Life at the Frontier: The Impact of Social Frontiers on the Social Mobility and Integration of Migrants

The rise in international migration has brought important cultural and economic opportunities. It has also posed challenges, both for migrants and for wider society, in terms of integration and settlement, access to labour markets, housing and education.

Social frontiers arise when neighbouring communities are very different in terms of their cultural, ethnic and/or social make-up, and the spatial transition in these characteristics is abrupt, rather than gradual. Recent research finds that social frontiers are associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression and crime. Our concern is that social frontiers also impede education and employment outcomes, leading to lower social mobility.

Successful integration entails migrants being able to achieve “outcomes within employment, housing, education, health etc. which are equivalent to those achieved within the wider host communities” (UK Home Office report, 2004). These outcomes are vital because they offer migrants and minority/marginalised groups the opportunity and freedom to advance in the labour and housing markets, and acquire the resources and opportunities needed to connect with wider society.

One of the big challenges facing countries seeking to improve integration is that education and employment outcomes are related to where people live. However, the impact of neighbourhood boundaries—the areas of transition between communities—has received very little research attention. These boundaries could have important implications for social mobility and integration, particularly when they take the form of social frontiers.

Our pioneering study will examine the impact of social frontiers on social mobility and their implications for integration using a combination of detailed qualitative research and pioneering quantitative methods.

We shall achieve this by establishing a world-leading multidisciplinary research team spanning the UK, Norway, and Sweden. Working across multiple contexts creates opportunities to learn from best practice and experiences in each nation.

The research team will also closely collaborate with a range of stakeholders at the local and national level. This engagement will maximise the relevance and accessibility of our research for public discourse and policy development.


Thomas Jacobsson

Thomas Jacobsson

Senior Adviser