Skip to main content

Is There a North–South Divide in Integration Outcomes? A Comparison of the Integration Outcomes of Immigrants in Southern and Northern Europe


Integration models are often viewed as a necessary tool for framing integration policies, and for measuring integration efficiency. While “old” European immigration countries in Europe account for a systematic framework of integration policies embedded in a given integration philosophy, new immigration countries (particularly Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain) have lacked a coherent set of integration policies and practices and, it goes without saying, a philosophical approach to integration. This vacuum has often been seen as a source of marginalization and ‘differential exclusion’, suggesting the existence of a North–South divide in integration matters, and more importantly, outcomes. However, there is still a striking lack of appropriate comparative empirical evidence backing or dismissing this divide. The objective of this article is to explore national-level differences in the real performance of immigrants in selected European countries of immigration along key indicators of integration outcomes, including school attainment and labor market participation. We here discuss the position of Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal as a coherent cluster of countries and compare the performance of their migrants with that of other foreign-born workers settled in the West of Europe. Our evidence provides little support for the idea that the Southern countries are a unique cluster and that they homogeneously lag behind in terms of integration outcomes.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. 1.

    Both Italy and Spain were for a long time major net receiving immigration countries in the European Union. Nowadays, foreigners represent 7.2 and 10 % of the total population, respectively.

  2. 2.

    Unfortunately, because of data constraints we are unable to consider the migrants’ countries of origin in our analyses.

  3. 3.

    Yet, we are aware that a country’s preference for a particular citizenship regime or integration model does not always rest on ‘firm empirical grounds’ (Koopmans et al. 2005, p. 32).

  4. 4.

    Nevertheless, the Greek Parliament approved in March 2010 a comprehensive reform of the Greek Citizenship Law, which introduced the ius soli as well as the procedure of ‘citizenship by declaration’ for young foreign children born in Greece to parents with a permanent residence permit. For more details on the reform see:

  5. 5.

    As Joppke (2005, p. 130) put it, “Portugal became the torchbearer of ‘racial equality’ and ‘multiracialism’ long before such vocabulary became standard in the liberal democracies of the west.” The consequence is that the Portuguese integration discourse is much closer to multiculturalism than the Italian or the Spanish one.

  6. 6.

    Zincone’s model of reasonable integration is constituted of four basic elements: (1) interaction based on security where positive interaction is based on respect for the rules. Fighting against crime and curbing illegal entries are two fundamental aspects of achieving the goal of positive interaction. (2) Integrity of human rights for illegal immigrants. (3) Full integrity for legal immigrants. (4) Interaction based on pluralism and communication.

  7. 7.

    Note, however, that the replication of all analyses presented in this paper using the first approach yields almost identical conclusions. The results of these analyses are available upon request.

  8. 8.

    Ethnicity appears to be a residual partial explanation of attainment in many Western European countries (Heath and Birnbaum 2007).

  9. 9.

    Mathematics is a more universal and culture-blind language, and is thought to minimize ethnic differentials in attainment. The results from the reading and the science test scores are available upon request.

  10. 10.

    Note that there is a slight chronological inconsistency between PISA-2009 and the timing of the MIPEX index.

  11. 11.

    See the various policy reviews of the OECD and, particularly “Closing the Gap for Immigrant Students” OECD, 2010.

  12. 12.

    Furthermore, adding the Education MIPEX score does not help to explain the country differences in the migrant effect seen in Figs. 1 and 2 (left panels). In other words, the dispersion of the slope random terms is not reduced in this model specification [sd(immigrant)]. Using the general MIPEX index instead of the specific one for education implies no changes.

  13. 13.

    One of the limitations of our approach is that we do not look at the occupational attainment of migrants in different countries. Our analysis is thus restricted to unemployment and activity, which jointly help us to understand the nature of labor market access.

  14. 14.

    We have also tested the impact of selected macroeconomic determinants of labor market success such as GDP growth, GDP per capita (in PPS). These last blocks of variables have been taken from the Eurostat indicators for each relevant year (2009). None of them turn out to be statistically significant.

  15. 15.

    Using the general MIPEX score instead of the specific one for labor market policies results in the same conclusion.


  1. Arango, J., & Baldwin-Edwards, M. (Eds.). (2000) Immigrants and the informal economy in Southern Europe. London: Frank Cass.

  2. Altinok, N., & Murseli, H. (2007). International database on human capital quality. Economics Letters, 96(2), 237–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Banton, M. (2001). National integration in France and Britain. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 27, 151–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bernardi, F., Garrido, L., & Miyar, M. (2011). The recent fast upsurge of immigrants in Spain and their employment patterns and occupational attainment. International Migration, 49(1), 148–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Boudon, R. (1974). Education, opportunity, and social inequality: Changing prospects in Western society. New York: Wiley.

