School & District Management

‘Immigrant Paradox’ Stronger for Boys Than Girls

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 15, 2011 2 min read
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We see a fair bit of research these days showing boys are falling behind girls in achieving various educational outcomes, but when it comes to children with at least one immigrant parent, boys are doing better than girls, a journal article says.

A good deal of research shows that many youths from immigrant families outperform their peers in school, something that’s referred to as the “immigrant paradox.” In an article appearing in the spring issue of The Future of Children about the children of immigrants, two researchers write that the immigrant advantage is more pronounced for boys than girls.

For example, research shows that the difference in middle school math test scores between children born in another country and those whose families have lived in this country for two generations or more before them is 5 percent of a standard deviation for girls but 20 percent of a standard deviation for boys.

Reporting those findings are Robert Crosnoe, a sociology professor at the University of Texas-Austin, and Ruth N. López Turley, an associate professor of sociology at Rice University, in Houston. Crosnoe and Turley write that they cannot explain why boys from immigrant families are outperforming girls from such families.

They also report in their article, “K-12 Educational Outcomes of Immigrant Youth,” that the immigrant paradox is more pronounced for children of Asian and African immigrants than other groups. That can be partly explained by the tendency for more socioeconomically advantaged residents to leave Asia and Africa for the United States than is the case from a continent such as South America, they say.

The immigrant paradox is also more consistently present at the secondary level than the elementary level.

The special issue of the journal put out by the Brookings Institution and Princeton University includes a number of other articles by experts who study English-language learners or children from immigrant families.

Margarita Calderón and Robert Slavin, both affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, and Marta Sánchez, a doctoral candidate in education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, write about effective program models for English-language learners, stressing that “the quality of instruction is what matters most in educating English-learners.”

Two researchers affiliated with Princeton University describe the differences in adaptation to U.S. society of two distinct “pan-ethnic populations: Asian-Americans, who tend to be the offspring of high-human-capital migrants, and Hispanics, many of whose parents are manual workers.” Generally speaking, socioeconomic outcomes for the children from professional immigrant families are very good but they are not good for children from unskilled immigrant families. The researchers who write about these two groups are Alejandro Portes, a Princeton sociology professor, and Alejandro Rivas, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Princeton.

Overall, the issue is a good primer for any educator wanting to know more about the major issues affecting the education of children from immigrant families in the United States. The Brookings Institution is hosting a forum featuring issues affecting immigrant children corresponding with the publication of the special issue of The Future of Children on April 20 here in the nation’s capital.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.