Can we count on immigrants for more babies?

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Research Briefs

Can we count on immigrants for more babies?

Despite the common belief that immigrants have more babies than the native-born, a new study finds that this is not the case for child immigrants.

The study authored by sociologists Alícia Adserà, Ana Ferrer, Wendy Sigle-Rushton, and Ben Wilson and published by The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science is one of the first studies to examine the family size of women who migrated as children in an international framework.

Using data from Canada, UK, and France, the study finds that the younger a child migrates, the more likely she will have the same number of children as the native-born. On average, children who migrated before the age of nine have fertility rates that are very similar to those of the native-born.

The authors explain that, “child immigrants have had more time than adult immigrants to internalize a host country’s norms that regulate fertility behavior. Their socialization (the norms that they have been exposed to during childhood) may have taken place mostly in the destination country. Early arrival affords them more time in the host country and increases the likelihood that the young immigrants attend school and become familiar with the rules and institutions in wider society.”

However, there were large differences by country of origin. Women from countries with similar language and culture as the destination country had similar number of children. For example, women who were born in the US and later migrated as children to Canada had about the same number of children as the Canadian-born women. But women who migrated as children from Mexico, Central America and the Middle East had more children than the Canadian-born. On the other hand, women who migrated as children from Europe (except for Southern Europe) and Asia (except from Southern Asia) had fewer children than Canadian-born women. Hence, to be aware of the make-up of the foreign-born population is important in the assessment of future fertility rates.

The authors also highlight the importance of the destination country in understanding the family size of immigrants since the study reveals important differences by country of destination: “focusing on one country in isolation makes it difficult to appreciate the importance of the social and institutional context of the destination country.”

For more information, contact Ana Ferrer, University of Waterloo.

For a summary of the research, please see Research Brief #16, The Effects of Age and Background on the Fertility Patterns of Child Migrants.

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