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  • Illustration: Pekka Kaikkonen.

Exclusion from work and studies a problem for first generation immigrants

The article looks at exclusion from work and studies among 15–29 year olds with a foreign background in Helsinki who had by the end of 2010 lived for at least a year in Finland.They are compared with young people overall in Helsinki. It appears that not having a job or a place to study is a problem among first generation rather than second generation immigrants. Indeed, immigrants are a mobile population group, and registers do not fully cover for this mobility.

Limiting the study to those only who had spent at least a year in Finland ensured that the analysis covers only immigrants residing relatively permanently in Finland. The definition of foreign origin is based on Statistics Finland’s definition where a person has a foreign origin if both parents have been born abroad. First generation refers to people born abroad who have moved to Finland and second generation to those born in Finland and having a foreign background (Statistics Finland 2012, Martikainen and Haikkola 2010, 15).

This study draws on register data from Statistics Finland including data on main type of activity, education, income and housing among people of foreign origin in Finland at the end of 2010, classified according to the duration of their stay in the country (counting from the first year of arrival in Finland). The data on main activity type and employment were taken from Statistics Finland’s employment statistics, which are based on around 40 administrative and statistical datasets. The demographic studied are those living permanently in Finland on the last day of the year. The time of reference for main activity is the last week of the year, but the statistics also include accumulated data from the statistical year, such as income and months of employment or unemployment (Statistics Finland 2013b). The analysis of main activity has mainly been carried out separately for men and women, since labour market behaviour usually varies according to gender and immigrant groups differ with regard to their proportions of men and women.

Differences between generations?

Earlier studies show that young people’s risk of exclusion from work or studies is greater among those with a foreign background than youth with Finnish background (cf. Myrskylä 2011, 36–38; Teräs, Niemi et al. 2010). According to a study commissioned by the Finnish National Board of Education, for example, enrolment in general upper secondary education is slightly lower among first generation and slightly higher among second generation immigrants than among those with Finnish background (Kuusela et al. 2008). However, after completing their secondary studies, youth of foreign origin (both first and second generation) seem less likely to continue their studies than those with Finnish background. Statistics Finland reports that whereas (in the autumn semester of 2010) around 75 per cent of 16-24 year olds with Finnish background continued to pursue studies after having completed their upper secondary or lower education, 68 per cent of the second generation immigrants and only 50 per cent of the first generation immigrants of that age did. (Ruotsalainen and Nieminen 2012).

Access to further studies depends on school performance. According to Kilpi (2010), there is no essential difference in school performance in basic education between students with Finnish background and second generation immigrant students (measured in grade average and secondary education enrolment), when certain explanatory factors have been standardised, such as social deprivation of parents etc. Nor did Kilpi find an essential difference between first and second generation immigrants of the same immigrant group in their school performance. She did find differences in school performance between young immigrants coming from different countries, and in many immigrant groups, girls did not do quite as well in school as boys. Moreover, interest in vocational studies at secondary level was lower than average among second generation young immigrants (Kilpi 2010). At upper secondary level they have a stronger propensity than students with Finnish background to choose the general rather than vocational education, but since quite often they enter with lower marks than the majority, they run a higher risk of interrupting their studies.

Another important factor with regard to school performance and later entry into the labour market is the age at which young people have moved to Finland. According to Corak (2012, 109), in Canada for example, the critical age for school performance and continued studies is nine years. The age of the child at the time of immigration does not correlate with the likelihood to enter upper secondary education if immigration takes place before the age of nine. With those immigrating at a higher age, it does. A particularly risky age of immigration is 14–15 years, i.e. when young people are about to finish their compulsory education.

We can also assume that the length of stay in Finland has an effect on the risk of exclusion at least with those who have immigrated for reasons other than work or studies. For refugees and family-based immigrants it usually takes a while to find a job or place to study.

Main activity of young people of working age

In Helsinki in 2010, the number of 15- to 29-year-olds of foreign origin who had lived in Finland for at least a year was 15,196. Men were slightly more numerous than women. The majority had been born abroad, with only nine per cent (1,412 people) being second generation immigrants (born in Finland). Of those born abroad 51 per cent (N=13,784) had lived in Finland for five years or less, the rest for over five years.

Only one third of young people of foreign origin in Helsinki (33%, N=15,196) had a post-comprehensive qualification registered in Finland. Having a degree was noticeably more common among those born abroad (35%, N=13,784) than those born in Finland (14%, N=1,412). Women had completed this level of education more frequently (37%, N=7,512) than men (30%, N=7,684), and the gender-based differences were greater among those born abroad than those born in Finland.

Statistics on education were not comprehensive as regards immigrants’ education, and lack data on education particularly for those first generation immigrants who have moved to Finland as adults and completed their education in the sending country. Nonetheless we may conclude from the data that the average education level is lower among youth of foreign origin than those with Finnish background. Of all young people of this age group in Helsinki, 65 per cent had completed some kind of post-comprehensive education (Statistics Finland 2013a).

Low level of education usually translates into a lower status on the labour market. Thus, young people of foreign origin were significantly more often unemployed than youth in Helsinki overall. Although it is clear that many 15–29-year-olds of foreign origin would benefit from broadening their education, they were less likely to pursue studies than their native peers. However, there was significant difference between first and second generation immigrants. While over half of the first generation immigrants were on the labour market as either employed or unemployed, only some second generation immigrants were, as the great majority of the latter (68%) were still at school or studying. Hardly anyone from the second generation was unemployed, and exclusion from work or studies was decidedly lower than among first generation immigrants (Figure 1).

It has been more common for women than men not to work or pursue studies. With young men of foreign origin it was roughly twice as common as among their native peers. With women, the difference is even clearer: young women of foreign origin were four times less likely to either work or study than their native peers. Thus women with a foreign origin seem to have stayed at home to take care of their households more frequently than both men of foreign origin and young women with Finnish background. For both men and women, first generation immigrants were more prone than second generation to stay outside work and studies.

Differences of main type of activity may at least partly relate to differences of age structure between demographic groups, because the age group of 15- to 29-year-olds covers young people in very different phases of life. The youngest have only just finished comprehensive school and are looking for a place in upper secondary education. Of those approaching the age of 29, many have already had time to acquire a profession or at least enter the labour market. Family situations also vary. Whereas the youngest probably live with their parents or are only about to move out, the oldest may well have a family of their own.

A closer look at the age structure reveals that youth with foreign and Finnish background differ somewhat in this respect. Figure 2 shows that of the 15- to 29-year-olds living in Helsinki in 2010, those with a foreign mother tongue were on average slightly older than those with Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue. The proportion of under 20-year-olds was slightly smaller and that of over 25-year-olds somewhat greater among foreign than Finnish or Swedish native speakers.

An analysis based on mother tongue does not allow for first and second generation immigrants to be studied separately, and population statistics by country of origin were not yet available for Helsinki at the time of this article. But data on the Uusimaa province, in which Helsinki lies, can presumably reveal something about the distribution in Helsinki, since the foreign-background population of the region is heavily concentrated in Helsinki. According to these data, the age structures of first vs. second generation young immigrants are clearly different. In 2010, no less than 84 per cent of 15- to 29-year-old second generation immigrants in Uusimaa were under 20 years of age and the rest mainly under 25. Only four per cent were 25 to 29 years old. First generation young immigrants were clearly older: 51 per cent were 25 to 29 years old, 34 per cent 20 to 24 years old and only 15 per cent under 20 years old (Statistics Finland 2013a).

The large proportion of school children and students among second generation (Finland-born) immigrants thus seems to be related to their being much younger than first generation immigrants and young people with Finnish background. Similarly, the fact that exclusion from work or education was more common among first generation immigrants is presumably related to their not having found a job or a place to pursue secondary studies, or to their interrupting these studies for some reason or other more frequently than their native peers (Cf. Teräs, Niemi et al. 2010, 5; Kuusela, Etelälahti, Hagman et al. 2008, 186.)

The main type of activity of immigrants also varies according to their length of stay in the new country, but as Figure 3 shows, a more decisive factor is whether a person has been born abroad or in Finland. We can also see that for young men born abroad, the length of stay has had very little impact on their entry into the labour market and gaining employment. With young women, presence on the labour market increases and employment rate rises clearly with the length of stay in Finland. With both men and women, the proportion of those pursuing studies initially grows with the length of stay, only to decrease when they subsequently enter into the labour market.

