Young Immigrants in the U.S. and Germany

November 18, 2010

On November 18, 2010, AGI hosted a seminar with DAAD/AGI Fellow Prof. Dr. Michael Windzio on “Friendship Assimilation, Ethnic Homophily, and Social Capital of Young Immigrants in the U.S. and Germany,” which was generously funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Prof. Dr. Windzio presented four dimensions of immigrant integration and assimilation, namely cognitive and cultural, structural, social, and identification. He then focused on the social dimension, which deals with the ethnic composition of network ties, such as marriage and friendships. As such, Prof. Dr. Windzio examined in particular ethnic segregation in children’s social networks in the U.S. and Germany. His comparative study must be seen in the context of the two different settings in the U.S. and Germany: The U.S. is a traditional immigration country with high ethnic and cultural diversity. In contrast to Germany, which has a tradition of ius sanguinis (a person’s nationality at birth is the same as his parents’), U.S. immigration has been based on ius soli (nationality is determined by place of birth) since 1866. Prof. Dr. Windzio’s research questions dealt with whether degrees of ethnic segregation in social networks of children and adolescents differ between the U.S. and Germany and what causes and mechanisms of ethnic segregation in social networks exist on both sides of the Atlantic.

There are three major theoretical perspectives in the current academic debate on integration. The classical assimilation theory assumes assimilation of immigrants in social status, culture, and residential locations to be a natural endpoint of a stepwise process of contact, competition, conflict, and accommodation between minority and majority groups. Segmented assimilation theory, on the other hand, argues that there is more than just straight-line assimilation to the host country and considers the considerable amount of mobility inside of the ethnic community. Finally, new assimilation theory also considers ethnic boundaries and examines what happens within the host country as well. In contrast to the above theories, new assimilation theory regards the changes and adaptations that can happen with the host country due to immigrants.

What these theories all have in common is that they emphasize the role of structural integration, which means integration through access to institutions of the receiving society, such as through educational institutions and labor markets. Prof. Dr. Windzio’s argument in this case is that social networks or more specific friendship ties have an impact on structural integration and vice versa.

Against this background, Prof. Dr. Windzio examined friendship networks of school children, their likelihood of ties, and the odds of choosing a friend from a different nationality or ethnicity. Prof. Dr. Windzio’s results in Germany show strong segregation between native Germans and Turkish children. In the U.S., there is strong segregation along racial lines, e.g., between African-Americans, whites, white Hispanics, or black Hispanics. Given these results Prof. Dr. Windzio raised the following questions: Why does racial discrimination still matter for friendship networks and why do we also find these patterns among adolescents? Qualitative results in the U.S. indicate that this racial segregation still reflects the previous white power structure in the country’s history.

In Germany, friendship networks seem to be the reproduction of network segregation over time and generations, meaning friendship ties between children lead to acquaintance of their parents. At the same time, parent acquaintance has a significant impact on strong friendship ties among children; e.g., mutual visits at home or birthday party invitations.

Finally, Prof. Dr. Windzio provided several policy recommendations. The U.S. should reduce residential segregation, for instance with busing or school reforms, in order to have better opportunities for cooperative contact. He admitted, however, that this is a difficult task and might not solve underlying segregation. Germany needs a public debate on Turkish immigrants without stigmatizing them. Religious boundaries should be avoided and contact of children’s parents with each other should be encouraged.