  6. Calavita, K. (2005). Immigrants at the margins: Law, race, and exclusion in Southern Europe. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  7. Calavita, K. (2007). Law, immigration and exclusion in Italy and Spain. Papers, 85, 95–108.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Caponio, T., & Borckert, M. (2010). The local dimension of migration policymaking. Amsterdam: AUP.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  9. Carling, J. (2007). Migration control and migrant fatalities at the Spanish-African borders, International Migration Review, 41(2), 316–343.

  10. Cebolla-Boado, H. (2011). Primary and Secondary effects in the explanation of immigrant’s educational disadvantage. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 32(3), 407–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cebolla-Boado, H., & Finotelli, C. (2011). Integration beyond models: An empirical outlook to the impact of integration models. In Estudios = Working papers/Instituto Juan March de Estudios e Investigaciones, Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Ciencias Sociales 2011/264. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Ciencias Sociales.

  12. Cheung, S.-Y., & Heath, A. (2007). Nice work if you can get it: Ethnic penalties in Great Britain. In A. Heath & S. Cheung (Eds.), Unequal chances: Ethnic minorities in western labour markets (pp. 505–548). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  13. Davis, K. (1988). Social sciences approaches to international migration. Population and Development Review, 14, 245–261.

  14. De los Reyes, P., & Kamali, M. (2005). Bortom Vi och Dom: Teoretiska reflektioner om makt, integration och strukturell diskriminering. Rapport av Utredningen om makt, integration och strukturell diskriminering. Stockholm: SOU.

  15. Ersanilli, E., & Koopmans, R. (2011). Do immigrant integration policies matter? A three country comparison among Turkish immigrants. West European Politics, 34(2), 208–234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Fanning, B., & Mutwarasibo, F. (2007). Nationals/non-nationals. Immigration, citizenship and politics in the Republic of Ireland. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(3), 439–460.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Favell, A. (2003). Integration nations: The nation-state and research on immigrants in Western Europe in the multicultural challenge. Comparative Social Research, 22, 13–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Finotelli, C. (2009). The North–South myth revised: A comparison of the Italian and German migration Regimes. West European Politics, 32(5), 886–903.

  19. Finotelli, C., & Michalowski, I. (2012). The heuristic potential of Models of Citizenship and Immigrant Integration Reviewed. Immigrant and Refugee Studies, 10(3), 231–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Fleischmann, F., & Dronkers, J. (2010). Unemployment among immigrants in European labour markets: An analysis of origin and destination effects. Work, Employment and Society, 26, 396–411.

  21. Freemann, G. (2004). Immigrant incorporation in Western democracies. International Migration Review, 38(3), 945–969.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Friedrich, L., & Waibel, W. (2013). Local integration concepts in Germany—Diffusion of an integration model? Imis Beiträge, 41, 53–72.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Fullin, G., & Reyneri, E. (2011). Low unemployment and bad jobs for new immigrants in Italy. International Migration, 49(1), 118–147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hagelund, A. (2002). Problematizing culture: Discourses on integration in Norway. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 3(3–4), 401–415.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Hagelund, A., & Brochmann, G. (2010). From rights to duties? Welfare and citizenship for immigrants and refugees in Scandinavia. In P. Baert, S. Koniordos, G. Procacci, & C. Ruzza (Eds.), Conflict, citizenship and civil society. London: Routledge/ESA Studies in European Societies.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Heath, A., & Birnbaum, Y. (Eds.). (2007). The new second generation. Ethnicities, 7(special issue).

  27. Heath, A., & Cheung, S. (2007). Unequal chances: Ethnic minorities in western labour markets (hardback). Series: Proceedings of the British Academy. Oxford: British Academy/Oxford University Press.

  28. Heath, A. F., Rothon, C., & Kilpi, E. (2008). The second generation in Western Europe: Education, unemployment, and occupational attainment. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 211–235.

