The story of immigrant success—usually hard work for modest gain on the part of the migrant, rewarded by bountiful opportunity for the migrant’s children—is an ingrained part of the American cultural fabric. But is it really true that “only in America” do these opportunities suggest? Some new research indicates that Canada and Australia, two countries that share some important characteristics with the United States, are the real lands of opportunity.
Elizabeth Washbrook, Jane Waldfogel, Ali Ghanghro, Miles Corak, and Bruce Bradbury looked at this through an education lens. If you look at immigrant children in Anglophone countries when they start school, they’re just as advanced in terms of cognitive skills as their peers from nonimmigrant families with one important exception—weak vocabulary and language skills. That’s what will come from growing up in a household where the local native language isn’t spoken or isn’t spoken proficiently. One major task of the school system is to help those kids whose home environment is less conducive to learning. And it happens. Whether in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, or Canada, the gap closes somewhat. But to quote Corak: “The resulting disadvantages in reading skills are overcome to a much greater degree as they progress through school in Australia and Canada than they are in the United Kingdom and the United States.”