Back to School in a New Country? The Educational Participation of Adult Immigrants in a Life-Course Perspective

  • Janina SöhnEmail author


While the education of the children of immigrants is a much-researched theme, we know very little about the participation of adult immigrants in education. And yet, lifelong learning is a common demand in highly industrialized societies. This article provides a first empirical analysis of adult immigrants’ educational participation in Germany. It uses the novel German National Educational Panel Study with unique retrospective life-course data. By adopting a life-course perspective, both transnational continuities in the life-course as well as the ruptures caused by migration are captured. The analysis investigates in what ways participation in education is embedded in immigrants’ transnational life-course. It can be shown that immigrants’ participation in formal and nonformal full-time education is common. Hypotheses predict a central influence of (1) pre-immigration activities and (2) of legal immigration gateways. Sequence and cluster analysis detect two education-related incorporation patterns: one is marked by a dominance of educational activities and the other by phases in education alternate with employment and unemployment. The results of multivariate models underline the predictive power of pre-immigration activity, i.e., transnational continuity in immigrants’ life courses. But we can also observe substantial disruption like the transnational transition from employment to education which can be the enforced response to nonrecognition or devaluation of foreign educational credentials. Institutional opportunities and dispositions linked to legal immigration gateways are even more powerful predictors of educational participation. Altogether, the article illustrates how the interaction of structural opportunities and individual agency plays out in the formation of different incorporation trajectories of adult immigrants.


Migration Adult education Life-course theory Immigrant incorporation Germany Longitudinal data 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociological Research Institute Göttingen at Georg-August University Göttingen [Soziologisches Forschungsinstitut Göttingen (SOFI) an der Georg-August-Universität]GöttingenGermany

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