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.

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