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Needs for female immigrants and their integration in ageing societies

Executive Summary

This study aimed at generating knowledge about obstacles and needs for opportunity enhancement for economic and social integration of women immigrants in a life-course perspective, identify requirements for integrative interaction between immigrants and national population in the host country, build this knowledge into a platform for the policy deliberations among key policy stakeholders, and elaborate recommendations on needs for immigrants and support policies and services for their integration in view of population ageing in Europe.

Demographic ageing in Europe
The population of the European Union has undergone the second demographic transition, which has brought about many demographic changes in its countries (see e.g. van de Kaa 1987, 1994, 1998). One of its most visible effects caused by the transformation of people’s cultural norms, values and attitudes (the shift towards individualism) was the fall in the total fertility rate in most EU States well below the population replacement level. In many countries it reached the critical level of 1.5 children per woman, in some countries (mainly in post-communist ones) even falling below the lowest fertility threshold of 1.3 children. The fall in the fertility rate has been accompanied by rising life expectancy and by declining mortality. All these changes have brought about the dynamic age-structural transition (demographic ageing) which the EU faces nowadays, with the well-known consequences: a fall in the number of people of economically-active age, the ageing of the labour force, an increase in the number of elderly people dependent on pension schemes, an increase in the number of the elderly seeking social and health care services. The shrinking of the labour force creates a demand for foreign workers – i.e. for immigrants.

The issue of ageing is important in the FEMAGE project for two reasons. On the one hand, it is the ageing of European societies – a process which creates serious challenges to economies, pension and health care systems, families and social cohesion. On the other, there are immigrants, whose ageing might create even greater problems due to their precarious situation characterized by weakened social and family ties and problems with obtaining well-paid, legal and “socially safe” employment.
The proportion of the elderly population (65+) will increase by 5 to 10 percent until 2030 in the FEMAGE countries. The elderly will then represent more than 20% of the population in all of them; in Germany this share will approach 28% (see Graph 1). The ageing of the population can have a negative impact on national economies. According to an EU report (The EU Economy 2002), ageing can cause a fall in potential annual growth in GNP in Europe from 2-2.25% today to 1.25 % in 2040. This is due to several facts. Firstly, the ageing of the population, together with low fertility, leads to manpower shortages. This fact may not yet be evident, as the cohorts born during the baby boom are still economically active; however, when these cohorts retire, the economically active population will decline considerably if this shortcoming is not at least partly mitigated by immigration. We can see the projected decrease of possible manpower in most FEMAGE countries in Graph 2 below.

Graph 1: Proportion of elderly (65+) in FEMAGE countries in 2005 and 2030 (Source: Vienna Institute for Demography)

Graph 2: Change in the size of the economically active population in 2005–2020 (in %) – (Source: ILO)



FEMAGE used a multi-method approach:

  • 1. It undertook a small-scale qualitative survey by means of interviews including a narrative and semi-structured part with immigrant women. Altogether 239 interviews were conducted among immigrant women of nine different ethnic origin groups in eight European countries;
  • 2. FEMAGE utilized data from the Population Policy Acceptance Survey (PPA), a large-scale standardized survey, consisting of a total of 21,812 Europeans to analyse the attitudes of the native population in the host countries towards immigration and integration of migrants;
  • 3. Eight national and one European focus group discussions were organized with experts, stakeholders and migrant women on their viewpoints on the FEMAGE results.

Research findings

The results of the international comparative analysis of the qualitative interviews gave an insight into the migration history, the life course perspectives, gender roles, ethnicity of the female migrants and their expectations about their own old age. The migration of third country women affects profoundly their family lives and gender roles. Family networks are often destabilized and child-bearing might be postponed or even abandoned. The women also have to adjust their gender role models. As to their perspectives about their own ageing the results show that problems can occur which are caused by shorter labour market participation and social isolation.

The results form the PPA survey of native populations in the eight countries under stydu show that, all in all, negative views on migration issues are more prevalent than positive oues, and this is more prevalent in the east than in the west of Europe

Consequently, it is difficult for them to make serious plans for old age in the host country. Regarding ethnicity, the project found striking similarities among different immigrant groups from different ethnic backgrounds. In all migrant groups women reported getting into a social and economic, legal or emotional vacuum or being subordinated as a woman.

Graph 3. Foreign people out of the population size in year 2000 (source Koris and Nowak 2007).

Especially the fear of competition with migrants on the labour market is expressed by the native populations. However, we found significant differences in attitudes between the countries and between different levels of education.

