Education: Children of Turkish migrants in Austria are more disadvantaged than in other countries

Children of Turkish migrants with low levels of education find it particularly hard to get a higher education in Austria. This was demonstrated by a social science study comparing the country with France and Sweden. The significant findings have now been published in book form.

Education fosters your career. Less so if you are a child of turkish migrants. And even less if you live in Austria. © Shutterstock / Zurijeta

"In many European countries, it is a well known fact that the children of Turkish migrants are educationally disadvantaged", says Philipp Schnell. "But that these disadvantages are greater in some countries than in others was not previously known, leaving the reasons for these cross-country differences untold." That is no longer the case thanks to a dissertation written by a member of the academic staff at the Institute for Urban and Regional Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences – and with the support of the FWF the results of his research have now been published as a book.

Austria in the lead

In actual fact, the findings of Schnell's social scientific comparison of the situations in France, Sweden and Austria are surprisingly conclusive: When it comes to the scale of the disadvantages suffered by the children of Turkish migrants in the education system, Austria is the unequivocal leader. However, Schnell did more than merely identify this fact. He was also able to find solid reasons for the disparity: "The crucial factors are the intensity of the interaction between the structures of the school system and family resources, as well as the point in time at which this interaction begins. In the Austrian education system, it has to begin at an earlier point than in other countries", Schnell explained. Turkish families, in particular, though, often find themselves unable to allocate the resources that such interaction requires.

Family & school

Citing an example of the underlying conditions within national education systems that lead to an interplay with family resources, Schnell mentions the statutory age at which children start pre-school – and consequently the period of time during which parents are solely responsible for what their children learn. The relatively late age at which children start pre-school in Austria has a negative impact on their subsequent education. Schnell also identified a second, similar, aspect as instrumental: the number of hours that children spend at school. Here, too, Austria performs worse than France and Sweden owing to the fact that the country's schools operate on a half-day basis. This means that the family must take care of their children's continued learning in the afternoons. However, given the parents' own low level of education in many cases, Turkish families are often unable to provide the expected level of support to a sufficient or optimal degree. But that's not all, as Schnell found: "The point in time at which a decision is made about where a child is going to continue their education also has a major influence on the educational success of the child. In Austria this decision is made at a very early point – when the influence of the parents and their own educational history is still very pronounced."

Setting the framework

Schnell was able to identify relationships between family situations and the underlying conditions within the education system thanks to his unique level of access to data from the TIES study (The Integration of the European Second Generation). This extensive study incorporated a survey across 15 cities in eight European countries (including France, Sweden and Austria) examining the lives and experiences of young people with a Turkish migration background, based on the years 2007 and 2008. Philipp Schnell therefore had access to information on a wide range of family-related and non-family-related factors. These ranged from the parents' migration history and socio-economic status to the children's peer group networks and support provided by schools.

Analysing the systems

For the recently published study, Schnell supplemented this data with detailed analyses of the national education systems. He succeeded in placing the family-related data and the specifics of the various education systems in relation to the educational success of the young people concerned. And although he stressed that the children's education level continues to be most heavily affected by that of their parents and the parents' professional situation, the data he has now published also demonstrates that education policy has a marked influence on educational attainment.


Philipp Schnell (PhD) studied sociology at the University of Bonn and the Freie Universität Berlin. He obtained his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam before joining the academic staff of the Institute for Urban and Regional Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. His academic work focuses mainly on (ethnic) educational inequalities, international comparisons of the integration and participation patterns of migrant children, quantitative methods and feelings of identity and belonging among migrants at the local level.

Open Access Publication: Educational Mobility of Second-generation Turks: Cross-national Perspectives, P. Schnell, Amsterdam University Press, ISBN 9789089646514

Scientific contact

Dr. Philipp Schnell
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Institute for Urban
and Regional Research
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1010 Vienna, Austria
+43 / 680 / 208 286 1

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Marc Seumenicht

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