Self-Perceived Integration of Immigrants and Their Children

By Wu, Zheng; Schimmele, Christoph M. et al. | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Self-Perceived Integration of Immigrants and Their Children


Wu, Zheng, Schimmele, Christoph M., Hou, Feng, Canadian Journal of Sociology


INTRODUCTION

Prior studies on the integration of immigrants and their children have focused largely on their socioeconomic mobility, language use, residential segregation, intermarriage, and other external criteria of well-being (Houle and Schellenberg 2010; Waters and Jimenez 2005). This study contributes to the literature through an examination of self-perceived integration. The objective is to determine whether sense of belonging to Canada and feelings of discomfort living in the host society differs across generational cohorts of immigrants. The question "Do I belong?" is, perhaps, a sharper and more pervasive consideration for immigrants than the Canadian-born, especially among racial minorities. The answer to this question depends a lot on the extent to which immigrants perceive Canada as "home" and also their perceptions of inclusion (or exclusion) within their host society.

This study disaggregates the immigrant population into first generation, 1.5 generation, and second generation immigrants. However, a fine-grained analysis of immigrants cannot stop here. The process of integration also depends on the ethno-racial background of immigrants and the structural characteristics of their settlement environments. Racial discrimination and residential concentration (e.g., segregation) are major constraints on the integration of immigrants. Studies on the so-called "new immigration" question whether the previous pathways of immigrant adaptation/integration remain viable, given the shifts in the demographic composition of immigration streams after immigration reform and the settlement patterns of recent immigrants (see Alba and Nee 1997; Gans 1992; Portes and Zhou 1993). These contextual conditions are fundamental to the settlement experience.

While integration could be conditional on generational status, we cannot assume that these intergenerational effects are the same across different groups of immigrants and social environments. A better assumption is that both ethno-racial status and neighbourhood context confound or influence the relationship between immigrant generation and social integration. The main questions are whether being a racial minority or living in a neighbourhood with a high concentration of co-ethnics are constraints on social integration and whether these conditions have an influence on intergenerational progress or decline. To address these questions, this study uses multilevel models, which are suitable for assessing contextual effects, and focuses on urban Canadian neighbourhoods. Since the 1970s, Canada has become increasingly diverse through immigration from non-European countries, and multiculturalism has been an official policy of the federal government since 1982. This makes Canada an ideal setting for observing the integration of immigrants.

CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUND

Few Canadian studies have addressed the subjective well-being of immigrants and their children. What is known, however, demonstrates the importance of considering subjective assessments of their settlement experience. What is troubling is that both adult and young immigrants report lower levels of life satisfaction than their Canadian-born counterparts, and this associates with their socioeconomic and ethno-racial status (Burton and Phipps 2010). Their life satisfaction, moreover, does not appear to be related to years since arrival in Canada, which implies that immigrants encounter long-term barriers to subjective well-being. The perception of acceptance (or discrimination) in the host society is a salient aspect of the life satisfaction of immigrants (Houle and Schellenberg 2010). Having social ties (e.g., good perceptions of neighbours) increases their life satisfaction. In contrast, the experience of discrimination has a well-observed negative effect on their life satisfaction, and it also can disrupt their adaptation to the host society (Chow 2007; Vohra and Adair 2000). The problems that hinder life satisfaction among immigrants tend to kindle regrets about their decision to immigrate to Canada (Houle and Schellenberg 2010). …

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