The Effect of the Crisis on Immigrant Educational Mismatch – Evidence from Spain

Mikolaj Stanek, University of Salamanca
Alberto del Rey, University of Salamanca

Educational mismatch occurs when the required level of education for a particular job diverges from the workers skills. For last decades the attention of a number of researcher has been focused on exploring educational mismatch of migrants in receiving countries’. Most studies indicate the incidence of education-occupation mismatch is higher among migrants compared to natives although the share of mismatched migrants varies from country to country. The degree of the skills-occupation gap depends also strongly in immigrant origin, gender, education level and length of stay. However, very little still is known about the impact of the economic cycle on fluctuations of patterns of educational mismatch among migrants. The purpose of this paper is to fill this gap by analysing the extent to which immigrants’ education-occupation mismatch varies in relation to changing economic context in Spain.

In this paper we analyse patterns of education-occupation mismatch among migrants at the beginning and at the high of the unemployment crisis. For this purpose of analysing change through the two phases of the economic cycle, two points in time were selected: 2008, when the Spanish economy had just entered an economic downturn, but yet still maintained relatively low unemployment rates; and 2013, when the labour market hit rock bottom and unemployment rocketed to an unprecedented level (26.1%). We base our analysis upon the hypothesis that in the context of the economic crisis the education-occupation imbalance among the immigrant population should increase due to job destruction and increasing unemployment rates. We assume that in order to maximise returns from the human capital of workers, employers will primarily dismiss workers with lower levels of education. In our analysis we will take advantage of the 2008 and 2014 ad hoc modules that supplement the core LFS data on foreign-born workers in the EU.


Educational mismatch occurs when the required level of education for a particular job diverges from the workers skills. Over the last few decades a number of researchers have been focused on exploring the educational mismatch among migrants in receiving countries. Most studies indicate that the incidence of education-occupation mismatch is higher among migrants than natives, although the share of mismatched migrants varies from country to country (Chiswick and Miller 2010). On the other hand, the size of the skills-occupation gap is also heavily dependent on the immigrant’s origin, gender, education level and length of stay (Aleksynska and Tritah 2013).

Very little still is known about the impact of the economic cycle on fluctuations in patterns of educational mismatch among migrants. The purpose of this paper is to fill in this gap by analysing the extent to which education-occupation mismatch among immigrants has varied in relation to the changing economic context in Spain.

There are strong reasons why Spain is a very illustrative and interesting example of the impact of economic crisis on education-occupation mismatch. At the start of the previous decade Spain became the second largest destination country for foreign population in terms of flows. A substantial part of these economic migrants, particularly those from developing countries, entered into the new unskilled occupations (requiring little qualification and receiving low salaries, poor contractual conditions, and limited possibilities of upward mobility) that were generated during the prolonged growth of the Spanish economy in sectors such as agriculture, construction, tourism and services to households. Available data showed strong over-education during the economic and migratory ‘boom’ in Spain (Kalfa and Piracha 2013). However, it should also be stressed that the overeducation of the native population has traditionally been a distinctive feature of the Spanish labour market (Alba-Ramírez 1993). Finally, the massive job destruction caused by the economic crisis had the strongest impact on the immigrant population.

In this paper we analyse patterns of education-occupation mismatch among migrants at the beginning and at the high of the unemployment crisis. For the purpose of analysing change through the two phases of the economic cycle, two points in time were selected: 2008, when the Spanish economy had just entered an economic downturn, but yet still maintained relatively low unemployment rates; and 2013, when the labour market hit rock bottom and unemployment rocketed to an unprecedented level (26.1%).

We will also analyse the education-occupation gap taking into account specific categories of migrants. We are especially interested in identifying persistent ethnic gaps among second-generation migrants and migrants who arrived before or during their early teens (generations 1.25 and generation 1.5).

We base our analysis upon the hypothesis that in the context of the economic crisis the education-occupation imbalance among the immigrant population should increase due to job destruction and increasing unemployment rates. We assume that in order to maximise returns from the human capital of workers, employers will primarily dismiss workers with lower levels of education. We also expect that the gap between immigrants and natives will increase as an effect based on ethnic prejudice.

In our analysis we will take advantage of the 2008 and 2014 ad hoc modules that supplement the core LFS data on foreign-born workers in the EU and their descendants.

We use “realized matches” procedure in order to identify degree of the educational mismatch. This measure results from computing the mean and standard deviation of educational attainment within each occupation and qualifying individuals with education level one standard deviation above this mean as being overeducated and one standard deviation below as undereducated (Chiswick and Miller 2010).The main analytical tool used to test the working hypotheses was multinomial logit regression.

The paper contains three main results:

  • Immigrant mismatch is considerably higher when compared to the performance of both natives and second generation migrants. However, the results of multivariate analyses also show that risks of overeducation of migrants that arrived to Spain reaching age of 18 (generations) similar to those of native workers.
  • In accordance to our hypothesis, in the severe unemployment crisis the likelihood of overeducation is significantly higher. When gender is taken into account, females seem to be at slightly higher risk of overeducation than males.
  • Controlling for origin-specific effect, revealed that the length of residence in Spain is an important recourse that helps to avoid the education-occupation gap on an individual level.

Selected literature

Alba-Ramírez, Alfonso. 1993. "Mismatch in the Spanish Labor Market: Overeducation?" The Journal of Human Resources 28(2):259-78.

Aleksynska, Mariya, and Ahmed Tritah. 2013. "Occupation–education mismatch of immigrant workers in Europe: Context and policies." Economics of Education Review 36:229-44.

Chiswick, Barry R., and Paul W. Miller. 2010. "The Effects of Educational-Occupational Mismatch on Immigrant Earnings in Australia, with International Comparisons1." International Migration Review 44(4):869-98.

Kalfa, Eleni, and Matloob Piracha. 2013. "Immigrants’ Educational Mismatch and the Penalty of Over-Education." IZA Discussion Paper 7721.

Presented in Session 1090: International Migration and Migrant Populations