Young students walk down a staircase at OsloMet
Foto: OsloMet

Young people with an immigrant background set educational sights high

“We’re seeing that when many young people with an immigrant background finish high school, they become very eager and set their educational sights high,” says Carina Mood, professor at Stockholm University.

She’s leading the NordForsk-funded project Structural, cultural and social integration among youth: A multidimensional comparative project also known as IntegrateYouth. The project’s researchers are investigating where things stand with the integration of young people with an immigrant background in Norway, Sweden, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

In the public debate about young immigrants, the focus is often on discrimination and crime. Carina and the research project IntegrateYouth have a different perspective. And according to Carina, it’s important to look at integration from a multidimensional perspective in order to shed light on an array of circumstances.

“If we look at so-called structural integration, which relates to young people’s schooling and economic situation, integration seems to be going quite well in all the countries involved in the project. Many young people with an immigrant background are very ambitious and state that school and education are important to them.”

In schools in Sweden, Norway and the UK, children and young people are not graded according to ability, and that’s why we’re seeing that young people with a foreign background do better than those in the Netherlands and Germany, she explains. In the latter two countries, although young people are ambitious, they don’t get the same opportunities to set their sights as high because they’re divided on the basis of their abilities already at an early age.

Ambitiousness is particularly evident among young people from outside the Nordic Region and Europe, typically from the Middle East, Asia, South America and Africa.

The study includes both young people who are immigrants themselves, and those who were born in the new country but whose parents were born abroad. This means that both first- and second-generation young immigrants are included.

IntegrateYouth’s study is based partly on data from CILS4EU, which includes a total of 19,000 young people (approximately 5,000 from each of the four countries – Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK), and from CILS-NOR which includes 7,400 young people from Norway. 

Professor at Stockholm University Carina Mood. Photo: Sara Moritz

Three possible explanations for ambitiousness

Why do young people with an immigrant background do so well at school? Carina refers to three possible explanations.

“Young people with an immigrant background are more family-orientated, and it’s important for them to make their parents happy and proud. They want to demonstrate that they’ve done well. Another explanation is that many people with a foreign background arrive from countries without the same opportunities that we have in the Nordic countries. Education is expensive and not for everyone, and when they come to the Nordic Region, they greatly appreciate the educational opportunities that are suddenly available to them. Young people in the Nordic Region take for granted that they can choose freely between different forms of education.”

A third possible explanation, which Carina refers to, is that some young people choose higher education because they want to avoid discrimination, and that it’s more widespread among those who are employed in the more traditional professions.

“When it comes to grades and test results, although young people with an immigrant background often score lower, they are so ambitious that it compensates for their achievements. In the countries we’ve studied so far (Norway and Sweden), we’re seeing that young people with an immigrant background obtain university degrees to the same extent as those with no immigrant background.”

On the other hand, when you look at social integration, things aren’t as good as with integration related to young people’s schooling and economic situation. Preliminary results indicate that many young people with an immigrant background don’t form such close social relationships with young people with no immigrant background.

“It may be that many young people with an immigrant background don’t spend as much time with those who were born in the country. When we ask young people who they form relationships with at school and in their free time, and who they pair up with, it’s only to a limited extent that it happens with young people born in the country. One of the barriers may be the differences in their religious views. On the other hand, our results show that young people with and without an immigrant background have a positive attitude towards each other.”

The project is part of NordForsk’s Nordic initiative on Migration and Integration Research and is funded by the Research Council of Norway, the Swedish Research Council, Forte in Sweden, the Academy of Finland, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture in Iceland, and the Economic and Social Research Council in the United Kingdom. 

Nordic societies benefit from ambitious young people

“Society can benefit greatly from the positive and strong driving force of young people. They will secure key management positions at their workplace to a significantly greater extent. This might lead to less discrimination at the workplace, and I also think that there may be a possibility that structural integration in the labour market will lead to better social integration in the long term,” says Carina.

Together with other researchers, Carina Mood has recently published the book “Integration bland unga: En mångkulturell generation växer upp” (Integration among young people: The emergence of a multicultural generation).  


Thomas Jacobsson

Thomas Jacobsson

Senior Adviser
Marianne Knudsen. Photo: NordForsk

Marianne Knudsen

Senior Communications Adviser