Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Neighbourhood immigrant concentration effects on migrant and native youth’s educational commitments, an enquiry into personality differences

Jaap Nieuwenhuis, Pieter Hooimeijer, Maarten van Ham and Wim Meeus

This paper in Urban Studies is part of the PhD thesis Neighbourhood effects on youth’s achievements: the moderating role of personality (Nieuwenhuis, 2014), which deals with the moderating effect of personality on the neighbourhood effect on educational achievement (Nieuwenhuis et al., 2015a), educational commitments (this study), and unemployment and work commitments (Nieuwenhuis et al., 2015b). The premise of this dissertation is that growing up in a neighbourhood with a high concentration of poverty or immigrants might be stressful, for example due to an unavailability of institutions, a lack of good role models, or due to social networks that lack information on jobs or the educational system. For youths who grow up in such neighbourhoods, this can potentially hamper their positive development. However, when faced with environmental adversities, not all youths will be affected equally. Some may be more resilient and will hardly be affected, while other youths may be more vulnerable and are more strongly affected by neighbourhood circumstances. In this study we examined under what conditions, youths may be most vulnerable or resilient in neighbourhoods with high concentrations of immigrants. We do this by looking at the youths’ own migrant background and at their personality.


In this study we showed that the educational commitments of youths are indeed related to the proportion of non-Western immigrants in the neighbourhood in which they grow up, however, the relation differs for different youths. The results indicate that native Dutch youths are not influenced by the immigrant proportion of the neighbourhood. Migrant youth, however, show increased levels of educational commitments when moving from neighbourhoods with low proportions of non-Western immigrants to neighbourhoods with moderate proportions of non-Western immigrants, perhaps benefitting from stronger ethnic social networks.


However, within the group of migrant youths there are also differences in how the neighbourhood is related to their educational commitments. We divided the sample according to personality. Using the typology of personality by Block and Block (1980), we distinguished between resilients, overcontrollers and undercontrollers. Especially the distinction between resilients on the one hand and overcontrollers and undercontrollers on the other hand is useful. Resilients are able to respond flexibly to environmental demands, and will therefore be able to more effectively cope with adverse neighbourhood conditions. Overcontrollers and undercontrollers respond more rigidly to environmental demands, and will be less likely to cope effectively with neighbourhood adversity. We found that resilient migrant youths are indeed influenced less by the neighbourhood’s ethnic concentration, indicating that resilient youths are less susceptible to outside pressures and that they choose their own path amongst alternative commitments.


These findings are of interest for both scientists and policy makers involved with the question how neighbourhood characteristics influence life chances of residents. We show two dimensions on which individuals can differ in their susceptibility for neighbourhood influences: migration background and personality. Different neighbourhoods may have a different influence on the life of its residents, however, within these neighbourhoods, individuals may strongly differ in how resilient or vulnerable they are. The take-home message is that neighbourhood effects can and should not be generalised.



Block, J. H., & J. Block (1980). The role of ego-control and ego-resiliency in the organization of behavior. In Development of cognition, affect, and social relations, edited by W. A. Collins, 39-101. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Nieuwenhuis, J. (2014). Neighbourhood effects on youth’s achievements: the moderating role of personality. Utrecht: Utrecht University dissertation.

Nieuwenhuis, J., P. Hooimeijer & W. Meeus (2015a). Neighbourhood effects on educational attainment of adolescents, buffered by personality and educational commitment. Social Science Research, 50: 100-109. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2014.11.011

Nieuwenhuis, J., R. Yu, S. Branje, W. Meeus & P. Hooimeijer (2015b). Neighbourhood poverty, work commitment and unemployment in early adulthood: a longitudinal study into the moderating effect of personality. OTB Working papers, 2015-03.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Encounters with Diversity: Children’s Friendships and Parental Responses

Carol Vincent (UCL Institute of Education), Sarah Neal (University of Surrey) and Humera Iqbal (UCL Institute of Education).
Our research project set out to address the question, do people have friendships with those who are socially and culturally different to themselves?  Focusing on primary schools in London that serve a diverse population in terms of social class and ethnicity, we studied the friendships that both children (8/9 years old) and their parents made, maintained and/or avoided. Our aim was to identify what friendships reveal about the nature and extent of ethnic and social divisions in contemporary multicultural society. We wished to contribute to the growing literature in geography and sociology on how people living in conditions of intense diversity interact with others not like themselves. On a more personal level, two of us had experience of being mothers at diverse primary schools, similar to the ones we studied, and had experienced both how social class and ethnic sameness could shape social relationships for adults and children, but also how being a parent or a child at a diverse schools could offer the possibility of friendships across difference.

This paper is the initial analysis from the ESRC funded research. In it, we outline the scope of the children’s networks and friendships within their classrooms, and then report on how parents at two of the case study schools felt about their children’s friendships. We conclude that social mix did not translate straight forwardly into social mixing, despite the diversity of the school populations and that of the surrounding areas. We find that the social is heavily classed, as friendship across class difference was less common than friendship across ethnic difference, both amongst the children and the adults. We argue that many parents were explicitly enthusiastic about the diverse populations at their children’s school, that they consciously, and for the most part competently managed diverse encounters, and that we identified some purposeful efforts to forge relationships across difference. However,  many parents also experienced some level of anxiety about close contact with others not like themselves. Different parents displayed different ways of negotiating difference. Some parents in our study managed those who came into the house or limited the houses their children went to. For others, the private space of the home was more open, but a process of managing difference still took place, through the consignment of others not like themselves to the periphery of the social encounter, centering instead the dense networks of other ‘people like me’, through, for example, organising the children’s out of school time. As a result, children’s friendships were not bound by sameness, but they were initiated and practised on a terrain inscribed by largely unspoken, but still powerful social divisions.

For more information about the research, please see our website: