In This Issue

Immigration and Academics

Immigrants come to the United States with different socioeconomic backgrounds (education, employment status, and occupation) and levels of proficiency in English. Past research hasn't fully considered how these factors affect children's academic achievement. Using data from the New Immigrant Survey, a longitudinal study based on a nationally representative sample of legal immigrants, Pong and Landale (p. 1543) analyzed more than 2,100 children ages 6–12. They find that parents’ education before migrating is more strongly tied to their children's achievement than anything else, either before or after migration. They also find that families’ socioeconomic status before migrating contributes significantly to their socioeconomic status after migrating, but in different ways for different aspects of their socioeconomic positions. Specifically, immigrant parents who previously held higher-status occupations tend to find lower-status jobs after migration, while those who were previously unemployed are able to find jobs after migration. The study has implications for both policy and programming.

Teachers and the school climate have a big impact on the academic experiences of Latino immigrant children living in predominantly White communities. That's what Brown and Chu (p. 1477) find in their exploration of more than 200 third and fourth graders, primarily first- and second-generation immigrants from Mexico, in 19 U.S. elementary schools. Children who had a teacher who valued diversity felt more positively about their ethnicity than children who had a teacher who felt uncomfortable with diversity. Teachers who valued diversity also seemed to establish classroom norms that discouraged peers from teasing others because of their ethnicity. The study suggests positive ways schools can help enhance intergroup harmony between Latino and European American children.

There are distinct pathways involving children's academic achievement, school engagement, and depression that lead to how youths fare as young adults. Hao and Woo (p. 1623) find that children of immigrants have an advantage in the transition to adulthood compared to children of native-born Americans. Among children of similar socioeconomic backgrounds and other characteristics, those born abroad to immigrant parents are more likely to follow the best trajectory in academic achievement and the best trajectory in school engagement, and those born in the United States to immigrant parents are more likely to follow the second-best trajectory in academic achievement. There were no differences in the depression pathways between children of immigrants and children of native-born parents. The study, which tackled an understudied group using data from Add Health, a nationally representative sample of more than 10,000 children ages 13–17 who were followed to ages 25–32, speaks of immigrant children's resiliency, despite their usually low socioeconomic status.

Cultural Affiliations

Immigrants are capable of multiple cultural affiliations and in multicultural societies, immigrants have contact with multiple cultural groups and may acquire more than one new cultural affiliation. Ferguson, Bornstein, and Pottinger (p. 1486) looked at almost 475 pairs of teens and their moms in Jamaica and the United States. They find that Jamaican immigrants in the United States are largely tricultural; that is, they're oriented toward three cultures (Jamaican, European American, and African American). Jamaican immigrant youths also are well adjusted—their behavior and grades are at least as positive as those of their nonimmigrant peers in both countries. But immigrant youths who shed their Jamaican culture in favor of either or both American cultures have fewer behavioral strengths and much lower grades than those who keep a strong ethnic affiliation. Although Caribbean immigrants make up more than half the U.S. foreign-born Black population, this is one of the first studies to investigate their cultural affiliations or adjustment relative to their nonimmigrant peers in the United States and Jamaica.

Healthy Starts

Childhood health is a strong predictor of adult health and productivity. Ziol-Guest and Kalil (p. 1494) asked: In the United States, who among the immigrant child population is most at risk for poor health? They examined nationally representative data on more than 46,000 low-income children from the 1996, 2001, 2004, and 2008 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation, a Census Bureau survey. Findings: Children's health and access to health care services differ according to the immigrant status of their parents. Specifically, low-income children of immigrants have significantly less good health and see doctors and dentists less often than native-born children. Children with at least one nonpermanent resident parent have the poorest health and are least likely to visit a doctor or a dentist compared to all other children.

Another study on health considered the issue among a broader group of immigrants. In the United States, research has identified an “immigrant advantage” in children's physical health, with foreign-born Hispanic moms, for example, more likely than native-born moms to breastfeed and fully immunize their children. Jackson, Kiernan, and McLanahan (p. 1501) looked at immigrants from disparate regions of the world and different socioeconomic backgrounds. Drawing on data from the United Kingdom and the United States, they sought to determine whether the children of immigrants have an advantage in physical and mental health around the time they enter elementary school, and whether this advantage is more pronounced among low-educated populations. Findings of this study of more than 17,000 children from birth to 5 indicate that the children of immigrants are not uniformly healthier than their peers in native-born families. Rather, the study finds variation in the immigrant advantage across physical and mental health outcomes, as well as evidence of both greater advantage and greater disadvantage among children in low-educated immigrant families.

