Understanding Intergenerational Social Mobility

Filipino Youth in Canada

Philip Kelly February 19th, 2014

Canadian research on intergenerational social mobility has shown that there is considerable upward mobility among the children of immigrants. However, there are some groups that are exceptions to the overall pattern. This study examines the situation of one such group – the children of immigrants from the Philippines. In aggregate, Filipino youth present a double anomaly: they are less likely to hold a degree than either their parents or their peers in other racialized groups. The reasons for this need to be understood, particularly given that the Philippines is currently one of Canada’s leading source countries for new immigrants.

Using interviews with Filipino community leaders to supplement statistical data, Philip Kelly explores three factors that shape youth educational and employment trajectories. The first relates to family resources of money and time. Immigrant parents’ educational and professional qualifications tend not to yield commensurate rewards in the labour market. Financial hardship thus shapes family life, as parents work extra jobs and hours or in sectors that require irregular and shift work. This results in little time for parental oversight and assistance for their children. In addition, there may be long periods of family separation due to the conditions of the Live-in Caregiver Program (90 percent of workers in the program are from the Philippines).

The second factor concerns the networks and information flows through which youth navigate the labour market. Social networks are key to shaping educational choices and employment trajectories. Kelly’s research found that Filipino networks tend to consist of Filipino-background friends and relatives. This leads to labour market marginality being reproduced from one generation to the next.

The third relates to how constructions of “Filipino-ness” shape the self-esteem and aspirations of young people. Faced with the deprofessionalization of their parents, some Filipino youth may be motivated to aim higher, but many resign themselves to lower positions. The lack of role models in the larger community, especially for young boys, is a related problem. Representations and racialization of Filipino identity within wider Canadian society, and the nonrecognition of that identity in school curricula, also play a role.

Kelly makes a number of recommendations, some of which also apply to other immigrant–background communities: intensify efforts to improve immigrants’ access to professions and credential recognition; recognize the importance of extended families in the success of the next generation; lessen precarity for those in the Live-in Caregiver Program by considering giving workers permanent residence upon arrival; and support role-modelling and mentoring, particularly to improve educational achievement among males. Finally, the author underlines the need to collect large-scale data by, among other things, reinstating the compulsory long-form census to accurately track intergenerational outcomes.

The failure of Canadian labour markets to fully recognize and deploy the education, training and skills of immigrants has been widely acknowledged. This debate on access to professions, foreign-credential recognition and immigrant employment has yielded some tangible changes in immigrant selection processes and in institutional structures that are designed to make regulated trades and professions more accessible. Nevertheless, there remains a tendency to see immigrant settlement as a short-term process and to assess it in relation to the satisfaction of immediate Canadian labour market needs, the employment trajectories of immigrants themselves, and short-term settlement needs such as language training, mentoring and access to services

The longer-term outcomes of immigrant settlement, manifested in the trajectories of the children of immigrants, have been less widely debated. In part, perhaps, this is because Canada can justifiably claim that the children of immigrants tend to be well integrated into schools, workplaces and Canadian society in general. Canada has not seen the outbursts of frustration and social unrest that have occurred in parts of Europe and Australia among alienated youth who are the locally born children of immigrants.

There are, however, good reasons to examine the pathways followed by the children of immigrants with some care. One reason, framed by Corak (2008), is that while Canada has been spared widespread youth disaffection of the kind seen elsewhere, it would be a mistake for us to assume that we are immune. If Canada has indeed successfully created pathways for social inclusion and upward mobility, then we need to understand and nurture them. And if some groups are being systematically excluded from such pathways, then we must address this issue.

Avoiding a descent into violent social unrest is, however, a rather unambitious goal for Canadian youth. There are larger justifications for ensuring that pathways to upward mobility are free-flowing. In comparison to other societies, such as those of the United Kingdom and the United States, Canadian society has a greater degree of social mobility between generations, which allows talent and creativity to prosper (Freeland 2012). This does not, of course, address the inequalities in Canadian society that upwardly mobile individuals are ascending through, but it does at least ensure that privilege is not simply a birthright.

More prosaically, there are some specific reasons why we should now be engaged in discussing outcomes for the children of immigrants. The first concerns sheer numbers.

In 2011, 17.4 percent of all Canadians (just over 5.7 million) were members of the second generation (meaning that they had at least one foreign-born parent). In the 15-to-24-year-old cohort in particular, this figure rose to 19.8 percent. A further 15.3 percent of this age cohort were first-generation immigrants — many of them having arrived with their parents and having -received at least part of their education in the Canadian system. This implies that up to one-third of all young Canadians in this transitional age group either have at least one immigrant parent or were immigrants themselves.

A second reason is that Canadian immigration policy seeks to attract “the best from the world to help build a nation” (Citizenship and Immigration Canada 2012). But a key element of Canada’s value proposition is that its advanced health care, education and social infrastructure will provide a better future for its immigrants and their families. At a time when competition for “the best” is increasing — as traditional immigrant settlement countries vie for them but potential immigrants’ home countries also begin to offer them attractive opportunities — the prospects for immigrants are more important than ever. Furthermore, many immigrants understand that an implicit part of the “contract” is that, even if their own professional advancement suffers a setback when they arrive in a new cultural context, their children’s future is assured. If the upward mobility of the children of immigrants appears to be impeded, then a key component of Canada’s value proposition to “the best from the world” is compromised.

A fairly small, but analytically rigorous, research literature has emerged since the mid-2000s concerning the educational and employment outcomes for the children of immigrants to Canada. Much of this literature draws theoretical inspiration from (and makes empirical comparisons with) a more established stream of work in the United States (see, for example, Portes and Rumbaut 2001; Kasinitz et al. 2008). In Canada, the emergence of this research reflects a number of circumstances. First, and most importantly, the expansion of immigration flows and the diversification of source countries in the late 1960s have meant that a highly diverse second generation has come of age within the last decade. The children of immigrants who arrived in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s are now beginning their post-secondary education and entering labour markets. Second, in the last decade, large-scale data sources have become available, allowing questions to be asked about this group — including the questions in the General Social Survey, the Ethnic Diversity Survey, the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada and the Census of Canada.

This study extends existing debates in two ways. First, the Canadian literature on intergenerational social mobility in immigrant families has noted that there are some clear exceptions to the general pattern of upward intergenerational mobility, and that specific communities face issues that are not captured in aggregate data for the next generation as a whole. This study takes up the case of one such group: the children of immigrants from the Philippines.

The second departure from most existing literature comes in the form of the data that are used here to understand the social processes that lie behind aggregate patterns. Most of the published literature on the second generation in Canada has addressed the issue of social mobility through quantitative analysis of large-scale data sets. In this study, I establish some general patterns using large-scale data but then use qualitative material to understand the social dynamics that underpin these trends.

In the first section of the study, I briefly review existing evidence concerning the educational and employment outcomes for the children of immigrants in Canada, including some of the factors that appear to shape the process of upward social mobility. I note that there is a diversity of experience in different immigrant communities and therefore a need to examine the trajectories of specific groups. I devote the second section to comparing the experiences of Filipino immigrants with those of other visible minority groups. As I discuss in the third section, the picture that emerges is an anomalous one: first-generation Filipino immigrants arrive with unusually high levels of education, but their children attain comparatively low levels. While I have developed this picture using newly released data from the 2011 National Household Survey (Statistics Canada 2012), whose reliability is uncertain, the general outlook is corroborated in other studies based on diverse data sources. In the fourth section, I draw upon qualitative data to fill in some of the social processes and experiences that lie behind the statistical data. I conclude the study with some policy proposals.

The Children of Immigrants in Canada

Across a variety of studies using different data sources, analytical techniques and definitions, a consistent general pattern emerges in relation to educational and employment outcomes for the children of immigrants (see table 1).1 While successive generations of Canadians have been more highly educated than their parents, the children of immigrants, as a whole, do even better. There are clearly pathways of upward mobility through which the next generation achieves higher levels of education and finds better jobs than their immigrant parents. The children of immigrants are, for example, more likely to graduate from high school than the children of Canadian-born parents, and more likely than either their parents or their third-generation peers to graduate from university.

The studies listed in table 1 present a variety of factors that have been found (statistically) to correlate with education and labour market outcomes for the children of immigrants (overviews are provided by Picot and Hou 2011a, 2011b; Picot and Sweetman 2012).

