Man working with fabric. Photo: Isabella Lindblom,
Photo: Isabella Lindblom,

Young people with immigrant backgrounds are not victims

Previously, we have told about the NordForsk-funded IntegrateYouth project, which has researched how young people with immigrant backgrounds are doing, particularly in Norway, Sweden and the UK, and to a limited extent Germany and the Netherlands. Back then, project manager Carina Mood from Stockholm University explained that Young people with immigrant backgrounds have high educational ambitions.

Now the project is coming to an end, and the latest results reveal just how complex integration is.

"It is impossible to talk about integration as successful or unsuccessful. It is a multidimensional phenomenon and you have to be clear about which dimension of integration you are talking about. For example, integration is also about social and cultural integration. Two fields that have been very important in the IntegrateYouth project," she begins.

The challenge, according to Mood, is that it is difficult to say what the goal is.

"What we have done is to study similarities and differences between groups. When it comes to social and cultural integration, we have found out that development is very slow in the countries we have looked at. And here, the recipient countries differ surprisingly little from each other, although there are of course differences between them," she says.

Strong social segregation

According to Carina Mood, social integration is about relationships between individuals and groups, while cultural integration is about identity.

The researchers have asked young people who their best friends are, who they socialise with in their free time and who they sit next to at school, and they have also studied group patterns in friendships and attitudes towards other groups.

"Some of my colleagues have been looking at the area of positive and negative relationships with friends. So far, the hypothesis has been that you generally have negative relationships with those who are in a different group, while you have more positive relationships with those who belong to the same group as you. But the fact is that because young people are segregated by background, they only make positive and negative relationships with those who belong to the same group as themselves, while they have very few relationships with those who belong to a different group," she says and explains further.

"The explanation is that they don't see those who belong to the other group, while they form both negative and positive relationships within the group they belong to. When it comes to the other group, i.e. those with a native background versus those with a foreign background, and vice versa for those with a native background, there is almost a wall between the two groups. So you don't have negative relationships with people in the other group because they are almost invisible to each other. And it goes both ways".

According to Mood, this probably has nothing to do with prejudice, although it's easy to believe. Rather, the reason is that you don't see the 'other' in the other group. Because, according to Carina Mood, people have always tended to stick to those who are similar to themselves, which is also seen in gender segregation. And it's rarely about prejudice, but more about convenience.

"I think it's about socialising with others in the same group, which generates both positive and negative relationships within the same group, while only having a vague image or notion of those who belong to another group".

Carina Mood herself has researched endogamy, which is a term used to describe the act of marrying or cohabiting within one's own descent group or social category.

"Here we have followed young people in Sweden with Swedish and foreign backgrounds until the age of 36. The results reveal a very strong social segregation. In other words, people very often choose a partner within the same ethnic group. This applies both to those who immigrated as children and those who were born and spent their entire childhood and schooling in Sweden," she explains.

The article continues below the photo.

Professor at Stockholm University Carina Mood. Photo: Sara Moritz

Cultural integration - religion and identity

The researchers have also looked at cultural integration, where the question of religion and identity plays a very important role.

"Religiosity is the biggest difference between young people with a foreign background versus native youth, and it's not just about Islam, as many believe," Carina Mood emphasises.

"Young people with a foreign background are much more religious than native youth, regardless of the specific religion they practise. And having conservative attitudes towards, for example, homosexuality, gender roles, abortion and so on is highly correlated with religiosity," she explains.

"What is interesting, however, is that young Christian immigrants become less religious as they get older than those with a Muslim background. Those with a Muslim background, on the other hand, have a more persistent religiosity and don't seem to be as affected by living in a secular society."

When it comes to identity, there is also a crystallisation of identity during the teenage years.

"Identity takes up a lot of space when you're a teenager. What's interesting is that young people with an immigrant background largely develop a dual identity. They have both their parents' country of birth and the receiving country as their identity," Mood explains and elaborates.

"Young people with foreign and native-born backgrounds live very different lives, they have different socio-economic backgrounds, are very segregated, rarely socialise with each other either when they are young or when they grow up, and they have very different views on what is important to them in life.When young people with a foreign background still do well in general, it's partly because they have high ambitions and it's important for them to make their parents proud," she says.

She also says that she and her colleagues have seen no evidence that young people with a foreign background are more stressed or have poorer health than native-born young people. One explanation, according to Mood, could be that they generally have closer family relationships and experience more support from their parents, which can act as a kind of bulwark against stress.

Young people with a migrant background are not victims

According to Carina Mood, the research results from IntegrateYouth show that it takes a long time to strengthen social and cultural integration. At the same time, the project has also highlighted the complexity of integration.

"The problem is that we want freedom for everyone, but at the same time we want fewer differences. But what is the norm, or the goal we want to achieve? It's a question that makes it difficult to come up with simple solutions to strengthen social and cultural integration."

"I fundamentally believe that young people with a migrant background are not victims. They make active choices, are well-informed and have a lot of power to shape their own future. Therefore, we must take data and facts into account when we talk about and work with integration," she concludes.

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The IntegrateYouth project is a part of the Nordic Initiative on Migration and Integration.


Thomas Jacobsson

Thomas Jacobsson

Senior Adviser
Jakob Chortsen

Jakob Chortsen

Senior Communications Adviser