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Comparing residential segregation levels in Europe: innovative methods show new results


Text in Swedish

Interactive maps

  • New project that maps segregation patterns in North-western Europe

  • Innovative methods using individualized neighbourhoods

  • Surprisingly similar levels of ethnic segregation across countries

  • Lowest level of ethnic segregation in Denmark


One of the main concerns of contemporary urban policy is residential segregation and its effects on social inclusion. The ResSegr project, funded by JPI Urban Europe, has addressed several aspects of residential segregation across five European countries, aiming to produce measures of segregation that are comparable across cities and countries, something which previous studies have been unable to generate.


The main shortcomings of previous studies were their lack of suitable data and problems related to the measurement of neighbourhoods, leading to difficulties in evaluating policy initiatives to combat segregation. Contrastingly, ResSegr uses unique geocoded administrative data covering the whole countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. We circumvent the issues that have limited most previous segregation studies: the problems that comparing administrative areas of different size entail, comparing areas that randomly group heterogeneous or homogeneous populations, and problems arising due to ignorance regarding different geographical scales.


The project’s innovation lies in the measurement of neighbourhoods, where the number of nearest neighbours defines each registered inhabitant’s neighbourhood, so-called individualized neighbourhoods. While the geographical extent of the individualized neighbourhood might vary, it always consists of the same number of neighbours. For each neighbourhood, the share of people with a certain characteristic, such as being a migrant, having low income, or being higher educated, is then calculated and compared across contexts. We use a multiscalar measurement of context, where different scales of segregation are taken into account. These measures of socio-demographic segregation are then used to compare levels of segregation, evaluate theories about the driving forces of residential segregation and to examine effects of area-based programmes on segregation.


A special issue in the European of Journal of Population has now published 4 articles by researchers in the ResSegr project, with a 5th on the way. The articles publish findings on comparative levels of segregation in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. Results show that by measuring segregation using scalable individualized neighbourhoods, we can effectively deal with the multiscalar nature of segregation and the large within-city or between-region variety in segregation.


We can now show that the share of non-European migrants in the most immigrant-dense areas in Denmark is much lower than similar areas in Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. As an example, in Denmark’s most immigrant-dense areas, 22 % of the closest 12,800 neighbours are born in non-European countries, while the corresponding figure for the other countries is 40% or more. Differences are smaller if one examines neighbourhoods including the nearest 1,600 neighbours: there are 31 % non-European migrants in Denmark compared to about 42% to 53% in Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium. For large-scale, migrant-dense neighbourhoods, however, the share of the neighbourhood’s population that are non-European migrants are similar in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Therefore, we conclude that segregation levels across these countries are similar and therefore, they face similar policy challenges.


We have also examined representation, where the size of the total non-European migrant population in a neighbourhood is compared to the same population’s representation in the whole country. At the smallest scale, corresponding to neighbourhoods with 200 persons, patterns of over- and under-representation are strikingly similar across the four countries. On larger-scale levels, Belgium stands out as having relatively strong levels of segregation. More than 55% of the Belgian population lives in large-scale neighbourhoods with moderate segregation of non-European migrants. In the other countries, the corresponding figures are between 30 and 40%.


Possible explanations for the variation across countries are differences in housing policies and refugee placement policies. Sweden has the largest and Denmark the smallest non-European migrant population, in relative terms. In both migrant-dense and native-dense areas, Swedish neighbourhoods have a higher concentration and Danish neighbourhoods a lower concentration of non-European migrants than the other countries. Thus, we find that Denmark does not have especially high levels of segregation compared to neighbouring countries, which is interesting considering the current ‘ghetto’ debate in Denmark.


The study on Sweden shows that especially non-European migrants face high levels of segregation. Non-European migrants increasingly live in neighbourhoods that already have high levels of ethnic concentration. The segregation index used to quantify patterns influences results substantially. If segregation is measured as the difference in the neighbourhood concentration of migrants, we see that segregation increased in the 1990s and 2000s. However, when segregation is defined as an uneven distribution of different populations across residential contexts, segregation has decreased since the end of the 1990s.

