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Elite Leadership Positions In The Emerging Second Generation

Final Report Summary - ELITES (Elite Leadership Positions In The Emerging Second Generation)

The European-born children of immigrants, often referred to as the second generation, play an important role in the academic debate about integration and assimilation. Public debate about the second generation in Europe has taken a dramatic turn in the last five years. At the same time, in Europe’s large cities we see an increasing differentiation of migrants’ and their children’s situations and trajectories in the most important structural domains, such as the labour market, education, income, and housing. While many studies have already been realized on those ‘at the bottom’, so far the spotlight on the successful among the children of immigrants has been limited. The ELITES project broadens our perspective by focusing on the growing socio-economic elites among the second generation. The first lawyers are entering prestigious law firms, the first PhD students have become visible in academia and successful professionals enter the ranks of corporate business firms. How do they make their way into leadership positions? And is the process different across European cities?
Based on the quantitative analysis on the TIES survey respondents of Turkish descent with higher education degrees, we concluded that they are substantially more often unemployed and more often work in lower level functions when compared to equally educated respondents of native descent in all four countries. We also found important differences between the four countries in the ELITES research project. This already comes up while looking at differences in the educational routes to professional positions. In Sweden and France, which represent more open educational systems, those who work in middle or higher level managerial positions more often have a university diploma compared to people in Germany of the Netherlands. As a consequence, the people in these countries also occupy higher positions in the labour market. But also the blockades on the labour market are very different. In France, the transition to the labour market is highly problematic, while the Swedish case is characterized by gatekeepers that block access to leading positions. Apprenticeship places in Germany and the Netherlands are, on the other hand, very helpful in accessing the labour market.
In explaining the extraordinary success of our respondents, we identified what we have called a “multi-plier effect”. This should be understood in two ways. The multiplier first of all refers to the phenomenon that the second generation takes more advantage of opportunities in educational systems than students of native descent. When it comes to making use of loopholes in the school system, the children of immigrants seem to be more effective than working-class children of native descent. Similar findings we found for the labour market. Respondents often report that they did an extra internships or followed extra training on the job. The respondents justified these extra efforts because they felt they needed to outperform people of native descent to climb the corporate ladder at the same pace.
A second element of the “multiplier effect” is that each and every successful step in their career seems to have had a snowball effect bringing on new, additional possibilities. Each door respondents opened seemed to open again several other doors for upward social mobility. Because of this multiplier effect, initial small differences with the peers from their own ethnic background grow larger and larger and put the successful group ever more ahead. The parents often have planted the initial seed for the drive to become upwardly mobile, but these children of low-status immigrants mostly have developed necessary skills for upward mobility themselves along the way on their path to the top. A very common example from our research illustrates what we mean: when pupils of immigrant descent receive advice for an academic track in secondary school, in the process they also escape the more segregated vocational school tracks in the Netherlands and Germany or the vocationally oriented programs in lyceum in France or gymnasium in Sweden. The new school environment offers new opportunities that they previously did not have, such as, for instance, the chance to be emerged in middle-class culture and to learn codes and a habitus that will prove useful when entering the top ranks in many professions. We argue therefore that steep upward mobility needs to be explained as much by what could be labelled a “self-propelled mobility” by the children of immigrants themselves, as by the support their parents gave them early-on in their careers.