When immigrants are aiming high: Educational achievement and attainment in light of greater aspirations

Despite migrants oftentimes pursue higher educational aspirations, in many cases they and their descendants tend to show lower educational outcomes compared to their peers in the majority population. The aim of this project is to investigate the question of how high educational aspirations in migrant families influence competence development and educational decisions across educational careers, and thus contribute to patterns of ethnic educational inequalities.


Prior research has proved that migrant families with high educational aspirations transition more frequently to the more demanding tracks, even if controlled for school achievement and social origin—compared with other families of equivalent educational levels and social position. Much less is known about the influence of educational aspirations on the development of academic competencies at school.

Overall, there are various key research gaps, which we seek to address in this project, and that can be summarized in four key points:


  1. By using high-quality longitudinal data, the project investigates the relation between educational aspirations and ethnic differences in the development of educational achievement and transitional behavior.
  2. This is based on theoretical models which explain educational decisions and learning investments in competence acquisition. The models enable the integration of disparate and oftentimes dissociated concepts and theoretical ideas, and specify the respective underlying mechanisms. The underlying considerations refer to idealistic and realistic aspirations and are developed specifically for them.
  3. It shall be investigated how achievements of students of different social and ethnic origins change, depending on the height of their educational aspirations, before central transitional episodes.
  4. The consequences of making ambitious choices in light of lower levels of prior achievement will also be put into focus.

The analysis will be based on data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS). The key substantive constructs in this project were collected in detail and consistently across the life course as part of the NEPS. This is especially the case for the measurement of idealistic and realistic aspirations. Additionally, the NEPS cohorts provide sample sizes that not only enable a comparison with the majority population, but also allows us to distinguish between different migrant groups and generation status.


The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of the DFG Priority Programme 1646 “Education as a Lifelong Process”. Its implementation occurs in close cooperation with the team from the Chair of Sociology and the Analysis of Social Structures at the University of Bamberg. The subproject at the University of Bamberg is led by Prof. Dr. Cornelia Kristen and Dr. Christoph Spörlein, the sub-project at LIfBi by Dr. Gisela Will.


Go to project website at the University of Bamberg