Link to map: Share of immigrants among the 400 nearest neighbours, Stockholm

The Dutch study compares the use of individualized neighbourhoods with that of using administrative units, and finds that when one would only examine segregation levels for administrative areas, the higher chances for segregation exposure on small-scale levels would be underestimated while the lower chances at larger scale levels would be overestimated. Segregation levels and patterns vary across migrant origin and scale; for instance, for people with an Antillean background, we see a pattern of micro-scale segregation, while people with a Surinamese background are mainly concentrated in one borough southeast of Amsterdam.

Link to map: Clustering of Surinamese migrants in Amsterdam


The interaction between ethnic and socioeconomic segregation is the focus for the study on Belgium. Using 2011 census data, segregation is studied using multiscalar individualized neighbourhoods in Belgium’s three largest cities: Brussels, Antwerp and Liege, and finds strong proof of spatial isolation of ethnic deprived groups in the three inner cities, where neighbourhoods are dominated by the lowest quality dwellings from the residual private rental market. Neighbourhoods with high shares of non-European migrants are also those where employment and tertiary education are lowest, the share of the population with low income is highest, and a relatively high share of individuals rely on social assistance.

Link to map: Clustering of non-European migrants in Brussels

These articles have analysed segregation patterns over time and across European contexts. As pronounced residential segregation may lead to fewer opportunities for mixing between natives and migrants, and to restricted opportunities in the fields of labour market, health and well-being, ongoing work in the project focuses on the effects of segregation on different outcomes, such as chances on the labour market among minority groups.


Here, we have now published interactive maps on 5 different indicators of segregation and 3 different neighbourhood sizes for Sweden, Norway and Denmark, with the aim that these will be used by different actors in assessing patterns of segregation in places with different political and economic systems and to produce tools for examining inclusion and to counteract social polarization.


Good news:

  • Contrary to popular belief, the distribution of the non-European population has not become more uneven, at least not in Sweden.

  • There is substantial segregation of the non-European population in the countries we have studied, but the segregation levels seem to be less strong than in the United States.

  • Dispersal policies and housing support seem to contribute to reduced patterns of segregation.



  • The increase in the non-European migrant population is Sweden has led to high concentrations of non-Europeans in the most migrant-dense areas.

  • Large-scale segregation is more pronounced in Belgium than in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden.


Policy conclusion:

  • The results of the project do not contradict the idea that policies aimed at strengthening the position of low-income groups on the housing market can help to reduce segregation.


Team and contact person:

  • The ResSegr project is led by Karen Haandrikman at Stockholm University, and financed by JPI Urban Europe. Contact:

  • In the five countries, the following institutes are involved: Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University; Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo; Statistics Denmark; Interface Demography, Vrije UniversiteitBrussel; and Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute.


Articles in the Special Issue of European Journal of Population:

  • Andersson, Eva K., Torkild Hovde Lyngstad and Bart Sleutjes (2018), Comparing patterns of segregation in North-Western Europe: A multiscalar approach (editorial introduction to special issue). European Journal of Population 34: 151-168.

  • Andersson, Eva K., Bo Malmberg, Rafael Costa, Bart Sleutjes, Marcin Jan Stonawski and Helga A. G. de Valk (2018), A comparative study of segregation patterns in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden: Neighbourhood concentration and representation of non-European migrants. European Journal of Population 34: 251-275.

  • Costa, Rafael and Helga A.G. de Valk (2018), Ethnic and socioeconomic segregation in Belgium: A multiscalar approach using individualised neighbourhoods. European Journal of Population 34: 225-250.

  • Malmberg, Bo, Eva K. Andersson, Michael M. Nielsen and Karen Haandrikman (2018), Residential segregation of European and non-European migrants in Sweden: 1990-2012. European Journal of Population 34: 169-193.

  • Rogne, Adrian F., Eva K. Andersson, Bo Malmberg and Torkild H. Lyngstad (2020). Neighbourhood concentration and representation of non-European migrants. New results from Norway. European Journal of Population 36: 71-83.

  • Sleutjes, Bart, Helga A.G. de Valk and Jeroen Ooijevaar (2018), The measurement of ethnic segregation in the Netherlands: Differences between administrative and individualized neighbourhoods. European Journal of Population .


Technical report including all details on the data in the project:

  • Nielsen, Michael Meinild, Karen Haandrikman, Henning Christiansen, Rafael Costa, Bart Sleutjes, Adrian F. Rogne, and Marcin Stonawski (2017), Residential Segregation in 5 European Countries. Technical Report. ResSegr Working Paper 2017:2. Stockholm University. Download.

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