Comparing the attitudes of the nationals with those of the migrant women, it appears that the latter perceive the native population in a more positive light than vice versa and also that the migrant women consider that they are perceived positively by the natives. The majority of natives expect that foreigners have to adapt to the host countries. In their view, migrants are obliged to learn the language and the customs of the host country. The native population does not to appear to favour an approach towards multiculturalism understood as immigrants’ cultural ‘separateness’. This is not contradictory to the viewpoints of migrant women. The overwhelming majority of migrant women share the quest for permanence and integration. Most have been naturalised, or intend to do so, and most feel at home in the host countries.

Graph 4. Share of foreign nationals

The panellists in the focus groups from the “FEMAGE countries” unanimously agreed that early labour market participation facilitates the process of integration and limits the danger of immigrants’ long term dependency on social welfare payments. Experts also highlighted the need to make the benefits of migration and integration more visible to society as a whole. There is a need to assist migrant women to foster their independence. The panellists also stressed that female immigrants have to deal with the same problems as native women because they are gender specific.

Regarding gender roles and task division, it appears that the viewpoints of female nationals and female immigrants are largely identical. In both groups a majority prefers a 'modern' approachtowards gender roles and task division..

The focus group discussion between members of European Institutions showed that ‘new’ issues in the migration debate, such as the blue card, need to be addressed along with ‘old’ issues such as the recruitment and integration of unskilled labour. Female immigrants need gender-specific support. Migrant women need to obtain access to affordable language courses and to general information about values and norms of the host country. The depreciation of skills – with which immigrant women arrive – leads to a loss of human capital, for the immigrant as well as for the host society. For economically-active women there is a growing need for portability of pension rights, i.e. taking along pension rights and social benefits from one country to another.


Policy recommendations

Key messages

The policy recommendations report will be developed as a synthesis of the following five sets of reports and documents:

  1. The impact of population ageing on the general employment market, on female activity and the service economy and the place of female immigrants as a significant human resource;
  2. The living conditions, migration history and viewpoints of female third-country nationals resident in eight EU countries;
  3. The perceptions, attitudes and expectations of nationals of the eight EU countries regarding immigration and the integration of immigrants;
  4. The comparison of the viewpoints of female immigrants and nationals regarding integration policies;
  5. The comparison of the deliberation of key stakeholders at national and EU level regarding FEMAGE findings and future integration policies

The results from the interviews, survets and the focus-group discussions show that the national popilation needs to be better informed and educated about the benefits of the presence of migrants and migration policy measures in the European countries. There is a string need to provide early assistance particularly to immigrant women for their integration. This is requested b both natives and by immigrant women.

One of the most crucial findings of the FEMAGE project in terms of policy implications is the apparent low level of awareness of the gender perspective of migration among several countries’ policy makers and stakeholders.
It can be concluded from the interviews held with immigrant women that migration and/or integration policies that would be beneficial to all immigrants cannot be devised. The heterogeneity of immigrants should be taken into account when integration is considered. This heterogeneity relates to gender, age, educational background, ethnicity, language and life situation, which can be seen as important factors placing immigrants in very different starting points in terms of integration and needs for policy measures. Integration measures should be more flexible and allow for individual adjustments. Long-term, systematic programmes should be organized improving the public awareness of migration and promoting contacts between natives and immigrant groups. These can be facilitated by different actors such as government, municipalities, the media, NGOs, schools and migrants’ organisations and take different forms such as intercultural meetings and activities, discussions, various courses, cultural events, neighbourhood activities, intercultural housing projects, etc.

Key messages for Policy-makers

The importance of European Institutions and actors in defining standars and the framework conditions for effective immigration and integration policies cannot be overstated. In view of the diversity of national legal frameworks and practices, greater convergence toward good practices in legislation and policy formulation and implementation are a must.
High-level institutions such as the European Perliament and the European Commission are well placed to ensure that the gender aspects of the immigration and the integrantion of women migrants assume a central position in policy fromulation.
Anti-discrimination policy should be promoted and implemented by judicial practice, and antiracist and antixenophobia awareness training courses for clerks, teachers and other people dealing with immigrants dhould be supported.
Governments dhould conclude bilateral agreements with oher states about the transfer of pension provision and rights.
Due to the fact that the EU must compete for foreign labour with other developed regions of the world, it is very important to re-think EU immigrations, as well as integration policy, so thet it provides a secure legal status and enables those who are admitted to iintegrate succesfully. When encouraging the immigration of labour immigrants and expers in the future, wh should not forget the existing, underutilised labour in the country, Policies concerning immigrants' labour market participation should also consider the ageing process and the need to work to secure sufficient resources for old age.
Successful, efficient integration policies should focus on full integration - that is cultural, socio-economic and civic-political.

Key messages for mass media

the mass-media should disseminate more balanced information on immigrants and immigrations, provide information on the normalness of immigration nowadays in our societies, stress the positive aspects of immigration and show examples of succesful as well as normal or less successful lives of immigrants in host societies.