One key set of factors revolves around the resources that parents can provide for their children. Financial resources are needed to keep children in education programs, especially at the post-secondary level. Bonikowska and Hou (2010), for example, find that over time the declining labour market outcomes for new immigrants, and hence the declining financial resources to support their children, have “tempered” the generally superior educational achievements of generation 1.5 and the second generation.2 At the same time, however, parental economic circumstances have not always been found to correlate with children’s educational success (Aydemir, Chen, and Corak 2008; Reitz, Zhang, and Hawkins 2011). Anisef et al. (2010) find that other factors appear to compensate for the material disadvantages of immigrant families and still ensure the educational success of the next generation. Abada and Tenkorang (2009b) point out that higher levels of financial assets held by immigrants upon arrival might be a better indicator, as they smooth the economic integration of parents and thereby establish longer-term financial stability for the household (although this variable isn’t available in most data sets). This might also shape the neighbourhoods in which immigrant families settle, which in turn would determine the quality of the local elementary and high schools. Disadvantaged schools in poorer neighbourhoods have been correlated with lower graduation rates (Anisef et al. 2010). Parental income is, then, a variable that seems to be linked to children’s success in some ways, but the statistical evidence is inconclusive.

kelly table1

Another resource that parents provide for their children is their own level of education. Boyd (2002) points to a consistent correlation in many contexts between parental education and the level of post-secondary achievement among the next generation. In part, this is because higher education is linked to higher incomes, but it also speaks to the ways in which stimulation and learning situations are created in the home and how expectations and aspirations are established. However, as with parental income, the link is not always straightforward. Aydemir, Chen, and Corak (2008) find that overall, parental education in Canada does not correlate with educational outcomes among the next generation (see also Reitz, Zhang, and Hawkins 2011). In some cases, this is because parents have achieved high levels of human capital that are not recognized in Canada, and they therefore work in low-paying jobs, making it difficult for their children to reproduce their educational attainment (Abada, Hou, and Ram 2009). Conversely, in other cases, parental levels of educational attainment are relatively low, and yet their children do exceptionally well (in the Chinese community, for example — see Abada, Hou, and Ram 2008).

Family structure also correlates with children’s educational achievement. Two-parent families are consistently more likely to produce children who graduate from university (Abada, Hou, and Ram 2009; Abada and Tenkorang 2009a, 2009b). It is not clear, however, if this is actually based on the presence of two parents or if single-parent families are more likely to have lower incomes. Another factor, and certainly one relevant to the Filipino community, concerns the separation of families during the migration process. When one parent comes first to Canada and is later joined by a spouse and children, family relations may be strained, with lasting effects (Abada, Hou, and Ram 2009). More broadly, when a parent arrives with precarious citizenship status (as in the case of live-in caregivers), there is evidence that his or her long-term economic integration will be negatively affected and the financial resources available to support children will be insufficient (Goldring and Landolt 2012). Finally, for children born overseas — the members of generation 1.5 — age at arrival can be a key factor in determining the success of integration into the Canadian school system.

The role of language inside and outside the home would seem to play a role. Perhaps counterintuitively, Kučera concludes that “a foreign language environment may have somewhat benefited the sons and daughters of immigrants” (2008, 25). This may speak to the importance of ethnocultural identity and strong family and community ties in shaping children’s outcomes. Abada and Tenkorang (2009b) suggest that speaking a mother tongue at home (and thereby maintaining a meaningful channel of communication with parents) while speaking an official language (English or French) outside the home is the best preparation for youth to attain educational success. Interestingly, Anisef et al. (2010) find that students whose first language is not English are more likely to graduate from high school in Toronto, while those whose first language is English are more likely to graduate if they attend a high school with very large numbers of non-English-speakers.

The wider community’s role is as complex as that of the home. There is evidence that growing up in a large community of coethnics3 is positively correlated with educational outcomes. Boyd, for example, suggests that large immigrant communities provide a “critical mass supporting education” (2002, 1055). At the same time, this bonding social capital that provides an affirming and supportive environment and positive role models needs to be balanced with bridging social capital that can offer pathways out of ethnic enclaves. The danger is that networks will face inward and only perpetuate marginalization in a process that has been termed “ethnic mobility entrapment” (Abada and Tenkorang 2009b; Li 2003). Interestingly, it has been suggested that strong coethnic group ties are more likely to affect outcomes for girls, while boys benefit from a strong sense of ethnic identity (Abada, Hou, and Ram 2009). Ties with a coethnic community through formal or informal organizations also seem to be significant; youthful involvement in such organizations is correlated with post-secondary educational achievements (Abada and Tenkorang 2009b; Abada and Lin 2011).

While family and community settings shape opportunities and are perhaps easier to measure, individual attitudes, ambitions and aspirations are difficult to quantify but undoubtedly important. Anisef et al. (2010) point to the continuation of cultural practices brought from home countries — such as conformity, hard work and deference to authority — as one factor. A cultural valorization of parental respect may also play a part. In turn, the expectations and priorities that parents decide to communicate are important and may be shaped by established pathways for upward mobility in countries of origin (Finnie and Mueller 2009). Some have speculated that individual drive and motivation come from a lack of opportunity in the country of origin, especially for women. Discrimination or exclusion in Canada may provide a motivation for young people, but the resulting distrust of social institutions can undermine any motivation to succeed (Abada, Hou, and Ram 2009; Abada and Tenkorang 2009a, 2009b). Abada and Tenkorang (2009b) point, in particular, to a lack of trust in mainstream institutions among Black youth as a cause of low university graduation rates. The spectre of discrimination is also evident in the persistence of an earnings gap between visible minorities and Whites, as identified by Skuterud (2010) and Hou and Coulombe (2010).

There are also significant variations across space. The children of immigrants who have arrived in the last few decades are more likely to be growing up in large urban regions than smaller centres or rural areas. The higher average educational attainments and incomes in large urban centres are therefore a part of the picture (Picot and Hou 2011b; Reitz, Zhang, and Hawkins 2011). Within urban regions, patterns vary across neighbourhoods. In part, this is simply a proxy for income levels, but schools and other neighbourhood institutions may also vary both in quality and in the expectations of educational attainment that they communicate to young people.

In sum, a complex array of factors affects generation-1.5 and second-generation outcomes, but a consistent message of many studies has been the importance of understanding group-specific experiences. Immigrants from different countries of origin have diverse histories and geographies of arrival, have used various immigration programs and channels, and have experienced different modes of integration into Canadian society. The result has been some stark differences in the outcomes for youth in various communities. Few studies have drilled down into the specific experiences of youth in particular communities.

A further feature of existing studies is that they have relied on the rich set of statistical data that has been generated by the census of Canada and other large-scale surveys over the last two decades. While highly sophisticated in their analysis, they identify the correlations and patterns that emerge from the data rather than the processes that underlie such patterns. It is important, therefore, that we complement them with qualitative data that speaks to the experiences of individuals, families and ethnic communities in ways that cannot be captured by statistics alone.

Filipino Migration to Canada

Since 2009, the Philippines has been the top or second-highest country for immigration to Canada and a major source of temporary foreign workers (CIC, Facts and Figures, 2012). Over time, immigration from the Philippines to Canada has exhibited, in some respects, a pattern similar to that from other nontraditional source countries. After the government made changes to Canadian immigration regulations in the late 1960s, immigration from the Philippines gradually increased from a few thousand individuals per year to almost 10,000 annually by 1974. Histories of the community in Canada suggest that many early arrivals were health care professionals, some coming from the United States once they had completed an exchange program there (Bautista 2012; Bonifacio 2013; Chen 1998; Cusipag and Buenafe 1993; Dalayoan, Enverga-Magsino, and Bailon 2005; Laquian 1973; Laquian and Laquian 2008).

kelly figure1

Political instability and economic stagnation in the Philippines in the final years of the Marcos dictatorship (which ended in 1986) and during the administration of Corazon Aquino (1986-92) caused increasing numbers of Filipinos to come to Canada in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, as shown in figure 1. At the same time, the occupational mix of immigrants began to change. The Canadian government’s Foreign Domestic Movement (FDM) program (1982-93) brought women to work as domestic caregivers and was increasingly dominated by arrivals from the Philippines. The replacement of the FDM with the Live-in Caregiver Program (LICP) in 1993 created a significant new immigration channel. For the period 1993-2009, the LICP accounted for 26.3 percent of all immigrant arrivals from the Philippines (Kelly et al. 2011; Toronto Immigrant Employment Data Initiative 2011). By the late 2000s, the LICP was the single largest immigration program used by Filipino arrivals (see figure 2). This development is significant because it is associated with a broader trend toward two-step immigration, which involves a period of precarious status followed by permanent residency (if certain conditions are met) (Goldring and Landolt 2012). The result, in the case of the LICP, has been poor economic outcomes for those entering through the program, long periods of family separation, and an association of Filipino identity with a certain type of work (Pratt and Philippine Women Centre 2003; Spitzer and Torres 2008; Pratt 2012; Atanackovic and Bourgeault forthcoming).

