Volume 38 - Article 23 | Pages 577–618  

Adolescents' educational aspirations and ethnic background: The case of students of African and Latin American migrant origins in Spain

By Carlos J. Gil-Hernández, Pablo Gracia


Background: Minority students were found to have high educational aspirations, considering their background characteristics. This finding is often attributed to 'migrant optimism.' Yet, whether socioeconomic, educational, or demographic differences between and within ethnic groups mediate and/or moderate students' educational aspirations remains an inconclusive question.

Objective: This study investigates the educational aspirations of children of African and Latin American migrants in Spain, looking at four critical factors: (1) family background, (2) educational performance, (3) years lived in Spain, and (4) language used at home.

Methods: Data comes from the 2010 General Evaluation of Educational Diagnostic (GEED) on lower-secondary students aged 14 (n = 19,293), on average. Multivariate logistic models are applied using mediation and moderation analyses.

Results: Results show that (1) minority students have higher college aspirations than students of Spanish origin after accounting for parental socioeconomic status and educational performance; (2) ethnic differentials in aspirations – especially for pupils with Latin American origin – are concentrated among low-performing and disadvantaged students; (3) recent arrival in Spain is not significantly associated with differences in educational aspirations within minority groups; (4) speaking Spanish at home does not lead to differences in aspirations for pupils of African origin.

Conclusions: Migrant optimism, as opposed to family language use and years of contact with the Spanish culture and society, seems to be an important factor for the high (net) educational aspirations of students from African and Latin American backgrounds.

Contribution: The article provides new evidence on ethnic heterogeneity in educational aspirations, being the first that uses representative data from the whole Spanish educational system.

Author's Affiliation

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