Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal issues

IREF Europe - Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal issues

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Sweden: human development index higher in places with more immigrants

Commentators often tend to link immigration to social problems and high unemployment. But as shown by the Swedish Reform Institute in a comprehensive study published in January 2013, this is not the case, on the contrary.

Examining 18 variables reflecting the situation in Swedish municipalities (such as youth unemployment, rate of high-school dropouts, long-term sick leave, social exclusion …) the report found that among the five towns with the worst human development index (HDI), four had very few immigrants*. The 20 worst urban districts had fewer than the average number of immigrants, and the 20 best more immigrants than the average, or 14.4 per cent.

This so surprised the researchers that they complemented the study with an indicator for psycho-social health among 9th grade pupils. And it turns out that a lower number of immigrants is consistently associated with melancholy, difficulties to concentrate, mobbing and other types of social problems.

This does not mean of course that immigrants do not experience problems of integration or unemployment, but rather that many native Swedes are exposed to integration problems where immigration is scarce.

But the facts remain: four of the five worst towns in the total index are places where the immigrant share is low or very low. Thus it is not possible to attribute unemployment or long sick-leave to the presence of foreign-born individuals. Among the 25 towns where immigrants are numerous, there are more children with difficulties at school but equally more young people proceeding to university. There are more people unemployed, but revenues are generally higher. Among the 25 towns with few immigrants, low revenues and long-term sick leave are more common.

In addition, the regression analysis based on data from 239 municipalities shows a clear correlation between high HDI and a favourable environment for entrepreneurship (regardless of the population).

* Citizens with foreign background are those who are born in another country, or born in Sweden by two foreign parents. The national average of foreign population is 19 per cent.

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