Immigrants’ plural identities relate to employment gap


PhD project shows no negative relationship between attachment to the culture of origin and employment outcomes. However, immigrants who are open to majority norms of their host society Denmark are more likely to have a job.

Denmark sadly distinguishes itself from other EU member states with one of the widest interethnic employment gaps. In 2005, the gap between non-EU immigrants and ethnic Danes amounted to 25 percentage points; more than 12 points above the average of the EU-15 countries. At the center of the public debate on immigrants’ economic success resides the argument that when immigrants retain their culture of origin and neglect to adopt the majority identity, this impedes their economic and social inclusion in the host society.

I have investigated the relationship between employment and ethnic identity of immigrants. I define ethnic identity as a combination of immigrants’ direct and indirect attachment to the home country and the host country, and their openness to host country norms such as gender equality, free choice of partner, democracy, and tolerance toward divorce, abortion and homosexuality.

There is no strong evidence of a negative relationship between attachment to the home country and employment outcomes. Even though attachment as such does not relate to employment outcomes, there does seem to be a strong relationship between openness to majority norms and higher employment probabilities for first-generation immigrants. On average, a first-generation immigrant who is open to majority norms is 4 to 10% more likely to be employed, holding other factors constant. Furthermore, it appears that differentials in terms of acceptance of majority norms between non-Western immigrants and ethnic Danes could account for up to 20% of the explained share of the employment gap between immigrant and non-immigrant females and up to 14% between immigrant and non-immigrant males.

To conduct this research, data from the 2006 Danish survey – the Ethnic Groups’ Values survey (EGV) – was used to analyse six ethnic groups of non-Western, first- and second-generation immigrants, and a group of ethnic Danes. Attachment to the home country and the receiving country is measured using the following questions: “How strong is your attachment to Denmark?” and “How strong is your attachment to your country of origin?” Alternatively, identity choice is measured on the basis of indirect indicators, such as the origin of the language spoken at home and the degree of religiosity. Openness to majority norms is measured by an aggregated index using respondents’ attitudes toward gender equality, free choice of partner, democracy, and tolerance toward divorce, abortion, and homosexuality. It appears that openness to majority norms and measures of attachment to the home country and the receiving country capture distinct elements of immigrants’ (plural) identities and, therefore, these should be controlled for simultaneously in the employment estimations.

The study contributes to the literature and the public debate in at least three ways. First, the measures of openness to majority norms and attachment to the home country and the receiving country capture dimensions of immigrants’ identity disregarded in previous studies. As a result, this study can suggest which facets of immigrants’ plural identities relate to employment, and can lead to post-migration initiatives that are more effective with regard to integrating immigrants in the receiving labor market. Second, the EGV data set is representative of Denmark’s largest immigrant group: non-Western immigrants who entered the country as tied movers or asylum seekers. Analyzing the economic integration of non-Western immigrants is relevant, as they often experience lower employment rates than other immigrant groups and remain underregarded in the literature. Third, as the EGV data also samples ethnic Danes, interethnic differentials in variable endowments can be observed and can be used to evaluate to what extent adopting majority norms can improve the current interethnic employment gap. Given the remarkable dissimilarity in immigrant employment rates across gender, males and females are looked at separately. Due to the nature of the EGV data and inherent potential endogeneity, the coefficients estimates most likely show overestimated effects. Hence, results should be interpreted as lower and upper bounds rather than causal relationships.

The results are forthcoming in Journal of Population Economics in the paper “Ethnic Identity, Majority Norms, and the Native-Immigrant Employment Gap” (DOI: 10.1007/s00148-012-0463-3).

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