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Calibrated Ambitions: Low Educational Ambition as a Form of Strategic Adaptation Among Chinese Youth in Spain



Deemed “model minorities,” second-generation Chinese-Americans have, on average, high levels of educational attainment and, as a result, they have experienced more upward mobility than other groups. Yet, on the other side of the Atlantic, a strikingly different story about Chinese immigrants and their offspring emerges. Based on analysis of the Longitudinal Study of the Second Generation in Spain, findings from this study show that Chinese youths in Spain have substantially lower educational ambitions and attainment than youths from every other nationality. Met with discrimination at school and in the labor market, yet finding financial success in niche markets as small business owners, I argue that the Chinese in Spain have, at least temporarily, forged an alternative pathway of mobility based on entrepreneurial endeavors rather than educational accomplishments – a formula passed on from immigrant parents to their offspring. The way Chinese youths in Spain have calibrated their ambition represents a form of strategic adaptation to the barriers put up against immigrant minorities in Spanish society.