kelly figure2

There has also been a distinctive geography associated with Filipino arrivals. The Toronto Census Metropolitan Area was the destination for 48.4 percent of Filipino immigrants in 1980-2009, Vancouver for 22.7 percent and Winnipeg for 11.8 percent. In 2011, the National Household Survey (Statistics Canada 2012) recorded 230,0754 Filipinos (by visible minority status) in Toronto. Vancouver’s Filipino population amounted to 112,090, while the third largest, that of Winnipeg, amounted to 56,670. Unlike Toronto or Vancouver, where the Filipino population is widely dispersed, Winnipeg has a spatially concentrated pattern of settlement in the North End (Kelly et al. 2009).

kelly figure3

While most cities across Canada have seen a mix of Family Class, Federal Skilled Worker Program and LICP entrants, the proportions vary (see figure 3). Winnipeg presents a particularly unusual case, as its large Filipino community (the largest, as a proportion of the city’s population, in Canada) has come primarily through the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Family Class and Provincial Nominee Program. The LICP is seldom used in Manitoba. Conversely, almost 40 percent of Filipino arrivals in Ottawa came through the LICP. It is also notable that only Vancouver has a substantial (though still small) minority of arrivals who have come through the Entrepreneur/Investor Class.

If we compare the Philippines with other major source countries, we see a distinctive pattern (see figure 4). Overall, the LICP looms large, while wealthy immigrants arriving through Entrepreneur/Investor Class play a much smaller role. The pattern of economic outcomes for Filipino immigrants has reflected these immigration channels. While Filipino immigrants have high levels of education and very high levels of employment, they have tended to enter low-paying and low-status segments of the labour force, and they are heavily concentrated in certain types of work (especially health care, hospitality and manufacturing) (Kelly 2006, 2010; Kelly et al. 2012).

Table 2 presents a variety of human capital and labour market characteristics of Filipinos and other groups aged 55 to 64.5 Of the Filipino, South Asian and Chinese men and women in this age category, over 95 percent are immigrants. According to some basic measures of human capital, we would expect Filipinos to be doing well in the Canadian labour market. For example, a far lower proportion of Filipinos are using nonofficial languages at home. This does not, in itself, suggest a lack of proficiency in English or French among those who do not use official languages at home, but it does suggest the extent to which the official languages are spoken with fluency by Filipinos. As another measure of human capital, table 2 also shows that the percentage of Filipinos educated to the bachelor’s degree level or above is much higher than that of any of the comparison groups. If rates of participation and unemployment are taken as indicators of labour market success, then Filipinos are doing very well, but there is evidence that their high levels of human capital are not being recognized in the labour market. The percentage of Filipinos in this age group who are in management occupations is far lower than the rate of the comparison groups, and only about one-third of the rate found in the general population. Meanwhile, there are very high levels of concentration among Filipino men in manufacturing industries and among Filipina women in the health care sector. Finally, mean employment income (for those who worked full-time for the full year) for Filipinos is well below those of the comparison groups, especially in the case of Filipino men, whose mean wage is almost $20,000 below the average for the total population (despite the fact that they are almost twice as likely to hold a university degree).

kelly figure4

The brief history of Filipino immigration to Canada provided in this section sets an important context for the outcomes of generation 1.5 and the second generation.

kelly table2

Evidence for an Outcome Anomaly among Filipino Youth

In this section, we turn to the outcomes of Filipino youth in terms of education and labour market indicators and compare them to those of youth from other communities.6

Tables 3a and 3b present data for people in the 25-to-29 age cohort. Examining this cohort allows us to assess educational and labour market outcomes among those who are young enough to have had recent experience of the educational system but old enough to have finished their formal education and entered the labour market.

Table 3a shows all nonimmigrants in this age cohort. While the nonimmigrant category conflates second-generation children of immigrants with those who are members of the third or fourth generation or beyond, there is consistency in the sense that they have all, for the most part, been born and raised in Canada.7 The table allows us to compare Canadian-born Filipinos with Canadian-born people in the same age cohort from other visible minority groups and in that cohort within the population as a whole.

A few notable conclusions can be drawn from the data. First, young nonimmigrant Filipino men and women have generally very high participation rates in the labour market (meaning that they are either employed or looking for work). Second, Filipinos have one of the lowest unemployment rates of any group. Both men and women have unemployment rates below the average for the population as a whole (well below, in the case of Filipino men). Their overall unemployment rate is also well below that of most other racialized groups.

Turning to educational achievement among nonimmigrant Filipinos, both men and women in this age cohort are notably less likely than those in most other racialized groups, and the population in general, to have no form of diploma or certificate (including a high school diploma). Just 2.7 percent of Filipina women and 4.6 percent of Filipino men have no high school or other certification.

University graduation, however, presents a more mixed picture. With 41 percent holding a bachelor’s or higher-level degree, nonimmigrant Filipina women exceed the general population’s average but fall below that of most other racialized groups (with the exception of Blacks and Latin Americans). Compared with Chinese and South Asian women, they are far behind. Canadian-born Filipino men present a somewhat similar picture, graduating from university at rates that exceed national averages. However, they are well behind several other groups. It is notable that Filipino men perform considerably worse than Filipina women in terms of university education, and in terms of failure to attain any certification at all (including high school graduation), but this is a gendered pattern of uneven achievement that holds true for all population groups.

In sum, Canadian-born Filipino men and women are unlikely to be entering the labour market with no certification at all, and they tend to exceed the national average for their age cohort in terms of university graduation. Nevertheless, their rate of university graduation is substantially below that of other racialized groups in the same age cohort (especially Chinese and South Asians). They also show very high levels of labour market participation and low levels of unemployment.

kelly table3

Table 3b allows us to examine the same variables, but for immigrants to Canada who landed between 1991 and 2000. This means that these individuals were between the ages of 5 and 18 when they immigrated and were therefore likely to have been integrated at some level into the Canadian educational system before entering the labour market.8

Once again, among 25-to-29-year-olds, we see anomalously high levels of participation in the labour market and anomalously low levels of unemployment. Both Filipino men and Filipina women have the highest participation rates among those of all racialized groups and the lowest levels of unemployment. In that sense, at least, their economic integration is clearly successful.

Turning to educational achievements, we see that only 4 percent of Filipina women fail to achieve any certification, which is less than the national average and less than rates for most other racialized groups. Filipino men, however, exhibit a troubling pattern, with 9.6 percent failing to achieve high school or any other credentials. While lower than that of some other racialized groups, this rate is slightly higher than the national average.

The data that cause most concern, however, are those for the rate of university graduation. About a quarter of Filipina women in this cohort graduate with a degree, which is not the lowest rate among racialized groups, but it is well below the national average and far below the rates achieved by other immigrant groups, including Chinese, South Asians and Koreans. The picture is even worse in the case of Filipino men in this age/immigration cohort. Only 13.2 percent have a university degree — the lowest rate among those of all the population groups shown, and far below the national average. It would seem, then, that while immigrant Filipino youth are finding their way into the labour market, they are not graduating from university in the numbers we would expect.

The data presented in table 3b become even more anomalous when placed in the context of table 4, which attempts to provide a picture of the parents’ generation. Available data sources do not allow for a direct comparison between young people and their parents in terms of educational attainment and labour market outcomes. In table 4, however, immigrants who landed in the same decade, 1991 to 2000, and who were aged 55 to 64 at the time of the 2011 National Household Survey (Statistics Canada 2012), are profiled. This provides us with an approximation of the parents’ generation for the 25-to-29-year-olds in table 3b.

