Let’s Start From the Beginning!
To understand immigrants’ situation properly, it is important to grasp both their own perceptions of their position in the new society and the life they left behind when they migrated. Taking a step in this direction, Per Engzell (Nuffield College, University of Oxford and Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University) and Mathieu Ichou (Institut National d'Études Démographiques) studied immigrants’ self-perceived status, measured as subjective social status, and perceived financial situation in the destination countries. They took into account the potential differences in educational distributions between the sending and receiving countries, which implies that they acknowledge that a given education level can be related to a very different rank in the sending and receiving countries. The authors used data from the European Social Survey and the Barro-Lee dataset.
Results indicate that most migrants face a positional loss in educational rank when they migrate to a new country, which is in line with previous studies. However, the authors go further in their analysis and show that this transnational status loss (downward social mobility in migration) is associated with poorer self-perceived status and economic standing. In other words, immigrants who ranked higher in the country of origin than in the destination country see themselves as being comparatively worse off. This finding suggests that the social position before migration provides an important reference point by which immigrants judge their success in the new country.
Overall, this study highlights the need to focus on pre-migration characteristics to explain post-migration outcomes and to conceptualise migration as an instance of social mobility, not merely as a geographic move. It calls for a reorientation of research to look at the lives and situations that migrants have left behind in their origin country.