Socio-Economic and Ethnic Segregation on the Rise

University of Tartu Professor of Urban and Population Geography Tiit Tammaru is currently a visiting professor at Delft University of Technology in Holland. He gave an interview on his research to the local Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment. Tammaru’s main fields of research include migration, ethnic minorities, and social inequalities. Below is a slightly shortened transcript of our professor’s interview.

“We studied socio-economic segregation in European cities with many teams all across Europe, and the main finding was that segregation has increased everywhere. Rich and poor people are moving to different neighborhoods. What we also see is an increasing socio-economic segregation on the one hand and ethnic segregation on the other. The number of ethnic minorities is growing in European cities, so these two dimensions of segregation overlap more and more.

Swedish flag in between buildings

Surprisingly, Stockholm is an example of an increasing segregation. Photo by Jonathan Brinkhorst on Unsplash

One example where segregation grew a lot was a bit surprising to us — it was Stockholm. We often think of Sweden as a social democratic welfare state with very low levels of segregation, but segregation has increased a lot. There are three different factors that make it happen in Stockholm.

First of all, it depends on how mixed or homogeneous the houses are in the neighborhood, and in Sweden there are some neighborhoods that have really big homogeneous housing.

Secondly, what we have seen for decades already, has been a very clear marketization in the housing sector. And thirdly, there has been a very big inflow of migrants to Sweden. When we put together these three pieces, we can understand why this quick rise of segregation took place in Stockholm.

Fridhemsgatan, Stockholm, Sweden

Rich and poor people are moving to different neighborhoods. Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

We mainly focused on residential neighborhoods, and that is usually the main focus of segregation studies, but, of course, segregation also takes place in other life domains at workplaces, schools, and during leisure time. This research that we are doing here with Professor Maarten van Ham focuses on the transmission of segregation between the different domains.

The mechanism starts from the labor market, and if the incomes of people are very different, this income difference translates into the housing differences, because money buys choice on the housing market. And that’s how rich people move to rich neighborhoods, and poor people to poor neighborhoods. And if the housing sector is based on the market, and if people take loans to buy a house, then actually the initial income differences are amplified.

From the housing market, the link goes to schools, because the school districts are usually drawn around the homes of people. Thus, when rich and poor parents live in different neighborhoods, their children also attend different schools. That’s how segregation tends to be repeated in schools. And, of course, from the schools segregation again feeds back into the labor market.”


Income difference translates into housing differences. Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

At the end of the interview, Professor Tammaru added:

“I like to do my research, but I think it’s extremely interesting to communicate and interact with students, because many ideas that I have developed have actually come from interactions with students.”

Listen to the interview:

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