Children Of Immigrants Follow Their Parents” Lead On Feelings Of Ethnic Identity

There is a strong ”intergenerational transmission” of ethnic identity from immigrant parents to their children, according to research by Teresa Casey and Professor Christian Dustmann published in the February 2010 Economic Journal. The study finds that a 10 percentage point increase in a parent”s identity with their country of birth (or with the host country) increases the identity of their child by about 5 percentage points.

These findings suggest that if policy-makers want to enhance the identity of the descendants of immigrants with ”the British way of life”, this strong intergenerational link needs to be considered. But the research also shows that identity with either the host country or the country of origin is only weakly related to economic performance and labour market outcomes.

Christian Dustmann explains:

”Our study reveals that children are strongly influenced by their parents in the formation of their ethnic identity.

”But we do not find any evidence of a link between ethnic identity and labour market outcomes of the children of immigrants, nor are we aware of any research that convincingly establishes a causal effect of identity on economic outcomes.

”Thus, we believe that the economic case for policies that aim at enhancing the identity of immigrants (and their children) with the receiving country is not based on strong empirical grounds.”

The study is the first to relate feelings of belonging and ethnic identity of foreign-born individuals to that of their children. Using data from the German Socioeconomic Panel to analyse the relationship between home country identity and host country identity, how these are associated with labour market outcomes for both first- and second-generation immigrants, and how identity is transmitted from one generation to the next, the researchers find that:

  • There is no evidence of a strong positive association between labour market outcomes (employment and wages) and ethnic identity for foreign-born men. There is some modest association between identity with the host country and labour market outcomes for foreign-born women.
  • For the children of immigrants, there is no evidence whatsoever of a detrimental association between identity with the home country and labour market outcomes.
  • There is a strong and significant association between parents” identities and those of their children. Furthermore, daughters appear to be more influenced by their mothers” identity and sons more by their fathers” identity.

A key result of the study is that the identity of foreign-born fathers and mothers is a very important factor in the identity formation of their children.

”Immigrants” Identity, Economic Outcomes, and the Transmission of Identity across Generations” by Teresa Casey and Christian Dustmann is published in the February 2010 issue of the Economic Journal.


Christian Dustmann

Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College London | +44 20 7679 5832 | c.dustmann@ucl.ac.uk

Teresa Casey

Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College London