Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

Educational attainment and the social mobility of migrants and ethnic minorities in Scotland

Project Number:



Marina Shapira (University of Edinburgh)
Jenny Ozga (University of Edinburgh)

Start Date:

Approved on 13-08-2010


Since 2004 Britain has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of migrants with a further rise in immigration after 2004; in particular, Scotland accepted since 2004 a large numbers of Eastern and Central European migrants. This research project aims, through the preparation of the available data sources and their preliminary analyses to test a feasibility of conducting a large research project on the over-time processes of socio-economic mobility of migrants and ethnic minorities in Scotland.

The issue of the social intergenerational mobility of immigrants and ethnic minorities is of very great significance in the current context of an apparent slowing in social mobility, and concerns about the capacity of education to contribute to social mobility (Fielding, 1995; Heath and Ridge, 1983). Is that development more likely to impact on immigrants more severely? There is currently insufficient research to answer that question. Although there is a growing body of literature on ethnic socio-economic inequality among different groups of population in the UK the issue of socio-economic mobility of ethnic minorities and migrants is clearly under-investigated in Scotland. Yet, the available data shows that in 2004 in Scotland while the majority of ethnic groups were not disadvantaged in terms of their educational level when compared with that of the Scottish born White population, the former were outperformed by the latter when the labour market reward for education and qualification was considered

The proposed SLS study is a feasibility pilot, aiming to explore the possibility of studying the intergenerational socio-economic mobility of migrants and ethnic minorities in Scotland. Some key questions and issues for such research may be summarized as follows: Downward social mobility, common among immigrants, creates a looser relationship between immigrants’ levels of education (usually obtained in the home country) and their occupation and social class in the country of destination (Borjas 1993.). Does this mean that the education outcomes of immigrant children will be less dependent on their parental social class than are those for the non-immigrant population? How exactly does education intervene in the relationship between an immigrant’s social origin and their social destination (Heath, A. and D. McMahon, 1997)?

This pilot study aims:

  1. To determine whether currently available data sets, in particular the SLS, allows for investigation of the topic of social mobility of ethnic minorities/migrants in Scotland on a larger scale.
  2. To conduct some preliminary analyses using the SLS to establish:
    • What is the relationship between social origin and social destination for ethnic minorities/ migrants in Scotland;
    • How education intervenes in the relationship between a migrant’s social origin and their social destination;
    • Whether migrants need to achieve higher levels of education/qualifications to receive occupational and economic rewards similar to those of white Scots;
    • If the impact of a migrant’s social origin and education qualifications on their social destination varies between:
      1. generations (I vs II generation of migrants)
      2. migrants of different ethnic origins
      3. migrants/minorities and those without migrant background


Borjas G.J. 1993. "The Intergenerational Mobility of Immigrants." Journal of Labour Economics 11 (1) Part 1: Essays in Honor of Jacob Mincer: 113-135.

Fielding, A. 1995. "Migration and Social Change: a longitudinal study of the social mobility of 'immigrants'in England and Wales." European Journal of Population 11: 107-121

Heath, A. and D. McMahon, 1997. "Educational and occupational attainment: the impact of ethnic origins". In V. Karn (ed.) , Ethnicity in the 1991 Census. V. 4: Employment, Education and Housing among the Ethnic minority Population of Britain, London: Stationery Office: 91-113.

Heath, A. and D. McMahon, 1999. Ethnic Differences in Labour Market: The Role of Education and Social Class Origins, CREST Working Paper 69, June

Heath, A and J. Ridge, 1983. "Social mobility of ethnic minorities." Journal of Biosocial Science Supplement 8: 169-84

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