Jörg Dollmann, Jan O. Jonsson, Carina Mood, Frida Rudolphi
Ethnic gaps in Swedish upper secondary school completion: Is 'immigrant optimism' the problem?

SocArXiv papers
34 p.
Ithaca, NY
Cornell University

In many Western countries, researchers have documented ‘immigrant optimism’ in education, i.e., the tendency for immigrant-background students to choose academically more demanding routes than others at given levels of grade point averages (GPA). For some, this indicates structural integration, while others alert against an ‘immigrant optimism trap’ when ambition trumps ability, leading to high risks of non-completion. Using longitudinal Swedish population data (n≈90,000), we estimate the upper secondary ‘completion gap’ to 12% to the detriment of immigrant-background students. We then address the ‘trap hypothesis’ via two counterfactual analyses. The first shows that if immigrant-background youth made similar educational choices as other students at the same GPA, the completion gap would shrink by 3.4 percentage points. The second analysis suggests that restricting admission to programmes based on prior GPA, which would lead to a massive relocation of low- and mid-GPA students to vocational programmes, would reduce the completion gap by 2.2 percentage points. These changes must be considered marginal in view of the substantial restrictions of choice that either of these measures would entail. We conclude that completion gaps are not primarily a result of immigrant optimism, and optimistic choices are likely to be a net positive for structural integration.