We need to focus on the health of immigrants

When trying to understand the economic integration of immigrants, we also need to consider their health. So far there is little knowledge on this aspect of the integration process.

Refugee immigrants face a high risk of going on disability pension arrangements

Most research on the economic integration of immigrants in Europe has primarily focused on immigrants learning the native language and their formal skills or human capital, as well as initiatives taken to help migrants in their immigration process, such as active labour market measures. Recent Norwegian research has shown that many refugee immigrants that find jobs are much more likely than natives of the same age to drop out of the labour market and become disability pension recipients. The difference appears as early as five to seven years after employment.

Labour migrants are often in good health…

Good health can be considered an advantage and a resource in the labour market. This asset is also referred to as health capital. It is well documented that labour migrants are often healthier than the average native, because good health is commonly required for migrating, especially for the household breadwinner(s). A recent study covering 14 Western European countries reports that those immigrants who had arrived within the last ten years had, on average, much better (self-rated) health than natives. Moreover, this result applied to all working-age (20 to 64 year-old) immigrants irrespective of their age when migrating, even for middle-aged men and women with little education.

…but their health seems to deteriorate fast…

Many immigrants have otherwise low human capital, such as little formal education. Because of this they are overrepresented among those who work on fixed contracts, have atypical working hours and/or earn low wages. This affects their health and wellbeing, as well as their standard of living (e.g. housing condition). As a consequence, also their children’s life choices may be reduced.

Apart from comparing the self-rated health and wellbeing of new immigrants (who migrated less than 10 years ago) to that of natives, the study repeated the comparison for immigrants who had arrived more than ten years ago. The results indicated that the health of these immigrants was similar to or even worse than that of natives. This suggests that the health of labour migrants tends to deteriorate fast.

…and the health of second-generation immigrants is typically much worse

While their parents often manage to find jobs after arriving as adults, second-generation immigrants might face more and other kinds of challenges than their parents, such as discrimination. When comparing the self-rated health and wellbeing of second-generation immigrants to that of natives, the study concluded that second-generation immigrant men (but not women), who grew up in a Western European country, had much worse self-rated health than natives of the same age. This result implies that something has gone wrong in the integration process of male second-generation immigrants in particular. This failure could cost both individuals and the welfare state dearly.

These outcomes justify a closer look within the SHIFT project into health aspects of the economic integration of immigrants in Finland.

Erling Solheim is a researcher working for Helsinki City Urban Facts, responsible for the SHIFT project’s quantitative analysis of immigrants in the Finnish labour market. SHIFT is part of the Polkuja työhön research consortium.


Bratsberg, B., Raaum, O. & Røed, K. (2016): “Job Loss and Immigrant Labor Market Performance” in IZA Discussion paper series. IZA DP. No. 9729

La Parra-Casado, D., Stornes, P. & Solheim, E.F. (2017): “Self-rated health and wellbeing among the working-age immigrant population in Western Europe: findings from the European social survey (2014) special module on the social determinants of health” in European Journal of Public Health Vol. 27, Supplement 1, 2017, 40-46. doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckw221