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Selection and Influence in the Assimilation Process of Immigrants

Advances in Group Processes

ISBN: 978-1-78190-976-8

Publication date: 11 August 2014



Empirical studies show substantial variation across immigrants in the rate and direction of assimilation along various dimensions (e.g., cross-ethnic contact, language, identity). To explain this variation, past research has focused on identifying exogenous factors, such as discrimination, human capital, and settlement intention. In this chapter we argue that variation in immigrant outcomes emerges endogenously through positive interaction effects between dimensions of assimilation. We propose a new assimilation model in which processes of social influence and selection into congruent social environments give rise to multiple long-term equilibria. In this model, migrants who are already assimilated along many dimensions tend to also adapt along other dimensions, while less assimilated migrants become more strongly embedded in their ethnic group.


To test the assimilation model, we derive a number of hypotheses, which we evaluate using trend analysis and dynamic panel regression on data from the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada.


The data mostly confirm the hypotheses, providing overall support for the assimilation model.

Research implications

Our theory and findings suggest that immigrants would follow divergent assimilation trajectories even in the absence of a priori population heterogeneity in external factors.

Social implications

The positive interaction effects between cultural and structural dimensions of assimilation suggest that mixed policies that promote integration while seeking to prevent loss of identity go against the natural tendency for cultural and structural assimilation to go hand in hand.


The present chapter proposes a novel model of immigrant assimilation and an empirical test.




I thank the editors of this volume, Shane R. Thye and Edward J. Lawler, for their care and commitment to putting together this excellent collection. I thank Damon Centola and Frank van Tubergen for useful discussion, and Jeong-han Kang, Gueorgi Kossinets, Yujun Wang, and participants of the Princeton Center for Migration and Development workshop and the Utrecht University Sociology departmental colloquium for helpful comments. I thank the Center for the Study of Economy and Society for financial support. The research and analysis are based on data from Statistics Canada and the opinions expressed do not represent the views of Statistics Canada.


van de Rijt, A. (2014), "Selection and Influence in the Assimilation Process of Immigrants", Advances in Group Processes (Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 157-193.



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