Young children whose families immigrate to Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States are as prepared and capable of starting school as their native-born counterparts, with one exception: vocabulary and language development.
But the resulting disadvantages in reading skills are overcome to a much greater degree as they progress through school in Australia and Canada than they are in the United Kingdom and the United States.
This is the major message of a study I wrote with my colleagues Elizabeth Washbrook of the University of Bristol, Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University, and the London School of Economics and Political Science, Bruce Bradbury of the University of New South Wales, and a former student at the University of Ottawa, Ali Ghanghro.
In the press release accompanying the publication Professor Washbrook was quoted as saying:
The differences between immigrant families according to their home language are more striking than the differences across the four countries, with children of immigrants doing worse than their counterparts with native-born parents on vocabulary tests, particularly if a language other than the official language is spoken at home. But these second-generation immigrants are not generally disadvantaged in nonverbal cognitive domains, nor are there notable behavioural differences, which suggests that the cross-country differences in cognitive outcomes during the teen years documented in the existing literature are much less evident during the early years.
Specifically, the children studied did as well in the areas of hyperactive and antisocial behaviours, aggressive behaviour and nonverbal skills as their counterparts who had native-born parents. This suggests that, with the exception of language, children from immigrant families receive, on average, a start in life that is similar to that of other children.
This finding contrasts with research on older second-generation immigrants, which has shown, for example, that second-generation teens in Canada and Australia perform as well as or even better than teens of native-born parents in reading, math and science tests, while second-generation teens in the United Kingdom and the United States tend to perform worse in these areas than their peers who have native-born parents.
The schooling system does not serve these children as well in the UK and the US as it does in Australia and Canada.
The research paper is called: “The development of young children of immigrants in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.” It was published in the September/October 2012 issue of the scientific journal Child Development, in a special section on the children of immigrants.