For those who have immigrated as minors, the decisive factor regarding school performance and entry into further studies and into working life is their age at the time of immigration. A vulnerable group in this respect are those who moved at the age where they were about to finish their compulsory education. The data did not include information about age at the time of migration, but on the basis of age and length of stay at the time of the cross-section, the age of migration could roughly be determined.

Although the data on age of migration are very rough, they can still be used to calibrate interpretations. The smaller-than-average proportion of students among those having stayed the shortest period of time in Finland may relate to the fact that they have all immigrated as teenagers or adults. The teenagers may have had difficulties getting a place to continue their studies, while the adults may already have acquired an education before they migrated. Those having stayed the longest in Finland have all moved here as minors. Since they have lived in Finland for a long time, a great many of them have already finished their studies, which has helped them to find a place on the labour market. This appears as a smaller-than-average proportion of students and greater-than-average proportion of employed.

How frequently the first generation immigrants fall outside work or studies also varies according to the country of birth (Figure 4). It appears to be most common with those coming from Western Europe, America and African countries. Among young men and women from Western Europe, the smaller proportion of students and greater proportion of those excluded from the labour force for other reasons may partly relate to the fact that they were on average slightly older than those coming from other continents. Differences between African and non-EU European young immigrants do not, however, relate to age structure, because the age structures of the two groups were very similar. In both groups, the proportion of under 20-year-olds was larger than average and that of over 25-year-olds smaller than average (Statistics Finland 2013a).

Thus, a higher frequency of exclusion from studies or work among African than among non-EU European immigrants seems rather to relate to other factors than the age of immigration. Such factors would include abilities and qualifications provided by their country of origin with regard to entering the Finnish labour market. In these groups, differences between men and women are also the greatest. One explanation for higher-than-average exclusion from studies or work among women of Asian or African origin is probably that they have more frequently than others chosen to stay at home and take care of their households, as in these groups fertility has been higher than average (e.g. Joronen 2007, 303).

A higher frequency of exclusion from studies or work among African young immigrants presumably also relates to refugee background and a weak labour market status. For example, long-time reception of the income benefit has been found to be markedly more common than average among those having come to Finland as refugees or asylum seekers, and among them, especially those who are on parental leave or are otherwise occupied in the family circle (Tervola and Verho 2013).

We may conclude that remaining outside studies or work is a more common problem for the first generation than second generation immigrants. However, such exclusion may not be quite as common as it may look in the light of a register-based analysis like the present one. Immigrants are a dynamic population group, and registers do not necessarily cover all their movements. Since registers also include people of foreign origin who no longer live in Finland, the number of people who are outside the labour force for other reasons than studies is likely to be smaller than it may appear judging from the present data. These people have not been moved out from registers because they have not made an official notification of their moving away - something that quite a few fail to do. It is hard to estimate how large a share of those classified as being outside working life or studies have, in fact, left Finland. It is nevertheless possible to estimate which group has the highest number of these cases on the basis of what we know about those leaving Finland in general. The largest proportions of young people not having entered studies or working life in Finland were found among those coming from Western European countries or the Americas, and the smallest proportions among Eastern European immigrants (Figure 4). The first two were the groups with the greatest propensity to leave, while those belonging to the latter group were less likely than average to leave Finland.   If the analysis had taken account of those moving away from Finland, the differences in exclusion from job or studies between immigrants from different parts of the world would presumably be smaller.


Figure 1. Main type of activity of foreign-origin vs. all 15- to 29-year-old men and women in Helsinki 2010.


Figure 2. Age structure of 15- to 29-year-old men and women in Helsinki by mother tongue (1.1.2011).

Figure 3. Main type of activity in 2010 of 15- to 29-year-old men and women with foreign origin living in Helsinki, by length of stay in Finland.


Figure 4. Main type of activity in 2010 of 15- to 29-year-old men and women with foreign origin in Helsinki, by continent of birth.

Tuula Joronen is researcher at City of Helsinki Urban Facts.


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