21 June 2021

How does segregation arise? When does it arise? A newly presented thesis at LiU shows that the timing, geographical vicinity, and the influence of other people are all significant when residential areas become segregated. The size of the areas studied also affects the result.

Illustration of segregation.
Segregation is a fact, but what causes it? Nazan Akpolat

Different factors

Alex Giménez de la Prada.Alex Giménez de la Prada.

In his thesis, Local Social Exposure and Inter-Neighborhood Mobility, Alex Giménez de la Prada investigates segregation in Sweden in the period 1998-2017, and looks at how the majority population moves out from areas when groups from ethnic minorities move in. The investigation is based on Swedish population registers, principally for Stockholm, while also analysing other parts of Sweden during the 20-year period.

The thesis shows that there is a small but statistically significant relationship between the movement of ethnic minorities into an area and the movement of the majority population out. There is, however, a marked lower limit for this effect: if the percentage of the minority population is lower than 5-10%, there is no effect.

“The propensity to move then increases as the minority population increases, up to 20-25%. Evenly distributed areas, 50-50, are very rare in Sweden”, says Alex Giménez de la Prada and adds that the result comes from the study of small areas of 100 by 100 metres.

“But it’s important to remember that other factors affect the decision to move much more strongly, such as a changed family situation, new job, or starting to study. My research deals with statistical averages and the behaviour of groups, not with individuals.”

Important examples

The study has also shown that other people’s decisions to move affect our own decisions. If a member of the majority population whom we know, or recognise, moves, it increases the probability that we ourselves will move. Another important factor is the physical distance between the majority and minority populations; there is no noticeable effect if the distance between two individuals is greater than 300-500 metres.

This clear geographical limitation leads Alex Giménez de la Prada to conclude that much previous research, and debate, into segregation has missed the point. It’s not sufficient to consider the administrative borders of a residential district or neighbourhood; regions must be defined with greater precision.

“The administrative regions are often far too large, and people can be influenced in completely different ways within such a large region. Previously, it’s often been assumed that everyone is affected in the same way”, says Alex Giménez de la Prada who has use much smaller geographical units in his research.

Time essential

The timing of changes in the ethnicity composition of a region also plays a role in people deciding to move or not. One of the articles in the thesis analyses the period after the refugee crisis of 2015, and shows that the establishment of temporary asylum centres did not lead to any movement away of the majority population. However, out-mobility did start to rise when the asylum seekers had been granted residence permits and could themselves acquire residences in a region.

When this occurs, the tendency of the majority population to move out increases, even though the number people from the ethnic minority may be significantly lower than at an asylum centre.

“The keyword here is stability. It makes a big difference if the change in ethnicity profile of a region is perceived to be temporary or permanent”, says Alex Giménez de la Prada.

Don´t know why

He has in the investigations eliminated as far as possible other factors that can affect people’s mobility patterns. One way to do this is to compare individuals who are as similar as possible in all respects apart from one: being och not being exposed to the arrival of ethnic minorities. Factors that are compared include sex, age, income and educational level, among other factors.

The thesis, on the other hand, gives no information about why people move. The research reveals clear statistical mobility patterns, but does not give any information about the thoughts and reasoning of individuals. It may be the case that a person who moves does not want to live close to people from an ethnic minority, but it may just as well be a desire to live close to other members of the majority population.

“There may also be completely different factors related to immigration, such as economic prosperity and the quality of schools”, says Alex Giménez de la Prada.

Footnote: Alex Giménez de la Prada has been a member of the first group of doctoral students admitted to the Institute for Analytical Sociology (IAS), and is the first person to be awarded a doctoral degree in analytical sociology.

Translated by George Farrants

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