How Families Function

Public debates persist over the quality of family life in immigrant homes, as many parents raise their children in poverty. Yet immigrant Latina mothers report few conflicts at home, rich support from spouses, and strong mental health, according to Jung, Fuller, and Galindo (p. 1510). They studied a nationally representative sample of 5,300 moms and their preschoolers from 1 to 4 years. But the investigators also found weak early learning practices in immigrant Latino homes, stemming in part from comparatively low levels of maternal education. In sharp contrast, immigrant Chinese moms reported that their homes were less harmonious, but read more with their young children, even compared with native-born White peers. Family poverty and living in a poor neighborhood undercut families’ social functioning and parents’ early learning practices. But Latinos—especially immigrants from Mexico—bring with them strong family practices and respected roles for mothers. Asians—particularly Chinese and South Asians—arrive with a deep cultural commitment to literacy but suffer from depression and household conflicts as they struggle to acculturate to the American mainstream.

Timing of Migration

Glick, Hanish, Yabiku, and Bradley (p. 1527) sought to determine how the process of immigration contributes to parenting practices and the social well-being of children born to immigrants in the United States. They compared children whose mothers arrived in the United States as young children (from birth to age 12) to those whose moms came as teens or young adults (ages 13–21) and those whose moms came when they were older than 21. The study, which is based on about 6,400 children who were part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, looked at mothers’ parenting strategies and education levels and at children's sociability and problem behaviors. Findings: The timing of mothers’ migration affects their children's social development, with parenting varying by the mothers’ age of arrival. Specifically, moms who arrived when they were 13–21 exhibited lower levels of emotional support than those who arrived as children (before age 12). And immigrant moms parented more like American moms, especially in terms of stimulation and proactive emotional responsiveness, if they spent their own childhoods in the United States.

Cross-Country Comparisons

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. That's the finding of Washbrook, Waldfogel, Bradbury, Corak, and Ghanghro (p. 1591), who used similar contemporary large-scale longitudinal datasets from each of the four countries to study more than 40,000 children born in the first 4 years of the 2000s. They find that markedly different selection mechanisms geared to labor-market outcomes don't lead to differences in families’ and parents’ capacities to give their children a good start in life, and that 4- and 5-year-old children of immigrant families have the cognitive and behavioral skills required to successfully start school in all of the countries. But no matter how motivated they are, children underperform their counterparts on vocabulary tests, especially if a language other than the official language is spoken at home.

The proportion of Spain's population that is foreign born rivals that of the United States and is among the largest of all European nations. Vaquera and Kao (p. 1560) examined differences over time in math, Spanish, and Catalan grades among immigrant and native-born children in schools in Catalonia in northeast Spain. They analyzed data from interviews with more than 2,700 children who took part in a representative, longitudinal study of families and children that began in 2006, when the teens were 13–16, and continued for four years; the children were first-, second-, and third- and higher generation youths from 47 different countries. Results suggest consistent disadvantage in all three subjects among foreign-born youths, which cannot be accounted for by background or school characteristics. The study finds a large achievement gap in the grades of foreign-born girls, compared to their native-born counterparts, but not one for boys. Latin American teens showed the largest disadvantage in terms of grades. Perceptions of school climate were especially important in explaining differences among immigrant and nonimmigrant students.

Religious Identity

It can be difficult for immigrant youths to develop ethnic and religious identities together with commitments to their receiving countries. This is especially true for teens who are raised as Muslims and whose religious identities are increasingly challenged or derogated in western host societies. Verkuyten, Thijs, and Stevens (p. 1577), in a study from the Netherlands, focused on the relationships between religious group identification and ethnic and national identity among almost 370 Moroccan-Dutch Muslim adolescents (ages 11–18 years) and their parents. Compared to their parents, teens had lower levels of ethnic identification and Muslim identification, and higher Dutch national identification, indicating that the youths were more integrated in the Netherlands than their parents. The study also finds that parents’ religious identity influenced the ethnic, religious, and host national identifications of the younger adolescents.

