This article examines the subjective understanding of success among members of three groups of children of immigrants from Mexico, North Africa and Turkey, in Dallas, Paris and Berlin respectively, by accounting for their educational and early labor market experiences. We utilize neo-assimilation and segmented assimilation theories and highlight their divergence with regards to downward assimilation and frames of reference. We focus on the working-class children of immigrants in the three settings, as they are at the highest risk of downward mobility. We find that frames of reference play a significant role in shaping the subjective understandings of success among the three groups. Despite their disadvantaged position, Mexican Americans in Dallas regard their experiences as successful given their significant departure from their parents’ low status. French North Africans in Paris, on the other hand, emphasize their limited ability to overcome the restrictions imposed on them by French society and especially schools. Doing so, they compare themselves to their French peers who do not have an immigrant background. Children of immigrants from Turkey in Berlin, by comparison, encounter labor market discrimination but feel successful relative to their parents’ generation. We find that the children of immigrants in our study rely on members of their social networks who impact their labor market experiences as their frame of reference. When they compare themselves to their parents or earlier waves of immigrants, the children of immigrants perceive their accomplishments in a positive light. When they compare themselves to mainstream society, however, they emphasize persisting inequalities. Our conclusions emphasize the importance of understanding subjective experiences of success and mobility that have been largely ignored in the migration literature.
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