Topics in Selective Migration and Economic Assimilation of New Immigrants

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My dissertation comprises three studies on topics in selective migration and economic assimilation of new immigrants. The first study examines the influence of selective migration on Asian Americans’ academic success. Conventional explanations attribute their academic advantage to a distinctive academic culture and their socioeconomic status (SES), but ignore the importance of the relative attainment of parents formed in the pre-immigration context (i.e., the high relative educational attainment of parents compared to their non-immigrant counterparts in sending countries) in explaining Asian Americans’ academic success. Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study and the Barro-Lee dataset, this chapter shows that Asian parents’ relative attainment predicts their children’s advantage in college enrollment over whites. Part of the advantage from parents’ relative attainment is through youths’ academic culture (e.g., parental educational expectations and youths’ effort, school behaviors, and attitudes). The findings in this chapter suggest the cultural explanation for Asian Americans’ academic advantage could be overstated.

The second study investigates the emigration intentions of Chinese adolescents from a supply-side perspective. Most existing studies employing data in destination countries provide an incomplete image of the selected features of immigrants. Values and norms often attributed to immigrants, such as high educational expectations, may be shaped by experiences during pre-emigration, rather than originating from distinct cultural values or the immigration experience itself. With data from Chinese Education Panel Study, this study finds parents whose children intend to emigrate employ different parenting strategies (via family norms and parental involvement) than children with no intention to emigrate. Adolescents with emigration intentions are also positively selected based on familial income, parental education, and mother’s occupational status, but negatively selected on father’s occupational status. These findings help establish a more comprehensive image of selective migration among Chinese adolescents who potentially emigrate and suggest that distinctive norms and values of emigrants could be shaped by parenting strategies during the early planning stages of emigration.

The third study examines how new immigrants utilize potential resources from religious organizations to help their entrepreneurial businesses in the United States (U.S.). Although a number of qualitative studies have previously identified the resource attainment through ethnic churches among immigrant entrepreneurs, such evidence is limited in quantitative analysis and the role of co-ethnicity is unclear. With the data from the New Immigrant Survey, this study shows that regardless of ethnic backgrounds and religious congregations, immigrant entrepreneurs with limited familial resources have a higher level of church involvement, and higher co-ethnicity in churches also increases church involvement of immigrant entrepreneurs. These findings suggest that immigrant entrepreneurs may actively seek resources in ethnic churches. From a policy perspective, religious organizations that target immigrants in ethnic communities can potentially benefit immigrant entrepreneurs by providing co-ethnic resources and help them overcome initial barriers during economic assimilation.

As a whole, my dissertation concerns about socioeconomic mobility of new immigrants. It contributes to the research on Asian Americans’ academic advantage by integrating the pre-immigration contexts and provides a supply-side explanation on how distinctive cultural elements of potential Chinese emigrations could be selected in the pre-immigration childrearing process. Moreover, it also contributes to the research on immigrant entrepreneurship by providing quantitative evidence that religious organizations could supply resources to start-up businesses of new immigrants and help their economic assimilation in the U.S. context.






Tong, Guangyu (2020). Topics in Selective Migration and Economic Assimilation of New Immigrants. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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