New Horizons

Since 1990, Latin American immigrants to the United States have dispersed beyond traditional gateway regions such as California and Texas to a number of new destinations, including North Carolina. One might think that immigrant children in these new regions would have more trouble adjusting than those in traditional gateways as they live in communities and go to schools that aren't used to their presence. In fact, Vigdor, Clotfelter, and Ladd (p. 1608) find that Hispanic youths in North Carolina who come early in their lives start with a disadvantage but outperform other children of similar economic backgrounds in the long run. Specifically, Hispanic youths who arrive by age 9 and remain enrolled in North Carolina public schools close achievement gaps with socioeconomically similar White students by sixth grade and reverse them by eighth grade, and have significantly lower high school dropout rates. Hispanics who come to North Carolina later or leave before eighth grade don't do as well. The study, using a database that covers every public school student in the state, tracked 2,800 Hispanic students starting in third grade for up to 10 years.

Teenage Transitions

Across cultures and ethnic groups, teens hold expectations about when they'll move toward autonomy. Immigrant teens from collectivist countries, such as former Communist states, expect to reach autonomy at later ages than adolescents in more individualist Western countries, but over time, they seem to adjust their expectations to those of the country to which they've moved. In their longitudinal study, Titzmann and Silbereisen (p. 1640) asked: Is this based on teens’ acquisition of customs from the society in which they now live, or is it an age-related change that's part of growing up? They find that most of the changes seen in teens’ expectations about autonomy (in both socially acceptable and less socially acceptable forms) can be attributed to normative age-related changes. Teens’ acquisition of customs from the society in which they now live was found only among adolescents who had lived in the heritage country long enough to receive a cultural imprint there and only for socially less acceptable forms of their expectations about autonomy. Conducted in Germany, the study included more than 500 ethnic German Diaspora immigrants from the former Soviet Union and 475 native German adolescents ranging in age from 10 to 19.

The second decade of life is an important period of change for cultural adaptation and well-being. Updegraff, Umana-Taylor, McHale, Wheeler, and Perez-Brena (p. 1655) took a longitudinal look at the cultural orientations and adjustments of Mexican immigrant children versus U.S.-born Mexican-origin children from early to late adolescence, focusing on almost 250 families. Findings: Girls showed more pronounced declines in traditional gender role attitudes than boys, and all youths declined in family-oriented values, time spent with family, and involvement in Mexican culture. The youths’ cultural orientations and adjustment were interrelated over time, so, for example, youths with stronger family-oriented values in early adolescence were less involved in risky behaviors in late adolescence.

Labor Market Immigration

Increasingly, children are living in families in which one or both parents work overseas to make ends meet. Jordan and Graham (p. 1672) find that children who live in these households are generally less happy than children living in nonmigrant households in the same communities, but they perform as well at school and enjoy school as much as their peers. Their study, out of the United Kingdom, looked at almost 1,500 children ages 9–11 and their caregivers in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Children were more likely to be unhappy when it was their moms who worked abroad, but paradoxically, the longer the moms were away, the less likely the children were to be unhappy. The study extends the debate about the costs and benefits of international labor migration.

Relating to Caregivers

We know from research that adults’ views of their relationships with their caregivers during early childhood and of their current romantic partners affect how they behave in romantic relationships. Haydon, Collins, Salvatore, Simpson, and Roisman (p. 1689) find that while adults’ views of their early relationships with caregivers were unrelated to how they viewed their current romantic relationships, their views of both relationships were related to the quality of parenting the adults had as toddlers. The study looked at more than 110 people from birth through adulthood. The findings underscore that while early experiences with caregivers are related to how people do in romantic relationships to some extent, other experiences matter, too.

Conflict Between Parents

Fighting between parents is linked to greater psychological problems in children. Davies, Cicchetti, and Martin (p. 1789) asked why. They tested three types of emotional reactivity in children (fear, anger, and sadness) to parents’ conflict, and two temperament traits of emotionality (irritability and distress) as possible reasons in their study of more than 200 mostly low-income 2-year-olds and their moms. They find that young children's fearful responses to conflict between parents is critical to understanding the link between children who witness aggression between their parents and increases in behavior and emotional problems over the next year. In finding that problems between parents are burdensome for children as early as the toddler period, the study can inform intervention and prevention programs.

Marital discord, a significant social problem for children, sometimes leads to problems in health and well-being. Cummings, George, McCoy, and Davies (p. 1703) took a longitudinal look at 235 primarily middle-class moms, dads, and children to find that the impact of marital problems on children in their kindergarten years is long lasting and can lead to emotional problems that contribute to difficulties in adolescence. The study focused on the links between marital conflict when the children were in kindergarten, children's emotional insecurity in the early school years, and subsequent problems when the children were teens. It concludes that conflict between parents when their children are young predicted children's emotional insecurity later in childhood, which, in turn, predicted adjustment problems in adolescence, including depression and anxiety.

