Why do young foreign-born women face difficulties on the Swedish job market?

Why do young foreign-born women face difficulties on the Swedish job market?
Young foreign-born women may be held back by discrimination, non-recognition of foreign qualifications, language barriers or a lack of contacts, the report shows. Photo: Margareta Bloom Sandebäck/imagebank.sweden.se
Foreign-born young women, particularly those from non-European countries, struggle more in the Swedish job market than their peers, a new report by Swedish authorities suggests.

Sweden’s unemployment rate is higher among foreign-born people than Swedish-born, but there is also a gender aspect.

In the 20-29 age group, just 52 percent of foreign-born women in Sweden have a job. That compares to 67 percent of foreign-born men in the same age group, 73 percent of Swedish-born women and 79 percent of Swedish-born men.

And this is despite the fact that more young foreign-born women have higher education experience than foreign or Swedish-born men, writes the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society (Myndigheten för ungdoms- och civilsamhällesfrågor, MUCF) in the report, which you can read in Swedish here. The employment rate for foreign-born women with tertiary education is lower than for Swedish men whose education finished before upper secondary school (usually age 16 in Sweden).

Among foreign-born women who work, their salaries are also on average lower than those of men or Swedish-born men or women. 

The report lists several potential factors, including that this group of women often look for health and social care jobs which first require training; and that they are expected to do more work at home and claim a lot of parental leave.

Many do have a lower level of education and face language barriers, and several women interviewed for the report say they often face discrimination to a greater extent than other women, for example if they wear a veil, even though discrimination on the basis of characteristics like gender, religious, and ethnicity is illegal in Sweden.

MUCF’s researchers also noted that foreign-born women with higher education may work part-time or on temporary contracts rather than permanent, and pointed to factors external to the workplace which may still influence employment rates, such as housing segregation and mental health issues. 

And among those with a high level of education, there may be difficulties having this recognised in Sweden. “Partly, it can be the case that the content of education is different between countries; partly it can be hard to have education formally recognised [in Sweden],” the report said. 


File photo of workers at a Volvo production site: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

There were differences linked to country of birth too: women born in Asia and Africa were the group with the lowest employment rate (45 and 47 percent respectively), while women from South America had the highest employment rate (68 percent).

MUCF noted that researchers have not found any difference in willingness to work between foreign-born and Swedish-born women, citing multiple studies that showed foreign-born people carry out job-hunting activities to the same extent as Swedish-born people, and that “the higher unemployment rate cannot be explained by differences in motivation to work or a higher acceptance for unemployment”.

But the longer that women had been living in Sweden, the higher the rate of employment and the smaller the gender gap. Women who had arrived since 2015 were the most likely to be unemployed, and to lack any registered income (meaning they did not study, receive parental benefits or other welfare benefits).

“Young foreign-born women are an important resource for society. Like everyone else, they have the right to a good, stimulating and secure professional life,” said Lena Nyberg, director general of MUCF.

“It is unacceptable and very serious that discrimination occurs. There is a lot of ignorance and prejudice that we must become better at dealing with and educating [people] about.”

The report put forward several proposals for addressing these issues.

For example, MUCF suggests stepping up work to stop harassment and discrimination of young foreign-born women, as well as further research into the problems, and practical programmes such as wider formal recognition of foreign qualifications, Swedish language education and apprenticeships with a language-learning element.

But the agency also argues that formal programmes will not be enough to close the gap completely, pointing out the role that housing segregation plays.

“Even if foreign-born women were to have the same conditions as other groups relating to level of education and work experience, their establishment [on the labour market] may be made difficult by the fact they lack the contacts and network that are important for getting a job,” the report noted. 

If you have a question or want to share your experience of the Swedish labour market as a foreigner, please contact our editorial team at [email protected].


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  1. Ridiculous article.
    There could be many reasons for this reported difference, including:
    – Swedish-born in general are more likely to have jobs because they are eligible for more “types” of jobs such as customer service jobs and sales jobs that require strong language skills and deep understanding of the culture. This may not be discrimination. But its more about job fit and local skills (to do sales in any country, for example, it helps to be good with the local language and culture)

    – If just 52% of foreign born women have jobs, are the remaining 48% looking for work? Are they being overly selective, while the men are “taking any job” in order to earn a living while the women are holding out for jobs in their given profession from back home?

    – Of the 67% of foreign-born men who have jobs – how many of these are doing heavy-labour related work that would be undesirable to most woman (outdoor labour with heavy objects and/or tools)?

    Need some definitions and info here. Otherwise it is just nonsense.

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