A few features immediately stand out. First, among Filipinos, the same patterns of very high labour market participation and low levels of unemployment are apparent in the parents’ generation. Even more intriguing, however, is the level of education attained by this cohort of Filipinos. Just 5 percent have no certification — a far lower proportion than that found in most other groups, and far below the overall Canadian average. Meanwhile, the proportion of university degree holders — 37.4 percent — is considerably higher than that found in the comparison groups. For example, only 22.8 percent of Chinese immigrants and 28.9 percent of South Asian immigrants in this cohort hold degrees.

kelly table4

The level of educational attainment among Filipino youth therefore appears to be doubly anomalous. First, as compared to other racialized groups in the same age cohort, young Filipino men and women are less likely to have graduated from university. This holds true for Canadian-born Filipinos, although they still hold degrees at rates that exceed the overall national average for their age group. For Filipinos who immigrated as schoolchildren, however, the rate of university graduation is far below average. The rate for Filipino men, in particular, is alarmingly low.

The second anomaly arises when youth educational achievements are placed alongside parental levels of education. Those Filipino immigrants who broadly comprise the parental generation are far more likely to be degree holders than members of most other immigrant groups. In general, the evidence suggests that the children of degree-holding parents are likely to graduate with degrees themselves (Boyd 2002). And yet we see a situation in which 37.4 percent of Filipino parents are degree holders, but only 25.3 percent of their daughters and 13.2 percent of their sons graduate from university; in contrast, 22.8 percent of Chinese parents are degree holders, but 67.7 percent of their daughters and 56.7 percent of their sons graduate from university.

There are numerous caveats related to these data. The 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) (Statistics Canada 2012) is of uncertain reliability, given that its response rate is much lower (69.3 percent) than that of the compulsory long-form census surveys of the past (93.5 percent) (Statistics Canada 2012) and the possible profile of nonresponders.9 The cohorts presented here reflect the public data currently available from the NHS. A detailed analysis of microdata would more specifically identify those who are the second-generation children of immigrants and those who are generation-1.5 immigrants.

Despite these limitations, there are good reasons to believe that the patterns laid out here reflect a real phenomenon of downward educational attainment across generations for young Filipinos in Canada. Other studies have highlighted the same issue. Using the 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey, Abada, Hou, and Ram (2009) found that intergenerational upward mobility, in terms of rates of university education, occurred between the first and second generations in all immigrant communities except for Filipino and Black visible minorities. Using census data for Ontario from 1996 and 2006, Abada and Lin (2011) showed that Filipinos and Americans were the only groups in which second-generation youth did not tend to surpass their fathers in terms of educational attainment (although in both cases, the fathers were very well educated).

Using data from the Vancouver School Board and the 2001 census, Pratt et al. (2008) also concluded that the high school and university graduation rates of Filipino youth are worryingly low, especially among those who immigrated later in childhood. Farrales and Pratt (2012) tracked 10 cohorts of grade 8 students from schools belonging to school boards across the Vancouver region from 1995 to 2004. They showed that, among students in the City of Vancouver whose primary language at home was Tagalog, only 76 percent of girls and 64 percent of boys had graduated within six years of grade 8 (a normal trajectory would be graduation within five years). These rates are considerably lower than those for comparison groups such as Punjabi-, Chinese- and English-speakers. The rates were better in suburban locations, but still tended to be worse than rates for the comparison groups. The census data in tables 2 and 3a would seem to suggest that most of those not graduating from high school will do so eventually, but the numbers of students who do not complete on time is a concern.

Recent data from the Toronto District School Board would seem to corroborate the findings from Vancouver (see table 5). The number of Tagalog-speakers is small (181), reflecting the fact that most Filipino students tend to go to Toronto Catholic District School Board schools, but Farrales and Pratt’s findings are repeated. Five years after entering grade 9, only 74 percent of Tagalog-speaking students had graduated from grade 12 — higher than the rate for English-speakers, but far lower than the rate for many other groups.10 The post-secondary pathways are also revealing. Just 28.7 percent of Tagalog-speakers were destined for university places (the second-lowest figure of any group), and 34.3 percent did not apply to a post-secondary institution. It is also interesting to note that Tagalog-speakers had by far the highest rate of admission to post-secondary colleges (24.9 percent), suggesting that the shorter, more vocational, and less expensive courses offered in these institutions are more attractive to this group.

It would seem clear, then, that although Filipino youth are not necessarily the most at risk of failing to enter the labour market with at least high school credentials, their levels of achievement are a matter of concern — particularly those of young male Filipinos. This is especially apparent in relation to university graduation, which remains the doorway to professional and well-paid employment. And while young Filipinos do fare better than some other groups, their situation is especially anomalous given the high levels of education attained by their parents.

kelly table5

Toward a Qualitative Understanding of Next-Generation Outcomes

In the remainder of the study, we will explore what lies behind these statistical patterns in more qualitative depth, focusing on the Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver regions (home to Canada’s three largest Filipino communities). We draw upon the work of the Filipino Youth Transitions in Canada project, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)-funded collaborative study based at York University that works with community organizations, including the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ) in Toronto and Aksyon Ng Ating Kabataan (ANAK) in Winnipeg.11 The project has conducted over 70 interviews with key informants who serve as youth and community leaders and educators in Filipino communities across Canada,12 a nationwide online survey of Filipino youth (with over 650 respondents), and a series of focus groups with youth across the country. This study largely draws upon the first of these data sources.13

We will explore three sets of factors in developing an understanding of the experiences and trajectories of Filipino youth: family resources of time and money; the role of networks, information and mentors; and the importance of self-esteem, aspirations and role models.

Family resources of time and money

The statistical evidence we reviewed earlier was ambiguous about the correlation between a family’s financial situation and the likelihood that the children will graduate from university. For many of our respondents, however, there was little doubt that this was a major factor:

For instance, I know some parents who say, “Don’t go to university because it’s expensive, we can’t afford it. Just get any course in any college, you get the same job anyway.” But, of course, there’s exceptions. Some kids are more ambitious in pursuing their education. (Filipino community leader, interview, 2011)

They cannot really push their children to pursue higher education because of, again, the tuition and so forth, and all of those expenses, living expenses. Not just the tuition but day-to-day food, then allowance to the children. It’s probably harder for them to push their children. (Community centre director, interview, 2011)

The consequences of low incomes affect not just the affordability of university education but also the creation of the household circumstances necessary for academic success. These circumstances relate to the family’s housing situation and whether the family’s immediate needs create an imperative for the children to work rather than continue their studies. The director of a Toronto Filipino community centre noted that:

Most of their problems were — poverty, like their parents have three jobs, one regular job, nighttime, weekend jobs; and also they’re cramped in a small apartment so they don’t really have a space to learn, to study, and some of them they have to work as well so they drop out from school. They cannot cope with working and studying. So because of poverty, they choose working rather than studying. (Community centre director, interview, 2011)

It is also important to note that there may be demands on a family’s resources that are not apparent if we consider only the household income and number of dependants living in the home. Respondents noted that many families have extensive obligations to relatives in the Philippines. One interviewee observed that the families whose children were best able to find success in the Canadian educational system and then in professional employment were those who lived in Canada unencumbered with obligations to support relatives in the Philippines. Such families, he noted, do not have that “baggage.”

In focus group discussions, several respondents described the resentment that occasionally resulted from the fact that their parents were supporting the education of relatives in the Philippines and thus had to economize when it came to covering family expenses in Canada. In the case of some families, the cousins received funding to attend university programs in the Philippines while the children in Toronto had to either work or settle for college diploma programs:

It’s true because I even question my mom — I’m like, “Why are you supporting people?” She actually supports someone, like, sends them to school, right, she’s supporting one of my cousins to go to school. I’m like, “How can you support them and yet not support my education?” Like, I had to work for my education. I’m like, “That’s kinda weird.” I’m like, “I am your child, after all.” But you know their reasoning is it’s easy for you to earn money here, unlike in the Philippines where you need to have connections to get the good jobs. (Focus group participant, 2013)

Family resources cannot, however, simply be measured in dollars. A key resource is the time that parents have available to spend with their children: socializing them, assisting them with (and insisting that they do) their schoolwork, communicating expectations to them, and maintaining a relationship that enables these forms of interaction. The family’s migration experience may reduce parent-child time in two ways: through the daily work schedules that make everyday oversight difficult; and, on a larger scale, through geographical separations created by the migration process.

Daily separations

On a daily basis, low-wage jobs often preclude family time and leave children to fend for themselves. For a parental generation that is heavily overrepresented in occupational fields such as health care, manufacturing and hospitality, shift work is a fact of life.14 Those working multiple jobs to make ends meet generally have little time to spend at home before and after school hours, so they must often leave their children to their own devices. Due to the limited possibilities for family sponsorship to Canada, extended family members (aunts, grandparents, older cousins, and so on) are not on hand to care for such children — a role they would likely have assumed in the Philippines.

