Age at Arrival and Life Chances Among Childhood Immigrants

Abstract

This study examines the causal relationship between childhood immigrants’ age at arrival and their life chances as adults. I analyze panel data on siblings from Norwegian administrative registries, which enables me to disentangle the effect of age at arrival on adult socioeconomic outcomes from all fixed family-level conditions and endowments shared by siblings. Results from sibling fixed-effects models reveal a progressively stronger adverse influence of immigration at later stages of childhood on completed education, employment, adult earnings, occupational attainment, and social welfare assistance. The persistence of these relationships within families indicates that experiences related to the timing of childhood immigration have causal effects on later-life outcomes. These age-at-arrival effects are considerably stronger among children who arrive from geographically distant and economically less-developed origin regions than among children originating from developed countries. The age-at-arrival effects vary less by parental education and child gender. On the whole, the findings indicate that childhood immigration after an early-life formative period tends to constrain later human capital formation and economic opportunities over the life course.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The senstive period of language acquisition appears to primarily affect the formal aspects of language, such as phonology, morphology, and syntax, but not the processing of meaning, such as aqcuisition of vocabulary and semantic understanding (Newport 2002).

  2. 2.

    Numerous studies have reported a positive relationship between language skills and labor market outcomes (e.g., Dustmann and Soest 2002; Kossoudji 1988; McManus et al. 1983; Tainer 1988).

  3. 3.

    Identification of language-related effects of age at arrival rests on the assumption that all other age-at-arrival effects (i.e., those not related to language acquisition) are shared by children arriving in the host society (i.e., the United States and Australia) from Anglophone and non-Anglophone origin countries.

  4. 4.

    Prior to 1970, immigration to Norway primarily consisted of citizens from the Nordic countries and other Western Europeans who came to seek work or who immigrated because of family connections.

  5. 5.

    Norwegian registry-based data on year of arrival are based on the first registered stay in official statistics, whereas census or survey data used in similar studies from Australia, Canada, and the United States often rely on self-reported information by immigrants on when they first arrived, arrived for the current stay, or simply arrived (Redstone and Massey 2003).

  6. 6.

    For the calculation of stable employment, the basic amount is doubled and would equal approximately U.S. $18,200.

  7. 7.

    This information is available only from 2003. From this year onward, I use information on all annual observations when the child is 30 years or older.

  8. 8.

    Because of few observations, the South American and African origin regions were merged.

  9. 9.

    Full regression estimates for the full sample are available upon request.

  10. 10.

    These calculations use the exp(β) – 1 formula. Note also that for the analysis of log earnings conditional on employment, the sibling sample is further limited to persons in families where at least two siblings were above the employment cutoff.

  11. 11.

    The main effects of origin region and parental education will be absorbed by the sibling fixed effects.

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Acknowledgments

Early versions of this article were presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of Population Association of America in New Orleans, Statistics Norway, Stockholm University, and University of Oslo. I thank the participants at these events for their comments. I also thank Arne Mastekaasa, Torkild Hovde Lyngstad, Irena Kogan, and Anthony Heath for helpful advice and suggestions. Funding for this research was provided by the Norwegian Research Council (Grant Nos. 158058 and 236793). This research used data from Norwegian administrative registries collected by Statistics Norway.

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Correspondence to Are Skeie Hermansen.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 7 Geographical origin of children of immigrant-origin for full sample and sibling sample

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Hermansen, A.S. Age at Arrival and Life Chances Among Childhood Immigrants. Demography 54, 201–229 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0535-1

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Keywords

  • Age at arrival
  • Immigration
  • Assimilation
  • Child development
  • Sibling fixed effects