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Our current knowledge about the favourable socioeconomic attainment (in education and earnings) among children of immigrants is based on the experiences of those whose immigrant parents came to Canada before the 1970s. As is well documented in the literature, successive cohorts of adult immigrants have experienced declines in entry earnings. This study looks at whether children of recent cohorts of immigrants also have experienced deterioration in educational attainment and earnings, and whether any such deterioration was associated with changes in their parents' labour market outcomes. Understanding these outcomes is important because children of immigrant parents constitute a large and growing part of the Canadian population. How children of immigrants fare in Canada's economy is also one metric of the longer-term impacts of immigration.
The study makes the following contributions to the literature. First, it is the first study to examine cohort differences in education and earnings of the 1.5 generation (childhood immigrants) in North America and to link these to cohort differences in both the education and earnings of adult immigrants (potential parents). Second, this study provides evidence on outcomes of descendants of the 1980s immigrant cohort-the cohort that experienced the largest decline in entry earnings in Canada over the last three decades.
It uses data from six Canadian censuses of population between 1971 and 2006 to examine cohort differences in the educational attainment and earnings of childhood immigrants who arrived in Canada in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Childhood immigrants are defined as those who were born abroad and immigrated to Canada at the age of 12 or younger. They represented about 26% of immigrants who arrived in Canada in the 1960s, 24% in the 1970s and 21% in the 1980s.Their educational attainment and earnings are examined at age 25 to 34. The comparison group consists of Canadian-born individuals who reported Canadian, British, or French ethnic origin. By defining the comparison group in this way, it is largely comprised of individuals born to Canadian-born parents and is relatively consistent over time. The 20%-sample census files provide substantial sample sizes of the populations of interest.
The outcome measures for childhood immigrants are derived from the 1986 Census of Population for the 1960s entry cohort, from the 1996 Census of Population for the 1970s cohort, and from the 2006 Census of Population for the 1980s cohort. Educational attainment is measured by whether a university degree was obtained. Earnings are measured by weekly earnings for those with positive annual wages and salaries and who worked at least one week in the year prior to the census. Outcomes of childhood immigrants are matched to average outcomes of adult immigrants who arrived in the same decade and from the same source region. Outcomes of these potential parents are measured during their first ten years in Canada.
The probability of obtaining a university degree by age 25 to 34 was higher among childhood immigrants than among their Canadian-born comparison group in all three cohorts. Furthermore, this difference increased across the three cohorts. This study finds that the continued success of more recent cohorts of childhood immigrants is due primarily to a shift in the composition of the immigrant population towards groups in which children of immigrants have traditionally had high educational attainment. Once shifts in composition (including source region, mother tongue, and visible-minority status) are taken into account, the difference no longer increases over time; indeed, if anything, it shrinks for the 1980s cohort. This decline in university completion (relative to the Canadian-born) is associated with the decline in the earnings of immigrant parents relative to the Canadian-born.
In terms of earnings, male childhood immigrants who arrived in the 1960s had weekly wages about 2% lower than the Canadian-born with similar socio-demographic characteristics. This gap disappeared for the 1970s and 1980s cohorts. Female childhood immigrants who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s had similar earnings to the Canadian-born comparison group. However, the 1980s cohort had higher earnings than the Canadian-born comparison group.