One respondent, the leader of a youth dance group and a mentor to the younger group members, noted the inevitable lack of parental oversight in many cases. He remarked that parents do “crazy shifts” and so aren’t available to enforce their children’s good behaviour and work habits. Another respondent described his first-hand experience of growing up in a household headed by hard-working but inaccessible parents:

From my experience, we barely saw our parents. There’s four of us, right? I have an older brother, I’m second, a younger brother, and a sister. My sister finished high school, she graduated high school, but me and my other brothers dropped out and then we had to do adult education. At that time, I don’t even remember, I don’t even remember a time when I had a chance to talk to my mom about school, pretty much she doesn’t know what was going on, like when we come home after school, she’s tired, she’s working two jobs, she’s working again later. And at that time, like me and my brothers, we stopped coming home, we’d just hang out all the time with other Filipino youth, other youth in general, we barely come home and she barely passed us. And if we do ask her, she wouldn’t know. She wouldn’t know, right? The thing is, she’s too tired, the kids don’t really bother asking. (Youth organizer, interview, 2011)

Among youth who are successful, the common denominator, according to a school board community liaison officer, is that they have parents who are able to spend time with them:

Those who have been successful, I just noticed that, you know, parents have been there all the time. (School board official, interview, 2011)

Social workers and community liaison officers in the school system also noted that parents’ work schedules prevented them from getting involved in the school activities and schoolwork of their children.

And a lot of them, their parents aren’t home, no one is there to enforce them to do their homework or to come to school on time. The school calls the parents and the parents say, “Oh, I’m too busy to deal with this. I have three jobs, I got him to Canada, it’s up to him now.” Y’know? And that’s also, I think, a lot of the reason they’re not going to make it to university. (School settlement counsellor, interview, 2011)

This quote also hints at an issue that several school-based social workers raised. Some parents have a sense that their coming to Canada represents a gift to their children that the children themselves must take advantage of. Moreover, some parents think that education is the school’s responsibility, and that the professionals are dealing with all education matters. At the same time, however, teachers are working on the assumption that parents are reinforcing and assisting the children with their lessons at home, especially when the children are new arrivals and need to catch up.

For some parents, however, reluctance to engage with the school might also be related to the need to communicate in English. In the Philippines, English fluency is often considered a status symbol. Most parents are proficient in English, but it is precisely because of this that some are self-conscious about any imperfections in their use of the language. This introduces an element of embarrassment to their interactions with authority figures such as teachers, counsellors or principals at formal school events.

They’re insecure about their English, about how to socialize with non-Filipinos. Those sort of things…They will not do that, they’re too shy. Or not comfortable. It has to be the most educated and confident Filipino parent who will do that. There’s a few that I know…very few that will be part of the social life — no, the school life — of the children. (Community organization leader, interview, 2011)

We can expand on this point about language by talking about colour: parents who participate in the school life of their children must also engage with institutions that are predominantly White, at least in the composition of their staff. Occupational data show that teaching is a profession in which Filipinos are heavily underrepresented (Kelly et al. 2009). Anecdotally, this even holds true in Toronto’s Catholic School Board, which has some schools with very high concentrations of Filipino students. Whiteness, like the English language, carries with it a particular connotation in the Philippine cultural context — a legacy of colonialism. One Filipino school board official described the attitude that such a legacy can foster, using the example of his own father:

I don’t know if parents are aware of the subtleties within their behaviour as a product of the colonial history. They see a teacher who is White, and then see that past and perform the role of the colonized…I think it definitely exists, because I’ve seen how my dad speaks to anybody who is — in English — who is non-White versus somebody who’s White. And the madams, ma’ams and sirs that come out of his mouth just kind of spring off, and I’m sitting here with the lens of my job [thinking], “Oh, dad! Seriously.” So that’s present. But no, I don’t think they have the tools to even deconstruct the fact that the Philippines has been colonized, and much of their identity is subsumed into a Western culture. (Former teacher and school board official, interview, 2011)

The suggestion here, then, is that the act of engaging with the school system may be imbued with greater cultural significance for Filipino parents than is at first apparent. It is not clear to what extent this explains these parents’ low level of involvement in their children’s school life, but it is certainly a factor to be considered in devising ways to foster greater engagement. Daily work schedules may be the most important impediment to strong parental involvement and oversight, but the cultural context of engagement is worth addressing as well.

Global separations

Shift work, irregular hours and multiple jobs can prevent parental involvement on a daily basis, but family time is also compromised in a much larger way by the long-term separations that are sometimes part of the migration process. With so many Filipino immigrants arriving as applicants or dependants under the LICP, the issue of family time is especially pertinent. Kelly et al. (2011) estimate, based on immigrant landing data, that almost 18,000 child dependants arrived through the LICP between 1993 and 2009. In cases where members of a family have been separated because they have entered through what amounts to a two-step immigration process, relationships can be difficult to reconstruct after the family is reunited in Canada (de Leon 2009; Farrales and Pratt 2012; Pratt 2012). Again, this can compromise parents’ ability to guide their children through school, especially during the teenage years:

I mean, a lot of the parents tell me that they don’t know how to parent because they haven’t seen their kids since they were four or five. So all of a sudden they’re high-schoolers and the kids hate them immediately. There’s none of that gratitude that they expect. And you put yourself in [the child’s] position and you think, “Yeah, I understand, I’d be mad too”…They’re always angry. So, yeah, with the culture of parenting, a lot of them are still figuring it out. (Female school settlement counsellor, interview, 2011)

Aside from the separation and distance that it may create in a parent-child relationship, there is also the possibility that the downward mobility and deprofessionalization experienced by parents upon arrival in Canada has an impact on parenting style and authority. One respondent poignantly explained that his father had been an executive in the Philippines; security guards had saluted him as he arrived at his office each morning. On arriving in Canada, he had taken a job cleaning toilets.

Speaking about her husband, one respondent reflected upon the effect that this downward mobility can have on parenting style and authority:

He’s not used to working as a subordinate with people telling you what to do. So it had a really huge impact to him. He said that…here in Canada he feels he is disintegrating. So that alone, maybe if your kids [are] like witnessing that, that feeling, because it also affect[s]…the way you’re supervising your kids…Maybe because, as a father, you are — like, you don’t feel having the same power you had before — so it’s like, also maybe it affects the way you are supervising them. I don’t know. Maybe? (Municipal settlement counsellor, interview, 2011)

The implication, then, is that male deprofessionalization takes a toll not just on family finances but also on masculine self-esteem and the authority of fathers, with consequences for family dynamics and for the role modelling that fathers might provide to sons. The question of parenting is, of course, a complex one, and every family is different — immigrant or otherwise. A common thread through our interviews, however, was the effect of deprofessionalization and downward mobility on men, in particular. Respondents identified it as one factor in parental disengagement from the close oversight of children.

We see a variety of processes at play in the shaping of educational outcomes for children. The starting point is the financial situation of those Filipino families in Canada in which the parents’ educational and professional qualifications do not yield commensurate rewards in the labour market. In some cases, this situation is compounded by financial obligations to family members at home in the Philippines; tertiary education funding places an additional financial strain on these families. Following on from financial limitations are housing conditions that may not be conducive to children’s academic success. Labour market circumstances also shape family life — parents work extra jobs or extra hours, or they are employed in sectors that demand irregular hours and shift work. The result is that quotidian family separations inhibit parents’ ability to provide oversight and assistance to their children. Also straining family relationships are the geographical separations resulting from two-step immigration processes. In addition to being affected by time considerations, parents’ involvement with their children’s schools may be influenced by the fact that in some cases such interaction with mainstream Canadian institutions is culturally loaded. Our respondents highlighted the challenges faced by fathers, in particular, and the implications those challenges have for parenting and school engagement.

Networks, information and mentors

It is well established in labour market studies that family-and-friend networks are the single most important source of job-search information, especially among immigrant families. Our interviews corroborated this and highlighted both the extent to which such sources were used and the limitations that they could impose.

We found widespread agreement among our respondents that although the Filipino community is geographically dispersed across the urban regions of Toronto and Vancouver, the social networks of individual Filipinos still tend to be composed of their Filipino friends and relatives. The result is that job-search information and referral networks generally operate within the community and thereby reflect the labour market positioning of relatives and friends. Due to this and to the Filipino first generation’s high degree of concentration in certain sectors and occupations, the danger of ethnic mobility entrapment inevitably arises.

