Why These Immigrants Gravitate to Math, Science

The age one came to the US plays a role
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 31, 2017 8:17 AM CDT
Why These Immigrants Gravitate to Math, Science
In this Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014 photo, math is taught to high school students whose families were detained at the border in Karnes City, Texas.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

It's formally called the Regeneron Student Talent Search, but it's more casually known as the "Junior Nobel"—and the high schooler who wins the elite science prize walks with $250,000. A study on last year's finalists turned up something interesting, reports Teen Vogue: 83% of the 40 were children of immigrants. And as NPR reports, new research may suggest a possible contributing factor. Reporting in the journal Demography, the two researchers looked at US census data and found that immigrants tend to choose jobs requiring physical strength, suggesting obstacles to accessing to higher levels of education. But among immigrants with a college degree, the landscape is very different.

Those who went to college, came to the States as older children, and hailed from a country more linguistically different than the US (think Vietnam vs. Germany) were much more likely to pursue a science, tech, engineering, or math (STEM) field. This is especially true for kids arriving after age 10. The researchers hypothesize in a press release that such immigrants may prefer working on a subject like math, a universal language. "The more difficult it is for the child to learn English [and it becomes trickier after 10], the more likely they will invest in math/logic and physical skills over communications skills," says co-author Marcos Rangel. It's not a full explanation, but they hope to highlight that there may be many nuances influencing why we pursue the fields we do. (Here's what migrant children are fleeing.)

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