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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 and how ambitious educational decisions affect further educational progress.



Against this background, the project addressed several research gaps. The research program can be summarized as follows:

By using high-quality longitudinal data, the project investigated the relation between educational aspirations and ethnic differences in the development of educational achievement and transitional behavior.

This is based on theoretical models which explain educational decisions and learning investments in competence acquisition. The models enabled the integration of disparate and oftentimes dissociated concepts and theoretical ideas, and specified the respective underlying mechanisms. The underlying considerations referred to idealistic and realistic aspirations and were developed specifically for them.

It was investigated in detail how achievements of students of different social and ethnic origins change, depending on the height of their educational aspirations, before central transitional episodes. The consequences of making ambitious choices in light of lower levels of prior achievement were also put into focus.



The analysis was 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 was especially the case for the measurement of idealistic and realistic aspirations. Additionally, the NEPS cohorts provided sample sizes that not only enabled a comparison with the majority population, but also allowed us to distinguish between different migrant groups and generation status.


Project profile

Project partners
University of Bamberg



Schmaus, M., Olczyk, M., Neumeyer, S., & Will, G. (2024). High realistic aspirations – Do normative pressures overthrow rational calculations? Applying the model of frame selection to the educational aspirations of immigrant and majority students in Germany. Rationality and Society, 36(1), 34-65.


Dochow-Sondershaus, S., & Neumeyer, S. (in press). Which facet of immigrant optimism best explains immigrant students’ higher transition rates to academic upper secondary education? Insights from causal mediation analysis. SocArXiv. Preprint.
Neumeyer, S., Olczyk, M., Schmaus, M., & Will, G. (2022). Reducing or widening the gap? How the educational aspirations and expectations of Turkish and majority families develop during lower secondary education in Germany. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 74(2), 259–285.


Dochow, S., & Neumeyer, S. (2021). An investigation of the causal effect of educational expectations on school performance: Behavioral consequences, time-stable confounding, or reciprocal causality? Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 71, Article 100579.