Our respondents made it evident that the career choices of Filipino youth were dependent on the information networks available to them. This applied both to the educational trajectories they chose and the career paths they followed:

Yeah, a lot of kids who are taking nursing, when I asked why they’re taking nursing it’s because they were encouraged by their mom or aunty, or whoever they knew in their family who are into the health care profession. They were told that the health care profession is a good profession. (Community centre worker, interview, 2011)

They stay within their circle of friends and then they — based on the information they gather from their friends or family members — they tend not to go beyond that. (Community organizer, interview, 2011)

In light of this, it is easy to see why second-generation youth would reflect the labour market profile of their parents and the members of their friendship/kinship networks. Patterns of employment concentration tend to be reproduced across generations through the advice, encouragement and opportunities provided by those already in given fields of work.

Furthermore, there is evidence that networks within the Filipino community are segmented, so that some young people don’t have access to information and connections that could take them into more diverse forms of work (see also Eric 2012). Several respondents commented, in particular, on the separation that sometimes exists between those who arrived through channels leading to caregiver jobs and those who arrived through other channels. One school settlement worker commented that she was the first Filipina whom many Filipino students with caregiver mothers had met who was not a caregiver.

Some commented on divisions in the community that separate caregivers and their families from networks to which their fellow community members belong. Several respondents noted that there is a sense that caregivers are “looked down upon” by those who arrive through other immigration channels (see also Pratt 1999). In some cases, caregivers are resented because their presence propagates the stereotype of the Filipina nanny. While this attitude is far from universal, a social distance does appear to exist between caregivers and other segments of the Filipino community, either because of prejudice or simply because of socio-economic differences. The result is that information flows and networks linked to the labour market are similarly segmented; the children of caregivers are often integrated into networks that are limited in the pathways they offer to upward mobility.

Aside from such segmentation within the Filipino community, it is also clear that the overall occupational profile of the community, especially in the major settlement cities of Toronto and Vancouver, reflects a dearth of networks and mentors to guide young people toward diverse career pathways. One respondent in Vancouver spoke about this explicitly:

I think without having other, I guess, “elders” in fields who can either formally or informally, you know, mentor and model, in a real way, sort of give career advice, or open up networks — that kind of thing. Because we haven’t seen it, it hasn’t been that visible, sort of high achievement or visibility of Filipinos. (Municipal multicultural engagement officer, interview, 2011)

This respondent went on to point out that the Vancouver Sun had produced a supplement profiling the one hundred most influential Chinese Canadians and South Asian Canadians in British Columbia, but no such exercise had ever been done for the Filipino community. This “invisibility” has been widely noted (see Coloma et al. 2012).

In summary, then, respondents recognized the importance of social networks in shaping education choices and employment trajectories. These networks — from family networks, through which intimate advice is given or examples set, to wider networks of mentors within the community — affect the decision making of Filipino youth. The result is a tendency for labour market marginality to be reproduced from one generation to the next. Such networks may, however, be segmented within the community, so that those with caregiver parents belong to networks that include only people who arrived through the LICP (see also Pratt and Philippine Women Centre 2003; Atanackovic and Bourgeault forthcoming). Any professionals within the Filipino community may not be part of networks that are accessible to all.

The importance of self-esteem, aspirations and role models

While social networks and mentors provide the crucial information channels through which educational and career pathways can be charted, there are also less tangible processes at work as youth navigate their school and employment trajectories. These processes relate to the setting of aspirations and goals and the sense of how high Filipino youth can aim in Canadian society.

In this regard, parental deprofessionalization is implicated in more than just a lack of financial resources. Several interview respondents noted that poor parental labour market outcomes result in lower aspirations among children. When educated parents are confined to jobs for which they are overqualified, it is hard for them to persuade their children that higher learning is necessary:

If they are professionals back home, and then they were not able to get back to their original profession, it’s harder for them to push their children to higher education. Because why would children aspire for more when they can earn money, just like their parents, who are professionals and yet they were not able to practise it?…That has a big effect on the children. (Community centre director, interview, 2011)

It definitely starts in the family. What other family members have achieved. That’s sort of what you think you can achieve…So I think what can be done is expose — expose the successful Filipinos and families to encourage each other and their children that they can reach that and more, y’know, despite their situation and their circumstances, they can reach it. (Youth religious group organizer, interview, 2011)

Even if the children aspire to do better than their parents in terms of occupation and income, the parents’ deprofessionalization sets the bar fairly low for them. The aspirational standard is based on the level their parents have reached in Canada rather than on the parents’ educational and professional standing in the Philippines:

They tend to say, “OK, I’ve reached my peak. I’ve done more than my parents.” But they never realize that they can do a lot more. Because they’re basing their [assessment on their parents’] achievement in Canada, not their achievement in the Philippines. That’s how I perceive it. (Former school board trustee, interview, 2011)

This is not, of course, a universal reaction. The deprofessionalization of the parents’ generation may actually be a motivating factor for some young people.

You know, from the people I know in the community, for the parents that have had education, they come here and they’ve been lowered to like [a] different job, [and their children], actually, I find, are pretty determined to be successful…They know how much their parents sacrificed for them to have this opportunity and they want to support their parents. They want to be able to support their parents. (Youth religious group organizer, interview, 2011)

Some students, when they see their mother’s position, their work is in a low job, low-paying job, they say, “I will not be like my mother. I will be different”…So, you see, some really are inspired for what happened to their parents. But some, [a] majority, because of what they saw in their mother, this is it. There is a hindrance that instead of going further, this is it. That’s why they quit school…so it’s a repetition. They will not be the future professionals but they will be of low labour, yes. (School counsellor, interview, 2011)

Some respondents noted the challenge of finding male role models, in particular. Male deprofessionalization is especially acute in the Canadian labour market, and gendered roles within the household have often been reworked as women take on the role of principal breadwinner. One respondent, the leader of a hip-hop dance group with several members who were growing up in single-parent families, drew particular attention to this issue:

There’s a lot of lack of male role models for them. ’Cause, like I said, a lot of them only live with their mom, only have a strong female [role model], so there’s not a real big male role model to look up to. They have uncles, but they’re not there like 24/7 and whatnot, like a dad would be. (Youth dance group leader, interview, 2011)

Neither do Filipino youth have many role models in the wider community. While the community’s employment levels are very high and its average income levels are not among the lowest when compared with those of other visible minority communities, there are nevertheless very few well-known figures in the Filipino community who have found success in politics, major business circles, or cultural life. Respondents regarded this absence as a factor in attenuating the aspirations of young Filipinos:

If you don’t have the mentoring, that’s OK, [but] you must have the role models. You must see someone you can identify with somehow culturally and say, “I can do it.” (Youth counsellor, interview, 2011)

Beyond the issue of role models within the family and the wider community, there is the question of how Filipino identity has come to be valorized in Canadian society. What does it mean to be Filipino in Canada? What stereotypes does it evoke, and what connotations does it have? Many respondents noted that while Filipino youth might take pride in their ethnic identity, they are still given the sense that Filipinos occupy a limited and lowly place in the Canadian mainstream. A school settlement worker described a sense of hopelessness among the youth she sees:

Then I have students who could do something, they could be something, but they say, “Well, why? Because all Filipinos just end up as cleaners anyway.” And that’s a really scary thing to believe when you’re 17 or 18 — that’s there’s no reason to try. And then, the thing is, a lot of the Filipino parents, they encourage the students to work after school. What are they working? They’re working McDonald’s or they’re cleaning. I have students here who are working in buildings downtown cleaning until midnight. (High school settlement counsellor, interview, 2011)

In the media you don’t see Filipinos in — as doctors and as…— it’s just not there. It’s not advertised that Filipinos should be aiming this high in our society at all…I guess they’re being influenced so much by the media that that’s what they believe, that’s what they end up believing — that they’re not supposed to be, y’know, doctors or aerospace engineers or astronauts or whatever. (Youth religious group organizer, interview, 2011)

One respondent shared a sophisticated understanding of how young Filipinos internalize images they see in the media:

The images we see is how everyone else views us, and then — but then when Filipinos see those images of us, we take it in, and it contributes to how we see ourselves, but it’s just the way that we’re being depicted, and it becomes this circle. (Social worker, interview, 2011)

Another respondent noted that school is a key site for affirmations of “Filipino-ness,” but the schools have not supported this:

Sometimes I wonder, in the Toronto Catholic [School Board], sometimes you have 50 to 60 percent of the classroom [Filipino students], and it’s absent in the curriculum. To what extent does that have an effect on how Filipino boys, or Filipino girls, see themselves within the larger society?…You talk about cultural-responsive pedagogy and you see 50 percent of your school population is Filipino, yet you don’t amass larger curricular pieces with some Filipino content. (Former teacher and school board official, interview, 2011)

There is, then, a case for developing Filipino content in the mainstream curriculum, as separate from multicultural events or discussions of poverty, underdevelopment or natural disasters. Such content could highlight aspects of Filipino culture, history and environment to serve as exemplars of concepts being discussed in classrooms across a range of disciplines.