Parents’ Lessons on Racism

Black parents’ lessons on race help protect their children from the effects of racism in schools. That's what Wang and Huguley (p. 1716) find in their study, which suggests that African American parents would be wise to instill a sense of racial pride in their children and prepare them for racial bias that they may encounter so their children are less vulnerable to the effects of racial discrimination from teachers and peers in school. The study looked at the home and school racial experiences of 630 African American high school students in a diverse but majority-Black urban county; participants were from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. While instilling racial pride was shown to have a greater protective effect, preparing youths for bias was also a protective factor, and the combination of both was found to be ideal in offsetting the negative effect of racial discrimination on academic engagement and performance.

Preschoolers: Owning, Talking, Inducing

Ownership is a basic human concept, “mine” is one of children's first words, and even toddlers protest if someone tries to take away a toy they're playing with. But what do young children really understand about ownership? Gelman, Manczak, and Noles (p. 1732) sought to find out. Their study of more than 110 preschoolers finds that these sophisticated understandings seem to develop sometime between ages 2 and 3, earlier than previously thought. In particular, 3-year-olds know that owning an object isn't just about liking or playing with the object, but means that there's an invisible history that links the owner with the object and that persists over time.

Research tells us that induction—children making a conclusion about an unfamiliar item based on what they already know about an item from a group—is an important way that children learn about the world. But items rarely fit neatly into only one group and each of these groups can also provide a very different basis for induction. Nguyen (p. 1748), in a study of about 270 children ages 3–5, finds that by age 4, children can make different types of inferences about a single item that belongs to two groups and that they select the most relevant group to make the most appropriate induction. The study helps us understand how children think and learn about complex matters.

Children vary widely in their vocabulary skills at school entry. Rowe (p. 1762), in a longitudinal study, finds that while the overall amount of talk caregivers direct to children in daily interactions is important in fostering vocabulary development, other more qualitative aspects of caregiver talk are important as well. The study followed 50 families from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, with home visits at 18, 30, and 42 months, and tests of vocabulary comprehension at 30, 42, and 54 months. Children who had the greatest vocabularies were those whose parents talked with them a lot during interactions as infants, used a varied and sophisticated vocabulary with them as toddlers, and talked to them about things that happened in the past or were going to occur in the future as preschoolers.

How Others View Us

Self-presentation involves the way we try to shape the impressions we make on others, and research suggests that concerns about such issues become steadily more important during the elementary school years. Banerjee, Bennett, and Luke (p. 1805), in a British study, asked what kinds of social situations encourage young children to start thinking about their public identity. They asked about 470 children, ages 4–9, to imagine violating different kinds of rules—both breaking social conventions for behavior and appearance and committing moral transgressions such as hurting others and stealing. Even though the social–conventional violations were seen as less serious, these were the ones that prompted children to report social concerns and feelings related to their public identity. And when the children were told they were being videotaped while imagining themselves breaking moral rules or heard about other children being ridiculed for breaking such rules, they had more concerns about public image. The study concludes that children's concerns about how they appear to others are heavily influenced by seeing how others react to their behaviors.

Being victimized by peers and underachieving academically help explain why aggressive children in elementary school develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. That's what van Lier et al. (p. 1775) find in their effort to understand why about half of elementary school children who are aggressive are also anxious or depressed. They looked at a representative sample of more than 1,500 Canadian children from ages 6 to 8, finding that for both boys and girls, children's aggressive behavior problems led to underachievement in school and victimization by peers. In turn, academic underachievement and peer victimization predicted rises in symptoms of anxiety and depression. And peer victimization also led to further increases in aggressive behavior.

Adding Up the Effects of Obesity

Obesity is increasing in children and has been linked to numerous health problems. In a longitudinal study, Gable, Krull, and Chang (p. 1822) tested new ideas about relations between children's weight status and how they do in school. They studied 6,250 children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort and conclude that children's weight status is associated with their math performance. Specifically, compared with children who were never obese, boys and girls whose obesity persisted from kindergarten entry through fifth grade performed worse on math tests, starting in first grade, and their lower performance continued through fifth grade. Further, the association between weight status and math performance was explained, in part, by girls’ ability to get along with peers, and for both boys and girls, by their expression of sadness and anxiety.

Anne Bridgman