“A key point is that it seems to be very rare now for any group of immigrants in the UK to have more children than the UK norm, and this is also true for the children of immigrants. For some groups, such as those from North Africa and the Middle East, the children of immigrants even have smaller families than the UK norm”, says Dr Ben Wilson at the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University.

“In general, this research dispels the myth of the large immigrant family. On average, we see that the completed family size of foreign-born and UK-born women has been almost identical for everyone who was born after the 1950s. We do see some significant differences for older generations, but even then, these are only evident for some countries of origin”, says Dr Ben Wilson at the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University.

European populations have grown considerably over the last fifty years, including as a result of immigration. Given these prevailing trends, one important questions for society is whether the children of immigrants will follow this overarching trend and have smaller families than their parents. The answer to this question not only helps us to evaluate the long-run impact of immigration, but also the extent to which the descendants of immigrants are choosing between the norms of their parents and the norms of society.

Different results for immigrants from different countries

One of the main scientific contributions of this study is that, for the first time, it uses a method that allows completed family sizes to be compared across migrant generations and across countries of origin. Dr Wilson adds: “We know from US research that Mexican and Hispanic family sizes are converging across generations toward the US norm. But here we show that family size convergence is not necessarily equal for different origin groups.”

For some women, such as those with Irish or Jamaican ancestry, there is significant evidence of family size convergence across generations. The children of Irish and Jamaican immigrants now have smaller families than their parents, as well as families that are similar in size to those of UK ancestral natives (i.e. UK-born women with two UK-born parents).

On the other hand, although the children of Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants have family sizes that are lower than their parents, they have yet to converge with the UK norm.

“The reasons for this are unclear, but are likely to include both normative and structural factors, including factors such as residential segregation”, says Dr Ben Wilson at the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University.

The article The Intergenerational Assimilation of Completed Fertility: Comparing the Convergence of Different Origin Groups was published online on 31 May in the journal, International Migration Review. Dr Ben Wilson is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology at Stockholm University and a visiting fellow in the Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics. 

Ben Wilson’s research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC Studentship 1014032). He is also the principal investigator for an ongoing project that aims to study the family formation of immigrants who arrive as children, funded by the Swedish Research Council.