One respondent offered a particularly impassioned case for asserting Filipino identity as an empowered identity within the Canadian context, likening it to the assertion of Black identity in the United States:

I think what our culture needs is what happened in the Black culture in the US, in the sixties when they finally said, “Black is beautiful.” And everybody, the whole culture — suddenly Afro was cool. Being Black is cool, music is cool. And then the militant ones said, “Black power!” They kind of empowered themselves by just simply saying it’s OK to have fat lips, it’s OK to have curly [hair] and Afros. It’s OK to dress colourful. It’s OK. And I think that’s what we need. We haven’t said it’s OK. We haven’t said it’s OK to have a culture, it’s OK to have a flat nose, it’s OK to have beautiful brown skin. I don’t think we have. I think that’s what needs to happen. It’s a movement that just says, “It’s OK.” (Youth organizer, interview, 2011)

Implicit in this desire to assert a positive sense of Filipino-ness is a need to overcome denigrating and racializing representations of the community put forward by other segments of Canadian society. Many respondents acknowledged that Filipinos experience racialization, but they seldom saw this in a negative light. More commonly, they noted that such racialization consisted of representing Filipinos as “hard-working” and “caring.” While such representations are positive, they are implicitly limiting because they connote specific types of employment and levels of professional seniority. In particular, Filipina women in fields other than caregiving often have to confront the equation of Filipino-ness with caregiving. In some cases, these kinds of connotations lead young people to reject their Filipino identity:

I guess some second-generation youth associate being Filipino with the negative stereotypes that people know and think about us. So they’re like, “No, I’m not Filipino because I’m not like them” — “them” meaning the newer immigrants. And I guess there is internalized racism like that too. (Community organization leader, interview, 2011)

Although beyond the scope of this study, it would be worthwhile to compare the forms of racialization experienced by Filipino youth with those experienced by other visible minority youth. Table 3b indicates patterns of university graduation among young Filipinos that are closer to those of Black and Latin American youth than they are to the patterns of Chinese or South Asian youth. However, the positive-but-limiting forms of racialization experienced by Filipino youth are quite distinctive. The specific ways in which Filipino identity is construed in Canada are therefore worthy of further examination (see, for example, McElhinny et al. 2012; de Leon 2012).

In summary, we found that we need to account for the intangible processes that shape aspirations and ambitions in order to understand intergenerational processes of social mobility. Faced with the deprofessionalization of their parents, some young Filipinos are motivated to aim higher, but many resign themselves to lower positions in the labour market. The lack of role models in the Filipino community, especially for boys, is also seen as a problem. But the issue should not be constructed as one internal to that community. Representations and racializations of Filipino identity in the wider Canadian society and the absence of reflective school curricula are also factors. According to our respondents, we need to address both of these problems by creating strategies to positively affirm Filipino identity in Canada.


Canada’s Filipino community is large and diverse. In conducting this research, we were conscious that it would define a problem (namely, underachievement in education and professional employment) that could be exacerbated by the very act of naming it. If, for example, part of the cause of low university graduation rates is a lack of role models and mentors, then the solution would be to highlight those who have achieved distinction, academically and professionally, rather than to risk stigmatizing the community with discussions of failure. Just because they are underrepresented does not mean that Filipinos are entirely absent from the ranks of doctors, lawyers, professors, politicians, business executives and community leaders. The success stories need to be told. Equally, the important work performed by nursing aides, personal support workers and caregivers of children should not be devalued. And although we have used university graduation here as a metric of success (given that it tends to correlate with higher incomes and professional employment), there are clearly other pathways to, and definitions of, success.

There are dangers, then, in creating a narrative of Filipino youth failure, because it potentially stigmatizes, it neglects success stories, and it is based on prior judgments of what constitutes success and failure. Nevertheless, to ignore, on these grounds, the patterns identified earlier in this study would be to overlook an important set of processes that lead to the intergenerational reproduction of social marginality. The processes that shape intergenerational reproduction are multidimensional. While some issues that emerged during qualitative research corroborate the conclusions of statistical studies, there are also factors at play that only become apparent when grounded experiences are explored. In particular, while the statistical evidence about the correlation of parental labour market outcomes and youth trajectories is ambiguous, our qualitative evidence suggests that this is a central issue that manifests itself in numerous ways. In part, parents’ economic outcomes determine the financial resources available for their children’s higher education and whether the children will need to enter the labour market early; but they also determine the amount of family time that is available, parents’ involvement in the children’s schools, and the types of job-search and labour market information networks that are accessible to young people. Less tangibly, parental deprofessionalization has meant lower ambitions and aspirations for some young people, and it may have taken a particular toll on masculine identity and the availability of male role models. At the root of at least some of this deprofessionalization is the LICP. The LICP also features importantly in the ways that Filipino identity has come to be represented in Canada. All of these factors emphasize our need to understand the qualitative processes that lie behind intergenerational social mobility, not just the quantitative patterns.

More broadly, while Canada’s social mobility escalator has carried the next generation upward in many communities, this has not been a universal experience. Filipino youth are one group whose outcomes are anomalously poorer than we might expect them to be. In multiple ways, these outcomes seem to reflect the settlement experiences of their parents’ generation and point to the need to think about immigrant settlement as an intergenerational process.

Policy Implications

A number of policy implications arise from these findings. They relate to the ways in which racialized minorities are represented in Canada’s multicultural policies and educational settings, the role of immigration policies and programs in creating situations of family separation and deprofessionalization, and the ways in which youth labour markets are regulated and navigated. While we have raised these issues in the context of the Filipino community, where they have distinctive manifestations, they have a wide relevance to other immigrant communities as well.

  • We need to see immigrant deprofessionalization as an issue that has costs, not just in terms of lost human capital in the first generation but also in the unrealized potential of the next generation. This implies the need for us to intensify our efforts to assess professional competencies fairly in regulated professions, to make skills upgrading available and accessible across a range of fields and to convince employers to recognize international credentials.
  • Regardless of how fair the processes for professional licensure become, there will still be Canadians (not all of them immigrants, but disproportionately so) who must work shifts and multiple jobs to make ends meet. Under such circumstances, extended families are crucially important in providing care and guidance for young people. When families are defined in narrowly nuclear terms and immigration for extended family members is limited, the networks of care and guidance for young people are truncated.
  • Family separation due to daily schedules is unavoidable, but we need to re-examine immigration channels that cause family separation over long periods. This applies in particular to the LICP. Although the program helps to fulfill the pressing need for child care among Canadian families, it creates a rupture in the future-Canadian families of the caregivers themselves. We should consider offering permanent residence on arrival to caregivers. This would enable their family members to accompany them and would allow them to access educational opportunities and settlement services not currently available to caregivers.
  • There is a growing recognition that male educational achievement needs to be examined, and there is evidence that in specific immigrant communities (including the Filipino community) young men are being left behind. We must consider the specific factors that influence male achievement. Measures to address this imbalance could include, for example, ensuring that learning is integrated with the development of gender and ethnocultural identities. Support for extracurricular activities would be especially important (Nasir 2011).
  • We need to ensure that in imparting multiculturalism through education, we not only emphasize respect for difference but also give positive affirmation within the curriculum of students’ individual identities as valuable and worthy. Culturally sensitive engagement by school officials and teachers with parents, and teaching staff who reflect their students’ communities are both important. Beyond the school setting, we need programs that encourage role modelling and mentoring within specific immigrant communities. This could involve the assistance of service agencies.
  • Financially accessible higher education programs (whether they are accessed by means of affordable tuition fees or student loan programs) are an essential component of a system that permits upward social mobility. For immigrant families with low-paying jobs and financial obligations to relatives in the home country, decisions regarding education trajectories are often based on immediate economic need rather than academic aptitude. Even when loan programs are available, those with lower incomes may be reluctant to use them.
  • Questions about intergenerational social mobility require solid statistical data as well as qualitative understandings of experiences in particular communities. In order to obtain large-scale data that are reliable and informative, we must reinstate the compulsory long-form census. Data collection that is designed to allow direct intergenerational comparisons and that permits us to link youth outcomes with parental immigration channels would also benefit our understanding of these issues.

