Educational Attainments and Labour Market Outcomes of the Children of Immigrants in Ontario

Research Summary:

For some children of immigrants, educational success doesn’t translate to employment success

The children of immigrants represent an increasing segment of the Canadian labour force. Yet while most tend to have higher university attainment rates than children of Canadian-born parents, some, particularly visible minority men, have higher unemployment rates and lower earnings, according to a new Ontario study commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).

The study,  Educational Attainments and Labour Market Outcomes of the Children of Immigrants in Ontario , finds that the most educated are children of immigrant Chinese, followed by East Asian and Indian. The children of Portuguese and Filipino immigrants have lower university attainment rates although when college and trades are factored in, they have higher attainment rates than children of Canadian-born parents.

Project description

Using the 1996 and 2006 Canadian Census, the study provides an overview of the socioeconomic characteristics of individuals ages 25-34 that are the children of immigrants (referred to as second generation) and live in Ontario. It examined their educational attainment, employment and income as compared to the children of Canadian-born parents (referred to as third generation). 

The study categorized ethnic groups according to the mothers’ place of birth, or fathers’ if the mother was born in Canada. A total of 26 groups, each with a minimum sample size of at least 500 people in Ontario, were followed: encompassing the United States, Jamaica, other Caribbean countries, Latin America, Scandinavia, Germany, Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal, UK and Ireland, Other Western/Southern Europe, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, other former Yugoslavian states, other Eastern Europe, China, Other East Asia, Philippines, India, Other South/South eastern Asia, Africa, Arab region, West Asia/Middle East, Australia and Pacific islands.  


The majority of second-generation individuals have higher university completion rates than their third-generation counterparts and most have attained some postsecondary education, including colleges and trades.  However, their labour market outcomes are less successful. 

As compared to third generation, second generation males have higher unemployment rates, including those whose parents came from Jamaica, India,  Latin America, Eastern Europe and East Asian countries other than China. These and other groups also have lower earnings compared to third generation males. In terms of employment rates and earnings, most second-generation women are not significantly different from third generation.

Geographic location did not fully explain differences in educational attainment between groups.  Smaller and medium-size cities were associated with lower attainment, which may be attributed to a lower demand for highly educated workers. Living in Toronto and Ottawa was associated with higher university completion rates. The majority of second-generation individuals in Ontario, especially visible minorities, are concentrated in Toronto. 

However, an increasing number of immigrants are choosing to settle outside Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.  Reports show that the proportion of recent immigrants choosing second- and third-tier cities is increasing and several studies have addressed various strategies in recruiting and retaining immigrants outside the traditional immigrant gateway cities. 

Policy implications

A recent HEQCO study with the Toronto District School Board on immigrant youth found that Caribbean students were least likely to complete high school and attend a postsecondary institution.  Other studies have shown that for ethnic communities with members of lower educational background or lower socioeconomic standing in general, the shortage of role models and the absence of institutional supports can hinder the pursuit of higher education.  The authors of this study call for further investigation of the barriers that these groups may encounter early on and throughout their high school years.

From an employment standpoint, discrimination in the labour market endured by the first generation may be evident among the children of immigrants, particularly those of visible minority origin, say the authors. They note that future studies could determine the extent to which this may play a role in the earnings disparities between non-visible and visible minority second generations. The study also notes that addressing the barriers faced by immigrants in smaller centres will need to be extended to the labour market needs of their adult children.

The authors of this study are Teresa Abada, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario; and Sylvia Lin, formerly a research analyst with HEQCO and now an analyst with the Council of Ontario Universities.​