Immigrant Optimism, Information Deficit, or Anticipated Discrimination

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Immigrant children’s ambitious educational choices have often been linked to their families’ high levels of optimism and strive for upward mobility. However, previous research has mostly neglected alternative explanations such as information asymmetries or anticipated discrimination. Moreover, their higher dropout rates at the higher secondary and university level suggest that low performing migrant students may have benefitted more from pursuing less ambitious tracks, especially in countries with stratified education systems that offer viable vocational alternatives. We address both gaps using a sample of academically low performing, lower secondary school students in Germany’s highly stratified education system. We find that their optimism diverts migrant students from viable vocational alternatives. Information asymmetries and anticipated discrimination do not explain their high educational ambitions. While our findings further support the immigrant optimism hypothesis, we discuss how its effect may have different implications depending on the education system.

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