When immigrants are aiming high


Despite immigrants oftentimes portraying exceptionally high educational aspirations, they and their descendants tend to show lower educational outcomes compared to their majority population counterparts (also termed the aspiration-achievement paradox). The primary aim of this project is to investigate the question how high educational aspirations found among immigrant families shape ethnic inequalities throughout educational careers, both in terms of educational achievement and educational transitions.

While current research suggests that immigrants transition more frequently to the more demanding tracks given high aspirations and holding constant prior achievement and social origin, there is far less research on the relationship between educational aspirations and educational achievement. Overall, we identified a number of key research gaps which we seek to address in this project: (1) we use high-quality data to provide longitudinal evidence for the relation between educational aspirations and ethnic differences in transitional behavior and educational achievement for the German context, (2) we apply theoretical models of educational decisions and learning investments to integrate disparate conceptual and theoretical ideas; and we specify the underlying processes separately for the theoretically distinct concepts of idealistic and realistic aspirations, (3) we investigate behavioral changes associated with high levels of educational aspirations leading up to critical transitional episodes in the careers of students and (4) we assess the consequences of making ambitious choices in light of higher aspirations at lower levels of prior achievement.

The empirical foundation of this project will be the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) which provides consistent and highly detailed measurement of key concepts which enable us to properly distinguish between idealistic and realistic aspirations and which includes sufficiently large samples on immigrants and their descendants.


Funded by the German Research Foundation starting in 2018. For more information, see here