What a Dutch passport means for your school grades

What a Dutch passport means for your school grades

Dissertation Prize for engineer and sociologist Marie Labussière

01-02-2023 · Background

An article in De Volkskrant is not a given for every PhD graduate, but it was for the French Marie Labussière. In November 2021, the newspaper published a lengthy article about her research into children of migrant parents and their school achievements. It shows the huge social relevance of her PhD, said the board of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, which put her forward for the Maastricht University’s annual Dissertation Prize. And with success.

The most important finding of Labussière’s thesis was that children of parents with a migration background – from Turkey and Morocco to Germany and Great Britain – score better at the end of primary school if they have Dutch citizenship. Besides having a Dutch passport, it also makes a difference when the parents were naturalized. Children inherit the nationality; the younger children are when they become Dutch citizens (preferably before they start primary school), the better their exam results in group 8. She also concludes that the effect of naturalization is not the same for every pupil; a ‘gain’ can be made especially for children whose parents have a disadvantage on the labour and housing markets, so parents with a low socio-economic status.

Migrant families

Although a lot of research has been done already into the relationship between migrant families (their culture, place on the labour market) and how their offspring perform at school, there was little focus on the role of citizenship, says Labussière via Zoom. She delved into the data of more than 287,000 children for her PhD research. For this, she used the register of births, deaths and marriages from Netherlands Statistics (“where I worked part-time”) and followed migrant children who were born in the Netherlands between 1995 and 2010. She combined this data with their school results and the moment they were naturalized. The primary school figures mattered, but also their development in secondary school education. For example, did the pupils pass on to pre-university education after their first year in a secondary school class of higher general secondary education/ pre-university education? “This was more often the case with children who became Dutch before their twelfth birthday.”

More confident

In de Volkskrant, Labussière mentions one possible explanation for the relationship between age of naturalization and school results: “The child becomes more confident and feels more connected with society. At the same time, the children benefit from the citizenship of their parents, whose new nationality gave them a better opportunity to find a job or to have a home.” An education and diversity researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam made comments about this. It was the fact of not having a passport that caused uncertainty and stress; those negative aspects could well weigh heavier, he said in the newspaper. What does Labussière think about his comments? “For me, the one does not weigh heavier than the other; they are two sides of the same coin.”


Labussière is no longer working for UM. After her PhD graduation, she started a postdoc at the University of Amsterdam. “Unfortunately, there was no position for me in Maastricht.” By the way, it was a coincidence that she ended up in Maastricht: “I never had the intention of moving to the Netherlands. I wanted to continue on with research, find a PhD place, but those are scarce in France. Then I saw the vacancy at FASoS; my boyfriend gave me the last push, he came with me.” What is her Dutch like by now? Did she get to grips with the  language? “A little,” she laughs (“I would rather do the interview in English”). She passed B1 level. Not just handy because of the analysis of Dutch data, but also because she wanted to “understand the language of the country where she lives”.

Dissertation Prize UM

The Dissertation Prize “for an excellent thesis” is awarded annually during the Foundation Day celebrations. The winner receives an amount of money, € 3,500 and a work of art. The prize is awarded alternately to the Randwyck and the city centre cluster. This year, it was the city centre cluster’s turn. Marie Labussière’s thesis was selected from four submissions (FASoS, Law and two from SBE).

Native born but not yet citizen: Citizenship and educational outcomes of the children of immigrants in the Netherlands, 3 November 2021 (cum laude).

Author: Wendy Degens

Photo: Joey Roberts

Categories: news_top, Science
Tags: dissertation prize,Marie Labussière,dies natalis,dies,migrant families,grades

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