Young Norwegians with parents who immigrated from India and Pakistan risk spending more time finding a job than their peers with ethnic Norwegian parents. (Photo: Colourbox)

Harder for children of immigrants to find employment

Although they have grown up in Norway and are well educated, young people with parents from Pakistan and India are less likely than their Norwegian peers to have a paid job.

It takes longer for children of Pakistani or Indian immigrants to land jobs than those with Norwegian ancestry. Even children of immigrants who have lived most of their lives in Norway and speak fluent Norwegian report these problems.

Children of immigrants are 10-17 percent less likely than their Norwegian peers to have incomes of at least NOK 150,000 ($22,000) two years after completing their educations, according to a new study from the University of Oslo (UiO) published in Tidsskrift for samfunnsforskning.

Employer bias

Even when researchers compare individuals who are the same age, have extensive educations, the same family conditions and residences, it takes much more time for these descendants of immigrants to find work.

“We think discrimination is an important explanation. There can be no doubts that Norwegian employers treat people unequally,” says Gunn Elisabeth Birkelund, professor of sociology at UiO and one of the researchers behind the study.

Researchers do not know why it takes a longer time for children of immigrants to find jobs. Sociologist Gunn Elisabeth Birkelund thinks employers discriminate. (Photo: UiO)

The likelihood that the cause is sheer predjudice is made clear in another study to be published in the journal Sosiologisk tidsskrift.

Birkelund repeated an earlier experiment in collaboration with colleagues which showed that employers are less likely to contact job-seekers who have typical Pakistan names. The researchers discovered this by sending in fictional applications for real vacant positions.

The new study also found that chances are slimmer to get a call from a prospective employer if an application is signed with a Pakistani name. The probability of getting an interview is reduced by nearly 22 percent if a person has a Pakistani name and seeks a job in Oslo.

Unsure about applicants with foreign names

Part of the reason for these findings may be that employers are unsure what contributions applicants with foreign sounding names can offer. Researchers behind the earlier study discovered this when they asked employers why they didn’t respond to positively to applicants who were Pakistani-Norwegians and call them to interviews.

Do they speak and write Norwegian well enough? Are they acquainted with Norwegian work environments and customs?

The study showed that employers are not so apt to discern between immigrants and persons born in Norway to immigrant parents when they read applications. As long as someone has a different sounding name the employer figures they are an immigrant who speaks poor Norwegian, however perfect the application.

“I think employers are not the only ones who jump to conclusions. We all need a change of attitudes to become more aware,” says Birkelund.

Formal employment processes appear to work better for minorities, as less is left to individual decision making and possible biases. Some studies have indicated that employers favour employees who are similar to themselves.

Norwegian born job-seekers, too

The new study was designed to address any uncertainty about an applicant’s language and assimilation if the employer really reads the CV, because it shows the applicants are born in other cities than Oslo, which makes it clear that the applicant was born in a Norwegian city. 

“It might not be too common to include one’s place of birth in a CV, but we added that to remove any doubts about whether an applicant was born in Norway,” says Birkelund.

Even with this information there is a 14 percent lower chance that employers in the cities of Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim choose someone with a Pakistani name.

It might be that employers throw the CV straight into the wastebasket without even reading it. A study from the Netherlands also shows that employers are less likely to check a CV if they see it is submitted by someone with a foreign-sounding name.

Achievers at school, losers in the job market

It should be mentioned that employers in Norway often do contact applicants with all sorts of names. Some forty percent of applicants with Pakistani names got replies, as compared to half of all with Norwegian names.

The researchers actually found less discrimination than they had expected, but the domestic demand for labour in Norway was high when the study was conducted.

Nevertheless, the differences are clear. The same can be said for the study of how long it takes for graduates to find jobs. 

“It’s a problem for the individuals and society as well when people spend a long time without jobs. We haven’t investigated how they supported themselves when they had no an income,” says Birkelund.

She thinks the he most surprising thing are the results regarding descendants of immigrants from India.

“They are winners at school, but their transition to working life goes more poorly, especially for men,” she says.

So even though one out every five Indian descendants has a master's degree, it takes them longer to get a job after graduating. Less than one in ten young people whose parents are born in Norway earn master's degrees.

Voluntarily outside the workforce?

Chances in the job market even out some when applicants have university degrees. But when they have a bachelor or a master's degree, Indian-Norwegians and Pakistani-Norwegians trail behind other Norwegians with identical educations. 

Lower participation in the workforce can be attributed to other factors than discrimination.

Taking a break outside the workforce can be voluntary.

Birkelund and colleagues study all who are not engaged in full-time studies. But they are not necessarily jobless. It isn’t even clear whether they have graduated. Some take a break from studies.

Perhaps they are engaged in something different, like volunteer work or travelling.

But Birkelund doesn’t think young Indian-Norwegians are more likely to seek these alternatives outside of the job market than their peers with ethnic Norwegian parents.

Not home with children

One thing is known: Female descendants of these immigrants are not any more likely than their ethnic Norwegian peers to be at home with children. The researchers checked that possibility and ruled it out. Some feared that highly educated women with immigrant backgrounds drop careers in order to be housewives. The study shows this is not happening.

Nor are they more likely to educate themselves for esoteric jobs that are not in demand – on the contrary, according to Birkelund.

On average, the job market ought be better for the descendants of non-Western immigrants, ones from outside the European Economic Area, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They are more likely to get degrees in the natural sciences and math, according to a master's degree thesis.

Are they choosier when it comes to the work market?

“Some might not take the first and best job, but wait for a better offer,” says Birkelund, but adds that she hasn’t studied this possibility.

Do they have poorer networks than those whose families have lived in Norway for generations? Do they lack contacts to help them find jobs?

The researcher has no answer to that.

Better after a while

Once they have joined the workforce, the children of immigrants do fare much better, according to research. After a few years the income gap narrows between them and peers with Norwegian parents, even though different studies have given variable results. They get positions that are just as high. But this applies to those who actually found employment.

The toughest part appears to be finding a job in the first place. It’s a matter of getting an opportunity to demonstrate their proficiencies.

Birkelund suggests a temporary scheme to pay employers to hire people with immigrant backgrounds.

“This could be controversial, but I think employers would be more likely to take a chance if parts of salaries are subsidised for a while. Once workers have been employed for a period, this advantage could be withdrawn.”


Read the Norwegian version of this article at

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

External links

Powered by Labrador CMS