  29. Holm, G., & Lunde, M. (2010). The discourse on multicultural education in Finland: Education for whom? Intercultural Education, 21(2), 107–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Jensen, T. G. (2008). To be ‘Danish’, becoming ‘Muslim’: Contestations of national identity? Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34(3), 389–409.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Jonsson, J. O., & Rudolphi, F. (2011). Weak performance—Strong determination. School achievement and educational choice among children of immigrants in Sweden. European Sociological Review, 27, 487–508.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Joppke, C. (2005). Selecting by origin. Ethnic migration in the liberal state. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Joppke, C. (2007). Beyond national models: Civic integration policies for immigrants in Western Europe. West European Politics, 30(1), 1–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Joppke, C. (2009). Limits of integration policy: Britain and her Muslims. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 25(3), 453–472.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Kestila, E. (2006). Is there demand for radical right populism in the Finnish electorate? Scandinavian Political Studies, 29(3), 169–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. King, R., Lazaridis, G., & Tsardanidis, C. (Eds.). (2000). Eldorado or Fortress? Migration in South Europe. Basingstoke: McMillan.

  37. Koopmans, R. (2008). Tradeoffs between equality and difference immigrant integration, multiculturalism, and the welfare state in cross-national perspective. Berlin: Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB discussion paper; SP IV 2008–701).

  38. Koopmans, R. (2010). Trade-offs between equality and difference: Immigrant integration, multiculturalism and the welfare state in cross-national perspective. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36(1), 1–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Koopmans, R., Michalowski, I., & Waibel, S. (2012). Citizenship rights for immigrants. National political processes and cross-national convergence in Western Europe, 1980–2008. American Journal of Sociology, 29(3), 1202–1245.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Koopmans, R., Statham, P., Giugni, M., & Passy, F. (2005). Contested citizenship. Immigration and cultural diversity in Europe. London: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Lee, J., & Barro, R. J. (2001). Schooling quality in a cross-section of countries. Economica, 68(272), 465–488.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Loobuyck, P., & Jacobs, D. (2009). Migration and integration policy in Belgium and Flanders in Belgian society and politics 2009—The diversity challenge for the left. Annual Review, 3, 19–27.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Marks, G. N. (2005). Accounting for immigrant non-immigrant differences in reading and mathematics in twenty countries. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 28(5), 925–946.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Massey, D. S. (1999). International migration at the dawn of the Twenty-first Century: The role of the state. Population and Development Review, 25(2), 303–322.

  45. Monzini, P., Pastore, F., & Sciortino, G. (2006). Schengen’s soft underbelly? Irregular migration and human smuggling across land and sea borders to Italy. International Migration, 44(4), 1–25.

  46. OECD Education Ministerial Meeting. (2010). Tackling the effects of the crisis on education. Paris: OECD.

  47. Peixoto, J., Arango, J., Bonifazi, C., Finotelli, C., Sabino, C., Strozza, S., et al. (2012). The southern European model of immigration. In M. Okolski (Ed.), European immigration. Trends, structures and policy implications (pp. 149–157). Amsterdam: AUP.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Pitkänen, M., & Kouki, S. (2002). Meeting foreign cultures: A survey of the attitudes of Finnish authorities towards immigrants and immigration. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 28(1), 103–118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Rydgren, J. (2004). Mechanisms of exclusion: Ethnic discrimination in the Swedish labour market. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 30(4), 697–716.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Stanat, P., & Christensen, G. (2006). Where immigrant students succeed—A comparative review of performance and engagement in PISA 2003. Paris: OECD.

  51. Triandafyllidou, A., & Gropas, R. (2009). Constructing difference: The mosque debates in Greece. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 35(6), 957–975.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Van de Werfhorst, H. G., Mijs, J. J. B. (2010). Achievement inequality and the institutional structure of educational systems: A comparative perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 36(1), 407–428. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102538.

  53. Van Den Breemer, R., & Maussen, M. (2012). On the viability of state-church models: Muslim burial and mosque building in France and the Netherlands. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, 10(3), 279–298.

  54. van Tubergen, F., Maas, I., & Flaap, H. (2004). The economic incorporation of immigrants in 18 western societies: Origin, destination, and community effects. American Sociological Review, 13, 390–412.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Zapata-Barrero, R. (2010). Managing Diversity in Spanish Society: A practical approach. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 31(4), 383–402.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Zincone, G. (2000). A model of ‘Reasonable Integration’. International Migration Review, 40(1), 104–132.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hector Cebolla-Boado.



Tables 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Table 2 Summary of the MIPEX integration scores for selected countries
Table 3 Linear multilevel regression
Table 4 Linear multilevel regression
Table 5 Random constant and slope multilevel linear probability models
Table 6 Random constant and slope multilevel linear probability models

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cebolla-Boado, H., Finotelli, C. Is There a North–South Divide in Integration Outcomes? A Comparison of the Integration Outcomes of Immigrants in Southern and Northern Europe. Eur J Population 31, 77–102 (2015).

Download citation


  • Integration policies
  • Education
  • Literacy
  • Labor market
  • Unemployment
  • Southern Europe