Educational Decisions in Immigrant Families

Research question/goal: 

The project aimed to explain ethnic differences in educational attainment in the German educational system. We focussed on the transition from primary to secondary education, as at this point in the school career the courses are set for future educational and occupational success. We were interested in the role educational decisions play for the less advantageous transition patterns of immigrants after primary schooling: Does the poor scholastic achievement of immigrant children in primary school directly translate into less favourable educational transitions? Do further disadvantages result from cautious decision behaviour in immigrant families? Or are even benefits to be expected, for example, when immigrant families try to realise their high educational aspirations? We pursued these questions on the basis of a primary data collection project conducted in the city of Cologne. We tested the German and mathematical skills of 1,400 Turkish immigrant and native 3rd graders and administered a three-wave questionnaire to their parents – once before the decision at the end of the 3rd grade, again in the middle of the 4th grade, when the decision was pending, and finally at the end of the 4th grade, when the pupils were already registered at one of the secondary schools. The results reveal that – controlling for prior scholastic achievement and social background – children of Turkish immigrant families are more likely to attend the more demanding tracks. This positive effect of ethnic origin is due to the high educational aspirations in immigrant families of Turkish origin. However, this high motivation can’t compensate for the often poor educational achievement of Turkish immigrant children during primary school. At the same time, the results reveal no evidence for the assumption that their teachers discriminate Turkish immigrant children against native pupils. Given comparable scholastic achievement – measured with objective tests – and a comparable social background, children of Turkish immigrants receive the same teacher recommendations as their native classmates.

Fact sheet

2000 to 2010
Data Sources: 
Survey, achievement tests
Geographic Space: 



Dollmann, Jörg (2010): Türkischstämmige Kinder am ersten Bildungsübergang. Primäre und sekundäre Herkunftseffekte. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. more
Kristen, Cornelia (2005): School Choice and Ethnic School Segregation. Primary School Selection in Germany. Münster: Waxmann. [Internationale Hochschulschriften; 437] more