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Event Review

Multiple Pathways Towards Integration

The Diversity of Immigrant Families in Europe
Jan 27
  • Patrick Dick
  • Patrick Dick
  • Patrick Dick
  • Patrick Dick

As a result of international migration, European societies have become increasingly diverse over the past decade. At the same time, links between origin and destination countries have been established and strengthened, related to transnational family arrangements among others.

A biased focus in research on the receiving countries only has largely hampered a proper understanding of what migration does to families, and what families do to migration. Similarly, the role of families in promoting development and integration is barely analysed due to the receiving-country bias and the lack of multisided data. The aim of this event, chaired by Amparo González-Ferrer (Senior research fellow, Population Department, Spanish National Research Council, Madrid), was to discuss about migration from a family perspective, with special attention to the role and impact of transnational families on children’s wellbeing in both origin and destination countries, as well as to the demographic behaviors of descendants of migrants in European countries.

Does being part of a transnational family have negative consequences for its members?

Focusing on African and Eastern European transnational families, Valentina Mazzucato, (Professor of Globalisation and Development, Maastricht University) showed that living in a transnational family is not necessarily associated with worse outcomes for children. There are however two important conditions for the mental health of children: having sufficient living conditions, and living with the same caregiver while the parents are abroad. In addition, her results showed how conflict and post-conflict settings make children vulnerable when their parents migrate and they are left behind.

The conditions that migrant parents face in European countries influence their ability to create ideal conditions for their children to prosper in transnational families. In particular, policies that strengthen migrant parents’ documented status and income earning possibilities are crucial for migrants’ own mental health and that of their children in the countries of origin.

Why do some ethnic minority groups in Europe have high fertility?


According to Hill Kulu (Professor of Demography, University of Liverpool), fertility levels of immigrants in Europe tend to converge with that of natives in most cases in the passing from the first to the second generation. However, fertility rates remain significantly higher for descendants of immigrants from high-fertility countries like Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the UK, and individuals of Turkish descent in France.

To the question of why is fertility high among these groups, Kulu showed that the most important factors are not differences in educational levels and language skills, as it would be expected, but their high fertility is more related to the fact that large families continue to be a norm among some ethnic minorities. Socio-cultural elements such as the number of siblings in the origin family and religiosity explain most of the differences compared to natives for these groups. However, as the researcher emphasized, almost half of the difference in their fertility levels remained unexplained even after considering these socio-cultural differences.

Kulu also emphasized the importance of moving beyond the study of average fertility levels in order to gain a better understanding of childbearing patterns in ethnic minority communities. His analysis showed that although UK-born Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have their children at later ages than their parents and some women remain childless, many ethnic minority women decide to have three or four children. Policy-makers should be aware of the presence of large families in some ethnic minority groups and ensure that social and housing policies support such families and that children from large families will have the same educational opportunities as those from 'standard' (two-child) families.

Why are children with an immigrant background disadvantaged in school performance?


According to Héctor Cebolla-Boado (Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, National Distance Education University (UNED), Madrid), the causes of disadvantage among immigrant children and the children of immigrants in educational outcomes are mostly related to parenting quality, rather than to differences across schools or, broadly speaking, institutional factors. In Spain, for instance, only 1/4 of the existing variation in test scores among these kids and comparable native kids finds an explanation at the school level.

When paying attention to non-cognitive outcomes, the study of educational expectations given prior attainment proves that students with immigrant background are more ambitious and motivated than natives thanks to their parents’ optimism. But their mental wellbeing - at least among teenagers - is poorer than  for comparable natives. This seems to be related to the timing of family migration (children who migrated at the ages of 5-14 are worse off) and to the concentration of other co-ethnics, which prevents establishing interethnic friendship. In any case, schools are even less determinant in shaping these outcomes: only 2% of the variation in educational expectations and mental wellbeing is associated with the clustering of students across schools.

Granting early and universal access to daycare and preschool is the most efficient intervention to reduce this consistent disadvantage, Cebolla says.  However, quality of education must be ensured: For instance, the standardization of curricula and the quality of teachers are also of key importance.

Panel Debate


In the debate that followed the presentations, Julius op de Beke (European Commission, Brussels) highlighted the importance of early childcare and parenting support to improve chances for immigrant children. Also, “territorial segregation of immigrants is a key issue societies must address.”

Anna Platonova (International Organization for Migration (IOM, Brussels) emphasized that immigration policies in destination countries have a significant impact on migrant families: they influence who will migrate. Policy makers should consider the variety and complexity of family forms when regulating this issue.

According to Hector Cebolla, the most efficient integration policies are those that are not focused on individuals' status as immigrants but those dealing with socioeconomic disadvantages as a whole.

For Agnes Uhereczky (Confederation of Family Organisations in the European Union (COFACE), Brussels), another main problem is that the jobs of Kindergarten nurses and teachers, nursery staff, specialized educators, who are responsible for the integration of children with migration background are “very low valued and not well paid” by the society in general, and are hardly desired career choices for many. Countries should invest more in professionals working with immigrant families, such as teachers and social workers, and also in the awareness raising about these career options.

To finalise the event, Amparo González-Ferrer stressed that the situation of immigrant and transnational families, both in Europe and in their countries of origin, might be improved by strengthening the link between admission and integration policies. It is a complex and difficult matter but “nonetheless, there is plenty of room to improve”, she said.


*This Event has received funding from the European Union´s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 320116  for the research project FamiliesAndSocieties. FamiliesAndSocieties ( has the aim to investigate the diversity of family forms, relationships and life courses in Europe, to assess the compatibility of existing policies with these changes, and to contribute to evidence-based policy-making. The consortium brings together 25 leading universities and research institutes in 15 European countries and three transnational civil society organizations.