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The transition from school to work for ethnic minorities and native Danes


How do ethnic minorities fare in the transition from elementary school to higher education and on to employment, compared to native Danes? What are the differences, and what factors contribute to these differences? These are some of the questions in a new SFI project.

As in many other European countries, the immigrant population in Denmark has increased since the 1980s. In 2014, 11% of the population in Denmark were immigrants (either first or second generation) compared to 3% in 1980.

Today, about 10% of the pupils in elementary school are immigrants. As educational skills seem to be increasingly important in the labour market, the success of the immigrants in the educational system and their later opportunities to use their educational skills are important for Danish society.

Previous European research has shown that immigrants face greater difficulties than natives in finding employment after leaving the educational system. The European research literature is more mixed with respect to wage outcome: some studies find a lower wage level for immigrants than for natives, while other studies find no wage difference between immigrants and natives (given educational level).

The questions

The purpose of this research project is to contribute to the existing knowledge about the relation between educational outcomes and success in the labour market for young immigrants. In the project, we compare the transition from school to work for immigrant pupils and native Danish pupils. The project will focus on: 

  • enrollment in higher education after completed elementary school for immigrants and native Danes
  • employment status and wages after completed education for immigrants and native Danes
  • how a number of individual characteristics (for example the parents’ socio-economic status, number of siblings, age at immigration, marital status, number of children and marks from elementary school) contribute to explaining differences between immigrants and native Danes in the transition from school to work.
  • whether the influence of the unemployment level on the transition from school to work differs for immigrants and native Danes.

Methods and data

The project will include analyses of how the differences between immigrants and native Danes with respect employment status and wages vary with gender and level of education. This includes a comparison of immigrants and native Danes who drop out of a vocational education programme; a type of programme in which both immigrants and native Danes experience very high dropout rates.

The hypothesis is that formal education is more important for immigrants than for natives, and that immigrants fare worse in the labour market compared to natives among those who dropout from a vocational education programme.

One of the methods we will use in the empirical analysis is sequence analysis. Sequence analysis can be used to describe how immigrants and native Danes change between different states (e.g. student, employed, unemployed, on early retirement pension and others) in a five- or ten-year period and to divide the individuals into clusters, where a cluster consists of those individuals who are most similar with respect to changes between the different states.

In the empirical analysis, we apply data from Danish administrative registers containing information on the total Danish population aged 15-39 for the period 1980-2012. The data also contains information on the parents and siblings of the 15-39-year-old individuals.

The project is being financed by the Ministry of Employment and SFI and is expected to finish in 2015.

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