Let’s stop calling them ‘second generation’ immigrants

It’s common to differentiate between ‘first generation’ immigrants (i.e. people who moved to live in a different country), and ‘second generation’ immigrants (i.e. their descendants). It might look like a systematic (hence scientific?) approach, but it’s not appropriate. Typically, we use the term generation like this: “The bakery is owned and operated by fifth-generation baker Sylvain Chaillout and his parents.” Here we have baker after baker, and supposedly this makes Sylvain Chaillout (the firth-generation baker) more of a baker than any Johnny-come-lately baker. Contrast this with the ‘second generation’ immigrant, a person who is by most people’s definition not an immigrant him or herself, and if anything less of an immigrant than any Johnny-come-lately immigrant who has just arrived.

Image: cc-by-nc-nc open-arms

Stop using population estimates as evidence of racism

I’ve long been critical of population estimates as ‘evidence’ of racism, but now there is no reason left to do so. The basic ‘evidence’ is as follows: There are say 5% immigrants in country X, you ask the general population, and their mean estimate is maybe that there are 15% immigrants in the country. Shocking, they overestimate the immigrant population, which is ‘evidence’ that the general population is generally racist (I enjoyed this phrase). I’ve been critical of this because of three reasons. First, we don’t generally tell survey participants what we mean by ‘immigrants’, but use a specific definition (foreign citizens, foreign born) for the supposedly correct answer. Second, why should members of the general population have a good grasp of the size of the immigrant population? We might be able to estimate the share of immigrants in our personal network, but that’s not the same as estimating population shared. Third, if we see this as evidence of racism, we assume that the threat perspective is dominant.

It turns out, however, that there is a general human tendency to overestimate the population share of small groups: immigrants, homosexuals, you name it. David Landy and colleagues demonstrate that this tendency to overestimate small groups comes hand in hand with a tendency to underestimate large groups — a pull towards the average. There’s nothing particular about immigrants there, and nothing about racism either.

Landy, D., B. Guay, and T. Marghetis. 2017. ‘Bias and Ignorance in Demographic Perception’. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, August, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-017-1360-2.

Photo: CC-by-nc-nd by IceBone

Ethnically homogeneous?

The other day I was at a conference, and Poland was described as ethnically homogeneous. This is not a controversial observation, I guess. The speaker was then using this homogeneity as an ‘explanation’ for current government rhetoric against Muslims in the country — compared to government rhetoric in a more heterogeneous country. This struck me as an odd explanation, after all we all know that ethnic groups and their boundaries are socially constructed. This way, the observation that in a country where the common view is one of internal homogeneity also features exclusivity to ‘others’ seemed trivial if not circular. I’m far from claiming that social construction renders ethnic differences meaningless — the consequences are very real indeed — but as an ‘explanation’ this way I’m struggling a bit.

Ruedin, Didier. 2009. ‘Ethnic Group Representation in a Cross-National Comparison’. The Journal of Legislative Studies 15 (4):335–54. https://doi.org/10.1080/13572330903302448.
Ruedin, Didier. 2013. Why Aren’t They There? The Political Representation of Women, Ethnic Groups and Issue Positions in Legislatures. Colchester: ECPR Press.

Most important academic skill? English!

The other day I was reviewing a paper that looked quite interesting, but unfortunately was written in such poor English that I could not really understand what was going on. I felt sorry for the author(s). I then recalled a recent discussion with a colleague of mine about how important so-called transferable skills are for students: We know that most of them won’t end up in academia, so stuff like critical thinking, structuring an argument, or reading a regression table a are pretty important. Among these, coherent and comprehensible English must rank very high. For those who stay in academia, I’d argue that it’s the most important skill, because it’s central to communicating with other researchers and having your work understood. Only this way can others build on what we do. Ironically, however, teaching English is typically not a focus at universities, if it is done at all. Like so many things, we just kind of assume students (have to figure out how to) do it.

Image: CC-by-nc Moiggi Interactive