Although most of these measures are generic in nature, they also reflect the specific constellation of needs articulated by the Filipino community. It should come as no surprise that immigrant communities with different histories, geographies and experiences in Canada have different needs. Neither should it surprise us to learn that these needs are often best addressed by understanding and supporting familial structures and social organizations within these communities.

  1. This paper largely uses educational attainment as a proxy for social mobility. Clearly it is imperfect as a substitute for occupational or income data, but it does enable a direct comparison of achievement across generations, and does imply the type of social trajectory that young people are embarking upon.
  2. Unless otherwise stated, “generation 1.5” refers to someone who immigrated to Canada before turning 13, and “second generation” refers to Statistics Canada’s definition — a person having at least one parent who was born outside of Canada.
  3. “Coethnics” refers to people from the same ethnocultural background.
  4. The 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) (Statistics Canada 2011) is a less reliable source of data than the 2006 census. Although it used a larger sample than the long-form census (one in three households, rather than one in five), the NHS was voluntary and therefore elicited a lower response rate (69.3 percent, compared with 93.5 percent for the 2006 long-form census) (Statistics Canada 2012). For Canada’s Filipino population, a specific data inconsistency was noted by Statistics Canada and widely reported in the press. Landing data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada recorded about 11,000 fewer immigrant arrivals from the Philippines than were recorded in the 2011 NHS. For this and other reasons, the NHS is not comparable with previous census data, nor can it be considered as reliable as those data.
  5. Human capital and labour market data released so far from the 2011 National Household Survey only provide respondents in aggregated age cohorts and do not separate immigrants from nonimmigrants. Here, the 55-64 age group is used because they are overwhelmingly first-generation immigrants. It should be noted, of course, that immigrants who arrived in earlier years are likely to be overrepresented in this cohort. However, since we are interested here in intergroup comparisons, this is still a meaningful dataset to examine.
  6. The comparisons made in this section are based on the visible minority responses that are selected in the census questionnaire from a list of options.  While ”Filipino” corresponds with what most would also see as an ethnic identity and a national place of origin, many of the other visible minority categories are much more encompassing.  For example, within the “Black,” “Chinese”, “South Asian” and “Latin American” categories, there is a is a large variety of origins and identities.
  7. Data from the 2011 NHS (Statistics Canada 2012) that break down this age cohort by generation grouping were not available at the time of writing. This analysis should therefore be seen as preliminary. However, other tabulations from the 2011 NHS indicate that the majority of Canadian-born people belonging to visible minorities are indeed second generation. Age cohorts differ slightly, but for 25-to-34-year-olds, the proportion of Canadian-born South Asians who are of a third generation or beyond is just 2.7 percent; for Chinese, the figure is 5.4 percent; for Latin Americans, 4.5 percent; and for Filipinos, 1.6 percent. In other groups with longer migration histories, the numbers are higher: Black, 13.4 percent; Southeast Asian, 19.1 percent; and Japanese, 50.9 percent.
  8. The age-at-immigration range used here does not follow common convention but is constrained by the data available from the 2011 NHS (Statistics Canada 2012). It is usual to treat immigrant youth arriving at age 12 or under as a separate category — generation 1.5 — reflecting a key difference in integration experiences when immigration occurs in early childhood.
  9. Nonresponses are likely to be much higher among those in multiple low-paid jobs, with precarious residency status and/or with lower command of English or French, for example.
  10. As with Farrales and Pratt’s findings (2012), these data are imperfect in the sense that speaking Tagalog at home is not necessarily a characteristic of all Filipino students, especially those who are Canadian-born.
  11. CASJ is an umbrella group that includes numerous Filipino community organizations and advocacy groups in the Greater Toronto Area. The project was a continuation of a previous collaboration between the author and CASJ that focused on the deprofessionalization of first-generation immigrants from the Philippines (see Kelly et al. 2009, 2012). In Winnipeg, ANAK was a logical collaborator due to its specific focus on Filipino youth education and empowerment. The Migrant Workers Family Resource Centre, based in Hamilton, Ontario, was also involved in the project, but in Vancouver, individual research assistants advanced the research rather than an organ-izational collaborator.
  12. Key-informant respondents were selected based on advice from research collaborators in each city. The goal was to solicit a synoptic overview of community experiences, but inevitably discussions also turned to respondents’ own experiences as parents or as youths. All key-informant interviews were conducted by the author.
  13. All interviews were transcribed and coded. Themes presented here reflect issues that were consistently apparent in the perspectives articulated across the country. Quotes have been selected to illustrate specific themes. Given that some quotes are attributed to individuals with specific and identifiable jobs, the city in which the person worked is usually not speci-fied in order to maintain respondent anonymity.
  14. The arrival of large numbers of Filipino immigrants through the LICP is one reason a distinct overconcentration in nonprofessionalized occupations has occurred in the health care sector. Shift work is an inevitable feature of such work.

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This study arises from a collaborative research project — the Filipino Youth Transitions in Canada (FYTIC) project — which involved numerous organizations and individuals. It was initiated in collaboration with the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ) in Toronto and conducted in conjunction with the CASJ, Aksyon Ng Ating Kabataan in Winnipeg and the Migrant Workers Family Resource Centre in Hamilton. The many contributions of the FYTIC steering committee in Toronto are gratefully acknowledged: Jennilee Austria, Jeanette Chua, Conely de Leon, Mithi Esguerra, Ricky Esguerra, Alex Felipe, Mila Astorga-Garcia, Hermie Garcia, Veronica Javier, Julia Mais, Christopher Sorio and Ejay Tupe. Thanks also to the project’s research assistants: Veronica Javier, Allison Magpayo, Jeanette Chua and Conely de Leon in Toronto; Josephine Eric in Hamilton; Darlyne Bautista, Daisy Bautista and Kezia Malabanan in Winnipeg; and Maureen Mendoza and May Farrales in Vancouver. Funding for this project was provided through a Standard Research Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The project was administered through the York Centre for Asian Research. Many thanks to Leslie Seidle, France St-Hilaire and two anonymous referees for their very thorough and thoughtful comments on a previous draft.

Filipino youth face significant barriers to social mobility, says study

Montreal – Canadian research has found there is considerable upward mobility among the children of immigrants, but Filipino youth are not always part of that success story. A new IRPP study finds they are less likely to hold a degree than their parents and their peers in other immigrant groups.

Philip Kelly, director of the York Centre for Asian Research, collaborated with the Community Alliance for Social Justice (Toronto) and Aksyon Ng Ating Kabataan (Winnipeg) in this study. He stresses the importance of better understanding the reasons for these outcomes. Indeed, since 2009 the Philippines has been the top or second-ranking source country for immigration to Canada. Using interviews with community leaders to supplement statistical data, he explores the factors that lead to Filipino youth having educational and employment outcomes that are “anomalously poorer than we might expect them to be.”

One factor is that family life is shaped by financial hardship. Parents often work extra jobs and hours or in sectors that require irregular and shift work. This results in little time for parental oversight and support for children – and in some cases extended periods of family separation.

This applies in particular to those who have come to Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program, where 90 percent of workers are from the Philippines. “Although the program helps fulfill the need for child care in Canada, it creates a rupture in the future-Canadian families of the caregivers themselves.”

Noting that social networks tend to determine educational choices and employment trajectories, Kelly finds that Filipino networks are often limited to Filipino friends and relatives. This leads to labour market marginality being reproduced from one generation to the next. The lack of role models and mentors in the larger community, especially for boys, is a further problem.

Kelly makes a number of recommendations, some of which would also apply to other immigrant-background communities:

  • intensify efforts to improve access to professions and credential recognition,
  • recognize the importance of extended families in the success of the next generation,
  • lessen the precarity of those in the Live-in Caregiver Program by considering giving workers permanent residence upon arrival, and
  • support role modelling and mentoring, particularly to improve educational achievement among males.


Understanding Intergenerational Social Mobility: Filipino Youth in Canada, by Philip Kelly, can be downloaded from the Institute’s website at irpp.org.

For more details or to schedule an interview, please contact Shirley Cardenas at 514-594-6877 or scardenas@nullirpp.org

Understanding Intergenerational Social Mobility