Ben Wilson. Photo: Leila Zoubir

What is your research about?
– I am the leader of a project, funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR), where we are studying the lives of immigrants who arrive as children. Our idea is that age of arrival, and the place where immigrants grow up, is important for their transition to adulthood, essentially because their exposure to Swedish society will vary depending upon such factors. We ask the question: Are immigrants who arrive as teenagers more likely to behave differently from the children of Swedish-born parents, as compared with those who arrive earlier in their childhood? Our research is ongoing, but preliminary results suggest that the answer is yes – age at arrival matters – and immigrants who arrive as teenagers are much more likely to experience inequality, or to adapt more slowly to life in Sweden, as compared with those who arrive at younger ages. 

– Preliminary findings are available via the following working papers on childbearing and age gaps between partners in Sweden, as well as related working papers on forced migration and childbearing in Finland and immigrant adaptation in the UK.

– In addition, I have recently been awarded a new ERC grant to study the lives of children and grandchildren of refugees.

Why is your research important? 
– Our research offers a unique opportunity to examine the role of childhood in the transition to adulthood. Age at arrival is important because children who arrive at later ages will spend less time in Sweden before reaching adulthood. This means that they will have less time to adapt to their new environment, which in turn may impact their plans and behaviours with respect to education, work and family formation. In my new ERC project, we will expand the scope of our research to reveal the diverse nature of intergenerational adaptation for the children and grandchildren of refugees, not only with respect to their education, employment and family formation, but also their health, as well as where and how they live. Taken together, all of this research will provide a more holistic understanding of different dimensions of immigrant adaptation.
For whom is your research relevant? 
– For academics, we are generating insights that are of international interest. This is because such detailed research could not be carried out in most other countries of the world. Since we need to follow immigrants from childhood to adulthood, our research requires us to focus on a country that has a long history of immigration. However, almost all countries with a long history of immigration suffer from a lack of reliable data sources that are comprehensive enough, in size and scope, to answer the questions that we pose. It is very rare that longitudinal micro-data are available across the entire life course for an entire population, and Sweden is truly an exception in this regard. Given the increasing need to design policies that help immigrants adapt to life after arrival, we expect our findings to be of significant interest to policy-makers and civil society organisations who are focussed on immigrant integration.

Read more about The Migration and Integration Engagement Program here and here

Text: Henrik Smedjegården