The importance of place for integration

A new report from researchers at Jönköping International Business School, Jönköping University, has taken a closer look at career paths among people who have immigrated to Sweden from the EU15 (the countries that made up the European Union before the 2004 enlargement) and East Africa. The report shows, among other things, that around six out of ten immigrants from East Africa and around seven out of ten from the EU15 manage to find employment relatively quickly; either they find a job straight away, or they find a job after studies.

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The study has observed men and women who have immigrated to Sweden from the EU15 or East African countries from the year of immigration (between 1991 and 2010) through 2019. Although the majority have found employment, the study also shows that a relatively high proportion are inactive throughout the time period and others move between inactivity and activity, but do not manage to establish themselves in the labour market - neither as employees nor self-employed.

The researchers state that the individual circumstances play a big role in the ability to establish oneself in the labour market. This includes both directly measurable factors such as age, gender, and education, but also more "soft" values such as ambition and social ability. The results of the study show that in order to improve the integration of immigrants in the Swedish labour market, efforts are particularly needed to increase the level of education and other skills that are important for getting a job. However, the researchers found that higher education appears to be yield stronger results for immigrants from the EU15 than from East Africa. This may be due to greater difficulties in conveying and valuing knowledge for people with backgrounds in cultures that differ more from the Swedish one.

“Increased efforts may therefore be needed to validate knowledge and skills acquired through, for example, formal education in other countries and previous professional experience,” says Sofia Wixe, Assistant Professor in Economics and one of the authors behind the study.

Where you live matters

The study also shows that place of residence plays a role in whether immigrants establish themselves in the labour market or whether they remain inactive. The researchers state that it seems important to create opportunities for them to be able to settle in socio-economically stronger areas. This is particularly clear in the group of East African women - where living in socio-economically stronger areas leads many into a career path that starts with studies and ends with employment. However, the opposite is more likely for East African men – they are more likely to take active career paths if they live in socio-economically weaker areas.

Among people born in EU15 countries, they also benefit from living in areas with a lower degree of poverty and ethnic segregation.

“There is no ‘catch-all’ solution regarding residential integration to achieve a well-functioning labour market integration for immigrants in Sweden,” says Sofia Wixe.

Labour market integration is of utmost importance

The researchers say in the report that labour market integration is of the utmost importance for the people themselves because jobs and sufficient incomes are a prerequisite for both consumption and welfare. It is also very significant for the state, regions, and municipalities because a working population not only increases tax revenue but also reduces welfare expenditure.

The fact that immigrants participate in the labour market also increases the supply of skills and the possibility of matching in the labour market, which creates better conditions for the growth and development of Sweden as a whole.


The report is written by Johan Klaesson, Professor of Economics, and Sofia Wixe, Assistant Professor in Economics. Both are active at the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Spatial Economics at Jönköping International Business School, JU.

The project is a collaboration between researchers at Jönköping International Business School and the School of Health and Welfare in Jönköping and is financed by Forte - the Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare. For more information about the project see