Immigrant children succeed when they're employed

March 13, 2012 - 06:23

Although second-generation immigrants in Norway are less likely to get a job, they do not seem to face disadvantages once they’ve been employed.

Faced with barriers employment access, second-generation immigrants might be more positively selected on merit and skill compared with natives with similar formal qualifications, says Are Skeie Hermansen. (Photo: Colourbox)

A new study shows that non-European ethnic minorities consistently experience lower chances of being employed than ethnic Norwegian jobseekers.

As soon as they’ve successfully entered the labour market, second-generation immigrants’ access to advantaged positions is equal between ethnic minorities and the native majority.

Are Skeie Hermansen of the University of Oslo argues that this might be because employers rely on heuristic principles of group differences, since a thorough evaluation of each applicant’s skills and productivity is too costly and time-consuming.

He says that employers who are prone to discriminate have more leverage during the hiring process than when the person is already hired.

“Once you’re hired, your name and looks are irrelevant, and what counts is how you perform.”  

Youth without network

Hermansen also points out that the well-regulated Norwegian labour market has features of an insider-outsider economy, which might make it harder for second-generation immigrants to get a foot in the door.

!t’s hard to get rid of a worker after he or she is hired if the person isn't doing a good job, according to Hermansen.

So in that respect, the risk of hiring persons whose qualities you’re unsure of is higher from the employer’s perspective, which could accentuate hiring discrimination. 

The barriers some second-generation immigrants are facing might also be network-related.

“It’s possible that the difference between the two groups is about second-generation immigrants’ poor access to networks, which are important for learning about available jobs and also for recommendation purposes.”

But once you’re in, you’re in

Hermansen’s study does not support the notion of systematic employer discrimination towards second-generation immigrants in Norway once employment is secured.

Are Skeie Hermansen (Photo: University of Oslo)

Once they’re in, they’re in – their disadvantages appear to vanish, and access to more advantaged positions is no tougher for them than it is for ethnic Norwegians.

He thinks this might quite simply be because second-generation immigrants experience the same opportunities for building a good career as soon as they’ve started to work.

“However, faced with barriers in employment access, these individuals might be more positively selected on merit and skill than natives with similar formal qualifications,” he adds.

Better off in the North?

This suggests that long-term structural integration of immigrants in Norway is more successful than in other countries, where problems with discrimination or other disadvantages persist even after securing employment.

“It seems that the children of immigrants are doing better in Norway than in continental Europe,” Hermansen says, referring to studies of immigrants and employment in Western European countries.

These studies show that it’s consistently harder for second-generation immigrants to get a job, just like in Norway, but most of these have also found that immigrants stay disadvantaged even after they get a job.

A test of integration

Hermansen studied administrative data on second-generation immigrants born between 1965 and 1982. He compared their employment status and access to advantaged occupational positions with that of ethnic Norwegians, after controlling for age, sex, and educational background. His study was recently published in European Sociological Review.

Second-generation immigrants are defined as men or women who are born in Norway to foreign parents or who migrated to Norway before turning seven.

“One strategic reason why it’s interesting to study children of immigrants as a group is that several of the plausible explanations for high unemployment rates and poor labour market outcomes among immigrants are much less relevant for this group,” says Hermansen, referring to language problems, foreign educational qualifications, and insufficient knowledge of the Norwegian labour market.

Hermansen argues that the second-generation immigrants’ opportunities in the labour market are a crucial test of long-term integration for ethnic minorities in Norway.

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