Is the sky really the limit? Exploring the attitude-achievement paradox in the Belgian context

Lore Van Praag*, Fanny D'hondt, Peter Stevens, Mieke Van Houtte

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


While immigrant students in Belgium have expressed high educational aspirations, if we compare them with ethnic majority students, those aspirations are not reflected in their achievement results. Ethnographic observations and semi-structured interviews with students from 10 class groups in three Flemish schools (northern part of Belgium) were used to understand why these high aspirations are not translated into actual examination results, also known as the attitude-achievement paradox. Our findings indicate that all students generally believe in the importance of education to get ahead in Belgian society. Analyses reveal, however, that although students of immigrant descent want to achieve in society, they perceive more barrierssuch as labor market discriminationthan those of non-immigrant descent to becoming successful. They have figured out distinct defensive coping strategies to circumvent those barriers, such as choosing jobs that do not invite discrimination and attempting to achieve in school in order to prove ones worth or prove someone wrong, all of which eventually seemed to affect their educational outcomes. The particular choices students made to deal with perceptions and experiences of discrimination should be understood within the local immigrant networks in which they live and depends on the (perceived) nature of discrimination.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-238
Number of pages14
JournalSociology of Race and Ethnicity
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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