own parents.
Evidence of progress in labour market performance is not the same for all countries and all
immigrant groups. For immigrants’ net earnings, the UK stands out as having particularly
large differences for the first generation but also much improved outcomes for the second
In France and Germany, differences are not so clear-cut. The difference in male
employment rates between immigrants and natives in Germany and the UK seem similar
for first- and second-generation immigrants, but France has a number of groups in which
the second-generation immigrants seem to be doing worse than the first.
For women, the patterns are similar but there is clearer general evidence of a reduction in
employment gaps for the second generation, especially for those immigrant groups where
female employment rates are very low in the first generation.
In all countries, there is considerable heterogeneity in outcomes across immigrant groups,
and any sensible account of immigrant disadvantage must pay attention to the fact that
immigrants cannot be treated as an undifferentiated lump.
Does the French, German or British model of attitudes to immigrants appear more favoured
by these findings? The answer is that no simple link appears.
France, which until recently has been accused of sticking its head in the sand over the
existence of poor outcomes for immigrant groups, does not seem to have worse outcomes
than the UK, which has had anti-discrimination legislation for over 40 years.
The UK, often accused now of paying insufficient attention to the assimilation of
immigrants, has, if anything, the largest improvement from the first to the second
The researchers comment:
‘One possible explanation for our inability to paint a simple picture is that
government policy is much less important than many people think.
‘In day-to-day life and economic activity, it is the behaviour and aspirations of
immigrants and their children – and how they are treated by those with whom they
interact – that is important in determining economic outcomes.
‘By a stroke of a pen, governments may be able to pass anti-discrimination
legislation or prevent Muslim schoolgirls wearing the hijab. But it is much harder to
change attitudes – and it is these attitudes that ultimately determine outcomes.’
Notes for editors: ‘The Economic Situation of First- and Second-generation Immigrants in
France, Germany and the United Kingdom’ by Yann Algan, Christian Dustmann,
Albrecht Glitz and Alan Manning is published in the February 2010 issue of the Economic

Yann Algan is at Sciences Po in Paris. Christian Dustmann is director of the Centre for
Research and Analysis on Migration at University College London. Albrecht Glitz is at
Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Alan Manning is professor of economics at LSE.
For further information: contact Alan Manning on +44 20 7955 6078 (email:; or Romesh Vaitilingam on 07768-661095 (email: