Norwegian version of this page

Immigrant children are socially mobile

Children of immigrants are better educated, and earn far more, than their parents.

school children


By the time immigrant children become adults most of them have undergone a class transformation. They have passed their parents on the social ladder. They have also done as well or better than their ethnic Norwegian peers with similar social backgrounds and from the same neighborhoods.

Post doctor in sociology Are Skeie Hermansen made this discovery when he investigated how Norwegian immigrant children, born between 1973 and 1982, have got on in life when they become adults. Most of the subjects of the study had roots in Pakistan, Vietnam, the Middle East, Africa and South America.

- The best way to find out how successful long-term integration has been is to investigate whether the children of poor immigrants actually escape the relative poverty they were born into, says Hermansen.

The sociologist has therefore looked at the educational attainment of the group and how much they earn as adults when compared with their parents. He has also examined how they are faring relative to their peers in the majority population.

Immigrant children from Somalia and Iraq are not included in the study, since most have not reached adulthood yet.

Major differences are erased in one generation

Many children of first generation immigrants have grown up in poor families with parents with little formal education. Nearly half of immigrant children grew up in very poor families.

But for their children life has been different: Most immigrant children have done much better than their parents in terms of both wages and education. They also achieve as highly as ethnic Norwegian children who grew up in the same neighborhood and with a similar socioeconomic family background.

When personal income is rated on a scale from 0 to 100, from the lowest to the highest income, the study shows that the income gap between immigrant children and the majority population is reduced by almost 80 percent compared with the gap in the generation that immigrated to Norway.

 - The most exciting find is that immigrant groups have moved much closer to the majority population in just one generation, says Hermansen.

The poorest make the greatest progress

The study shows that upward mobility has been most pronounced for children from ethnic minority groups which had both the poorest economic base and the lowest educational level.

One example is that the children of Pakistani immigrants have made a huge leap forward in terms of both income and salary. But as a group they are still somewhat behind their contemporaries in the general population.

- Since minority groups had different starting points there is great variation in the level they have achieved as adults, stressing Hermansen.

It does not matter where you grew up

Researchers have used national registry data covering the entire Norwegian population. This data makes it possible to connect children to their parents and to the neighborhood in which they grew up.

The study shows that immigrant children do as well in the workplace and are as highly educated as ethnic Norwegian children who grew up in the same neighborhood and in families with similar income or education.

“Children from some ethnic minority groups - the Vietnamese, for example - do even better than their peers they have grown up with from the majority population.”

- My study shows, however, that for migrant children the neighborhood they grew up in has relatively little impact on how they do as adults. It is their family background which has the greatest impact on how successful they are in life, says Hermansen.

He stresses that immigrant children, like all Norwegian children, have grown up in a society characterized by equality with good education and high economic mobility across generations. In Norway, the socio-economic class we start life in has less influence on our achievements as an adult when compared with many other countries.

- Studies that look at the Norwegian majority population show that only about twenty percent of income inequality in the parent generation remains when their children become adults.

When immigrant children do as well as their ethnic Norwegians peers from similar backgrounds, their social mobility largely reflects the generally high social mobility in Norway, the researcher argues.

Mobility creates diversity

Today, a larger proportion of immigrant children take higher education than the general population. Norway is getting more Norwegian-born doctors, lawyers, politicians and cultural figures from immigrant backgrounds than previously. Thus, the immigrant population is become more like the majority population across minority groups.

- Now that this generation of immigrant children have become adults they are beginning to make their mark on all social arenas in society. While they are becoming more like the rest of the population they are also contributing to a greater ethnic diversity in all social classes. This changes the dynamics of the multicultural Norway.


Are Skeie Hermansen study has been published as "Moving up or falling behind? Intergenerational socioeconomic transmission Among children of Immigrants in Norway ", in the journal European Sociological Review and was part of his doctoral thesis.

By Stina Petersen
Published Oct. 20, 2016 11:34 AM - Last modified Nov. 19, 2018 1:00 PM