Aiming High and Missing the Mark? Educational Choice, Dropout Risk, and Achievement in Upper Secondary Education among Children of Immigrants in Denmark

Authors: Jesper Fels Birkelund,
Issue: 2019
Link to Publication (External Site)
Although children of immigrant origin in many European countries are observed to choose higher levels of education than native-origin peers at similar levels of academic performance, little is known about the outcomes of these high-aspiring choices. Using administrative register data covering all children born in 1994–1995 in Denmark, I examine whether the high-aspiring educational choices of children of immigrants convert into educational success or, conversely, into low grades and increased dropout rates. I find that, compared with children of Danish origin, children of immigrants are not only more likely to enrol in academic upper secondary education but also make more ambitious track and subject choices at this educational level. These ethnic choice effects are particularly pronounced at low levels of academic performance. Applying a counterfactual re-weighting approach, I show that, although ethnic choice effects reduce the ethnic gap in overall attainment of academic upper secondary education, they also widen ethnic gaps in dropout rates and achievement. My findings indicate that high aspirations among ethnic minorities operate as a double-edged sword as they help close the educational gap between them and their native-origin peers but at the cost of inducing academically weaker students to embark on less feasible educational trajectories.