Poverty and Housing Overcrowding Among Immigrant Children in an Emerging Destination Country: Evidence from Finland

Ognjen Obucina, INED
Ilari Ilmakunnas, Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare

The aim of this paper is to analyze the patterns of income poverty and housing overcrowding among immigrant children in Finland, with a particular focus on the standard of living in the first years of settlement. We also seek to explore whether and to what degree foreign-born children are disadvantaged relative to native children in terms of income poverty and housing conditions. We use data from a compilation of Finnish registers. More specifically, we use Population register, Family register, and Migration register. The registers are of longitudinal nature and contain yearly information on all individuals who resided in Finland at any point between 1995 and 2014. In addition to the country of birth, we also have information on mother tongue, which enables us to use a more fine-grained classification of immigrant groups. We distinguish between four different types of income poverty trajectories in the first five years after arrival in Finland: 1) no experience of poverty, 2) not poor in at least three out of five years, 3) poor in at least three out of five years, and 4) poor in all five years. An analogous classification is applied when looking at housing overcrowding. The relative disadvantage of immigrant children relative to native children is more pronounced in terms of income poverty than in terms of housing. However, the former has been fairly stable since 1995, whereas the latter has been gradually increasing. The most frequent outcome in terms of income poverty is no experience of poverty, followed by persistent poverty, i.e. poverty in all five years. The same patterns are found for overcrowding. The multivariate analysis, based on the ordered logistic regression, shows a substantial heterogeneity across immigrant groups defined by country of birth, and a modest degree of difference between different language groups originating from the same country.

Introduction

Once a land of emigration, Finland has become a land of immigration.According to Statistics Finland, there were around 322,000 foreign-bornresidents in Finland in 2016, accounting for slightly less than 6% of thepopulation. Initial migration flows were dominated byEstonians and Russian-speaking immigrants from the former Soviet Union,but the structure of more recent arrivals is more varied. Nowadays, five mostcommon languages in the population of foreign background are Russian, Estonian,Arabic, Somali and English. The aim of this paper is to analyze the patterns ofincome poverty and housing overcrowding among immigrant children in Finland,with a particular focus on the standard of living in the first years ofsettlement. We also seek to explore whether and to what degree foreign-bornchildren are disadvantaged relative to native children in terms of incomepoverty and housing conditions. Having information on both the country of birthand mother tongue enables us to use a fine-grained classification of immigrantgroups.

Data and methodology

We use data from a compilation of Finnish registers. The registersare of longitudinal nature and contain yearly information on all individualswho resided in Finland at any point between 1995 and 2014. The information indifferent registers can be merged via an anonymizedpersonal ID. Apart from a wide array of socio-demographic and contextualcharacteristics of the general population that we include in our models, wealso have access to detailed immigrant-specific information, such as thecountry of birth, mother tongue, and date of immigration. We focus on povertyand housing overcrowding among children, i.e. individuals aged 17 or younger.In line with the dominant approach in the European literature, the poverty lineis equal to 60% of median household income, adjusted for the household size. Thecriteria for overcrowding are defined by the EU standards, taking into accountthe household composition and the age of the children[1].The empirical analysis is divided into two parts. In the first part, we comparepoverty and overcrowding rates among immigrant children with those ofFinnish-born children for each year between 1995 and 2014. Dependent variablesare being poor and residing in an overcrowded living space. Multivariateanalysis is based on logistic regressions. In the second part of the empiricalanalysis, we focus on immigrant children and explore the patterns of povertyand housing overcrowding in the first five years after arrival in Finland.Dependent variables are modeled as competing outcomes. For the analysis ofpoverty, the dependent variable has the following outcomes: 1) not poor in anyof the first five years upon arrival; 2) not poor in at least three out of fiveyears following the arrival; 3) poor in at least three years following thearrival, and 4) poor in all five years upon the arrival. An analogousclassification is applied when looking at housing overcrowding. As there is ahierarchical relationship between the outcomes, we use the ordered logisticregression in this part of the analysis.

Main results

Figure 1 shows that some 10 percent of native children and 33percent of immigrant children lived in poor families in 2014. Controlling forobservables characteristics, immigrant children were between 2.5 and 3.3 timesmore likely to live in poor families over the observed period. The overcrowdingrates were generally higher for both groups. The trends have been more positivefor native children, as the overcrowding rates were steadily decreasing in thisgroup. Among immigrant children, after the initial improvement between 1995 and2007, the overcrowding rates started to increase again. In 2014, theovercrowding rates were 25 percent for native children and 45 percent for immigrantchildren. All else equal, immigrant children were between 1.30 and 1.90 timesmore likely to live in overcrowded housing.

Figure 1:

Focusing on poverty trajectories upon arrival, sequence analysis showsthat the most frequent outcome among immigrant children is not experiencingpoverty in any of the first five years after arrival. However, the second mostfrequent outcome is the persistent poverty. In spite of large differences ingeneral trends in income poverty and overcrowding, a very similar picture is obtainedwhen looking at the dynamics of overcrowding among immigrant children in thefirst years of settlement – the most frequent outcome is no exposure toovercrowding, followed by overcrowding in all five years.

Turning to multivariate analysis, Figure 2 shows a substantialheterogeneity across immigrant groups defined by country of birth, and a modestdegree of difference between different language groups originating from thesame country. Foreign-born children of Finnish background have the most favorableoutcomes in terms of poverty and overcrowding, followed by Chinese-bornchildren. In contrast, children originating from Iraq, Iran and Somalia havethe least favorable outcomes.

Figure 2:

Presented in Session 1121: International Migration and Migrant Populations