Immigrant selectivity in Western Europe


This project builds upon a core principle in the sociology of migration, namely that immigrants are not a random sample of the origin population, but differ in certain characteristics from individuals who stay behind. The first aim is to provide a description of educational selectivity for a range of different immigrant groups across a variety of Western European destinations. In addition to educational selectivity, which is the main focus of this research, selectivity in attitudes also enters the account. The second aim is to theoretically disentangle and empirically investigate the links between selectivity and immigrants’ incorporation into the receiving societies. The focus is on a selection of important outcomes including cultural integration (in terms of language acquisition), positional or structural integration (in terms of education and labor market performance) and aspects of social and identificative integration (in terms of inter-ethnic relations and attitudes). An additional methodological aim is to contribute to the literature by systematically implementing improved measures of selectivity. In this project, selectivity is framed as an individual-level characteristic as opposed to the common approach of group-based specifications. We measure selectivity by recording an individual’s age- and sex-specific position in the origin country’s distribution of the selectivity characteristic in question. The resulting selectivity measure acknowledges that origin groups are typically composed of varying proportions of positively and negatively selected individuals. Advances in data availability allow making use of a variety of data sources, both for a large set of countries of origin and for various immigrant destinations throughout Europe. All data harmonization efforts as well as the scripts necessary for replicating the analyses carried out in the course of the project will be made available to the scientific community.

To get a first, interactive overview on the extent and trends in educational selectivity for the largest origin groups in Germany from 1950-2010 here.


Funded by the German Research Foundation starting in 2019.


Spörlein, Kristen, Schmidt and Welker. 2020. Selectivity profiles of recently arrived refugees and labour migrants in Germany. Soziale Welt 71:54-89, DOI:

Spörlein and Kristen. 2018. Educational Selectivity and Language Acquisition of recently arrived Immigrants in Germany, Great Britain and Ireland. International Migration Review,

Spörlein. 2015. The Destination Choices of Recent Pan-American Migrants: Opportunities, Costs and Migrant Selectivity. International Migration Review 49:523-552, DOI: 10.1111/imre.12104.