Immigrants’ children at school

Academic qualifications play a crucial role in defining individuals’ social statuses and in generating inequalities.

Mathieu Ichou’s analysis of the academic performances of immigrant’s children, who in France account for nearly one-fourth of pupils, gives us a new sociological perspective on this fundamental social concern.

On a subject so heavily subject to reductive media and political discourses, Les enfants d’immigrés à l’école [Immigrants’ children at school] intends to move beyond false declarations and demonstrations by way of an analytic rather than normative approach. The aim is to describe and explain the academic trajectories of immigrants’ children in France by drawing extensively on quantitative and qualitative empirical materials produced by several years of research. Mathieu Ichou counters the homogenizing, leveling, miserabiliste vision of a second generation largely characterized by academic failure with findings that show both the marked diversity of second-generation academic performances and the preponderant weight of social origin: the weaker academic performance of immigrants’ children relative to others is due first and foremost to their parents’ relatively unfavorable social position.

Traditionally, immigrant families are only observed and studied after they enter France; researchers know next to nothing of their earlier histories. In direct contrast to that standard approach, this book identifies the crucial role of immigrant parents’ pre-migration characteristics and experiences to understand the academic resources and aspirations they transmit to their children. Citing statistics and life event histories, Ichou describes the many intergenerational effects of parents’ social position in the country of origin on children’s educational attainment in France.

Last, the findings presented in this work run counter to widespread explanations that attribute a priori—without any empirical research—the academic difficulties of second-generation children to family failings or coming from a culture that is incompatible with schooling or from an excessively large sibling group. The role of parents’ culture proves ambivalent and cannot be disconnected from the social structure of which it is part. Furthermore, while the author does focus on parents’ socializing role, he also emphasizes the often beneficial influence of older siblings. And he identifies the inegalitarian effects of academic segregation: such systematic processes marginalize immigrants’ children more than any others, as they find themselves in schooling contexts particularly unfavorable to their academic advancement.

Source: Mathieu Ichou, 2018, Les enfants d’immigrés à l’école. Inégalités scolaires du primaire à l’enseignement supérieur, Puf.

Contact: Mathieu Ichou

Online: September 2018