The key is getting to know each other
In the age group of young people below the age of 30, there is a positive trend, and the percentage of people with good experiences at school and at work of colleagues with a background in other countries reach the highest result ever, 74 percent.
However, among women negative attitudes have increased significantly, and this is true both of highly qualified and low-skilled women. It becomes evident in this last survey that Swedish people over the age of 50 now have a more negative attitude in general.
A majority still in favour of cultural diversity
It is true that six out of ten still believe that ethnic diversity develops Swedish culture, but this result is actually on the same level as the record-low percentage from 2010. In fact, the trend in the last three surveys is a negative one, as the result in 2014 was 65 percent. Even the percentage of people who completely distance themselves from this idea has increased and reaches a new record, 22 percent as compared to 18 percent in 2016 and 11 percent in 2014.
Almost 50 percent believe that men from the middle East are a threat to Swedish culture; and women from the Middle East are believed to be more dangerous than men from Africa.
While 46 percent are positive to giving people with a foreign background the opportunity to keep their traditions, 39 percent are negative and 15 percent neutral.
A majority of the respondents discern major differences between Swedish culture and cultures from Africa and the Middle East.
Highly-qualified people are the most positive ones to having colleagues from non-Swedish backgrounds, and among young, highly-qualified people, the percentage is record-high, but 23 percent still prefer to have Swedish colleagues.
8 out of ten believe that people with a foreign background should have the same working conditions as people born in Sweden.
Religion, a controversial issue
The positive attitudes to diversity concerning religion reach levels that are record-low, primarily among men above 50 years of age with no higher education.
In 2018, more people consider Muslim women to be oppressed, Muslim independent schools to be detrimental to integration and think that calls for prayer are more disruptive than church bells.
However, acceptance for wearing a veil has changed; a majority of respondents still feel that wearing a veil at work or in school is unacceptable, but the percentage who feel that it is acceptable has almost tripled, from 12 percent to 30 percent. When it comes to wearing a veil in a public place, there are more people who are positive than those who are negative.
Who would I like to live with?
Attitudes to diversity in our neighbourhoods are very stable. More than a third still prefer Swedish neighbours. But a majority, 53 percent, would not move if newly arrived immigrants moved into their apartment building, and that is an increase of 9 percent compared to results in 2016.
45 percent of the population do not consider newly-arrived people to be louder and rowdier, and that is also an increase compared to results in the latest survey. However, where you are from matters a great deal; attitudes to potential neighbours from the Middle East are much more negative.
How would you like to explain this change in attitudes, Fereshteh Ahmadi, professor in sociology and in charge of the Diversity Barometer?
“There are several possible factors related to the political situation in Sweden and Europe that we think can explain this change. We witness how structural and institutional discrimination of minorities due to ethnicity, race, religion etcetera lead to increased intolerance in large parts of the population, which in turn lead to discriminating power structures in society.
Information choice and the extensive media coverage on the growth of racism and xenophobia in Sweden can be one explanation. Media, politicians, researchers and opinion makers contribute to strengthening prejudice by depicting immigrants as a problem. The media image of dangerous men from certain regions who come to Sweden to commit sexual assaults may also have been a driving force in this process, especially for women.
Unfortunately, this focus means that all well-functioning relations between people in neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces gain less attention.
An increase in negative attitudes towards immigrants can also stem from a sense of concern and worry over a redistribution of resources in combination with vulnerability in the job market and a drastic increase in the influx of immigrants.
Yet another factor is segregation. When there are few opportunities for personal relationships and contact between the minority and the majority, there is a greater risk for greater prevalence of negative attitudes. In turn, this could explain why respondents in our study who have had little experience of, and contact with, immigrants are more negative to immigrants.
The Diversity Barometer 2018 shows that low-skilled Swedish individuals´ attitudes are more negative, while highly-qualified respondents’ attitudes are more positive. An explanation here could be that highly qualified people have a stable position in the job market which makes them feel less threatened, whereas low-skilled individuals feel more marginalised and neglected and become victims in society.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that we believe that the change of the political climate regarding immigration in general and newly arrived immigrants in particular may have affected Swedes' perception of diversity. We are witnessing this development in many parts of the Western world, extreme right-wing and even racist trends are emerging.
I would also like to point out that the young are underrepresented in the survey. If this generation, who since pre-school have lived side by side with individuals with a foreign background, had played a greater part in this survey, results may have been different.
Another aspect that I would like to underline is that the survey shows that Swedish people’s experiences of working or studying together with people born in other countries are generally good.
Attitudes have deteriorated, but concrete everyday experiences have not.”
With the Diversity Barometer, the University of Gävle wants to contribute to the discussion about diversity in Swedish society. Knowledge of Swedish people’s attitudes is important since they can be an important factor in the social climate of the future.
Fereshteh Ahmadi, professor in sociology at the University of Gävle is in charge of the Diversity Barometer. Uppsala University was formerly responsible for the attitude survey.