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Fertility Among Immigrants’ Descendants

A nuanced evolution

It’s a question of integration, of perception, of cultural influence and, ultimately, of policy. That immigrants’ descendants tend to have fertility rates similar to the mainstream average is far from a simple demographic matter. It’s a nuanced question requiring thorough analysis across countries.

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Growing up, immigrants’ descendants are exposed to at least two cultures: the culture of their parents and the mainstream culture of the country in which they live. We know that both have varying degrees of influence on different aspects of descendants’ lives. The question is which factor has more influence on fertility decisions.

To find out, Hill Kulu, Tina Hannemann, Ariane Pailhé, Karel Neels, Sandra Krapf, Amparo González-Ferrer and Gunner Andersson analyse data on the descendants of immigrants from high-fertility countries in Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the UK. The study’s results tell a multi-dimensional story of generational and cultural transmission of demographic behaviour.

In the foreground, we can see that both the fertility patterns of the parents’ culture and that of the mainstream society have an effect on descendants’ fertility decisions. The authors show that, for example, women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin in the UK and women of Turkish descent in France and Belgium tend to have slightly higher rates of first birth compared to women with origins in the destination countries. In the UK, France and Belgium, women from most ethnic minorities had higher third-child birth rates. However, the authors note that the higher rates of first birth could simply be a statistical error due to earlier first births. More importantly, though, they point out that descendants’ fertility levels were generally quite similar to those of the native population. This was especially true in countries with robust social policies aimed at reducing inequalities between different groups.

In the background, this means two things. First, the authors predict declining fertility levels among immigrants’ descendants as fewer and fewer come from large families, the most important predictor. Second, Kulu and his co-authors foresee increasing heterogeneity among ethnic minority populations. This is because a significant number of ethnic minority families will continue to have large families.

The authors emphasise the need to recognise both trends, going forward. Should policymakers fail to do so, they risk overlooking the needs of minority youths from larger families—who will be more likely to need services like education counselling or tools for addressing discrimination in the labour market—and so perpetuate incomplete socio-economic integration.