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Statistics Sweden: new statistics on how different immigrant groups manage in the Nordics

| Text: Björn Lindahl

Statistics Sweden (SCB) and its Nordic opposites have begun producing comparable statistics on how immigrants manage in the labour market, divided into country of origin.

For now, only data from 2016 is available in the new database with detailed and coordinated statistics from register data for the four largest Nordic countries. Statistics from Iceland are yet to come. There is also a selection of countries of origin – the 20 largest in terms of numbers of immigrants to the Nordic countries. 

It all started when SCB was commissioned by the Ministry of Employment to produce a pocket guide on integration in the Nordic region. This proved to be more complicated than what the statisticians had thought. 

Statistics on integration and the labour market has of course existed before, for all of the Nordic countries. But the figures were not quite comparable because the definitions were different. 

Not declared before

“We have not declared these variables based on country of origin in Swedish statistics before, but this is something we know many might be interested in,” says Petter Wikström, who together with his colleague Karin Lundström has been responsible for SCB’s part of the project.

Besides statistics on country of origin and paid work, there is also statistics on education levels, study results and on people who neither work nor study. Certain information is not yet available for all countries, however. The charts will be updated annually. 

The information can be found at and is available for anyone. There are many other types of statistics on the site too, where Iceland is also represented.

“Not many equally comprehensive attempts have been made to compare countries’ identical groups of first and second generation immigrants in terms of education, labour market participation and people who fall completely outside of the labour market. We have produced a fair comparative base,” says Vebjørn Aalandslid, senior advisor at Statistics Norway, which has been responsible for the project, with finance from the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Unique for the Nordic region

This ability to compare such detailed labour market statistics is unique to the Nordic region. Similar register data does not exist for other regions in Europe. 

Producing statistic for different kinds of immigrant groups has been, and in certain cases remains, controversial. The Nordic statistics agencies stand out in terms of how far they are willing to go. The risk is that the statistics are so detailed and certain immigrant groups are so small that it becomes possible to identify individuals. Some also argue that the statistics could stigmatise certain groups, especially when it is presented in a more popularised form. 

Statistics Denmark has its own editorial office – Behind the numbers – which popularises the statistics. As early as in 2002 they published an article called “Immigrants are more often criminal”.

“The crime rate among first and second generation immigrants is considerably higher than for the population as a whole, shows a report from Statistics Denmark which looks at the link between crime and national origin,” wrote Behind the numbers.

“Crime amongst men with foreign heritage was 38 percent higher than for all men in Denmark in 2000, and for women with foreign heritage the number was 27 percent.”

Explaining factors 

The article discussed the reasons behind the difference. Immigrants are for instance younger than the average population, and receive more social support. These groups are linked to a higher level of crime generally. If you take that into account, crime rates are seven percent higher among men with foreign heritage, but one percent lower for women with foreign heritage, the article points out. At that time, it would not have been possible for any of the other statistics agencies to publish such an article. 

Another controversial issue is how much immigration costs. Norway’s Progress Party long demanded the publication of an “immigration budget”. When Professor Grete Brochmann presented her two reports in Norway in 2011 and 2017 about the cost of future immigration, she used detailed statistics from Statistics Norway on immigrants from different countries of origin. 

Controversial statistics

In Sweden, until just a few years ago, this was something researchers did not spend time on at all. Joakim Ruist, who is one of the younger, high profile researchers on the employment of immigrants, writes in his blog how he waited for four years before publishing figures he had calculated for how different groups manage. 

“The estimations of refugee immigration’s public financial costs which I presented at the beginning of 2015, I had calculated four years earlier,” he writes. 

He had done the calculations because it interested him.

“But I did not want to publish the figures then. The results showed that the costs were not much to worry about, so there was no need to publish them at the time,” wrote Joakim Ruist in July this year.

The flow of refugees changed things

What changed was the large flow of refugees in 2015. New groups entered into the country, at the same time as the Sweden Democrats presented numbers for what they believed could be saved by shutting the borders. This made Joakim Ruist aware there was a need to present the facts. Just looking at previous immigration would be wrong, he believes:

“Solely looking at an historic average would give you a far too positive image, since the historical average is so dominated by former Yugoslavs, who have done better in the Swedish labour market than most other refugee groups.

With comparative Nordic statistics it will also become easier to see what might be linked to factors like country of origin, age, education and what could be influenced through political decisions.  

“During the work with the Nordic statistics I have been struck by the differences in long-term integration,” says Petter Wikström.

“In Finland and Sweden the number of immigrants in the workforce is highest among those who have been in the country the longest. In Denmark and Norway, however, the employment number is lower for people who have spent more than 15 years in the country than for those who have been there for 8–15 years,” he points out.

Important to carry on with the project

Vebjørn Aalandslid at Statistics Norway says it is crucial to follow up the work on Nordic immigration and integration statistics.

“It is incredibly important since this type of project often ends up being detached. You carry out an analysis and it just becomes one moment in time. Good statistics must be able to follow developments over time and not only take snapshots,” he says.

“For the countries’ governments all this must be very interesting data which can be used to learn a little from each other. I think, for instance, that it makes sense to look at Sweden and ask what they have done to achieve so much higher employment numbers among Somalis who have been in the country for a long time, compared to Denmark and Norway,” says Vebjørn Aalandslid.

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