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Why immigrants’ children often succeed


Parents who have migrated tell their children ‘We sacrificed a lot to get here, now you need to make it worthwhile.’ This creates a motivational force in immigrants’ children,” says Pinar Aslan, researcher at the University of Gävle.

Pinar Aslan interviewed individuals born in Sweden with parents from non-Western countries who are successful in the labour market. Most of these individuals have a university education and are employed in professions that correspond to their education.

“What makes these individuals able to fulfill their aspirations and get into the labour market? Their responses can give us many tools to be used in the process of integrating immigrants’ children and helping them find a job,” Pinar Aslan says.

Family is key

Pilar Aslan discovered that there was a strong desire for revenge in the families fostered by the parents. ‘Now we have arrived in a new country and we sacrificed a lot to get here, so now you need to make it worthwhile,’ were phrases often repeated to the children by the parents.

In the ethnic groups to which the individuals belonged, children’s achievements give the parents high status as well. This increased children’s motivation to work hard for success.

“It’s very important to be aware of the role family actually plays in this context. We need to support families and compensate for the lack of practical resources that we often find in this type of family.”

Enormous drive but few resources

Pilar Aslan’s study shows that public officials, like teachers, job counselors and social workers, often play a crucial role by transmitting important knowledge about education and the working life to individuals whose families may lack resources or find it difficult to provide practical support.

“Most importantly, public officials should be supportive and establish a sense of connectedness with them. These individuals may possess an enormous drive, but if they lack contacts, knowledge or information, it may be hard to realize their aspirations and to achieve actual results.”

“I can’t afford to be picky”

The participants in the study had adapted to the difficulties they encountered in the labour market in different ways. Some targeted ethnically profiled professions that demanded cross-cultural competence. Another group changed their line of business into one in which they could more easily gain a foothold.

“This does not mean that they liked the fact that they adapted in this manner. Sometimes they were not even sure about what cross-cultural competence actually entailed, but they knew it would help them find a job. They needed to consider risks of discrimination, as they both expected and experienced discrimination. They had to be realistic and couldn’t afford to be ‘picky.’”

Interpreted their family situation differently

The study also showed that parents encouraged their children to strive for more gender equality regarding work and family arrangements then what they themselves had practiced. This meant that it became easier for the children to implement intergenerational changes in combining work and family.

“The parents realized that if the children were to succeed, they needed to lead their lives in a different way.”

Pinar Aslan claims that the results in her doctoral dissertation highlight the fact that knowledge can be used in supporting immigrants’ children. This does not only apply to public officials but also to wider sociopolitical contexts.

“I would like to stress that there are many mechanisms that interact in this process; what happens in and near the individual interacts with what happens in wider contexts,” Pinar Aslan concludes.


Pinar Aslan defended her doctoral dissertation How Do They Make It?: perspectives on labour market participation among descendants of immigrants in Sweden at the University of Gävle 15 November.

External examiner: Professor Sven Hessle
Supervisor: Professor Nader Ahmadi Senior lecturer Eva Wikström Senior lecturer Stefan Sjöberg


For more information, please contact:
Pinar Aslan, lecturer and researcher at the University of Gävle
Phone: 070-475 03 20
E-mail: pinar.aslan@hig.se

Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Photo: Marie Hägg

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2019-11-22
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)