Young migrant workers and the labour market

A survey by the Austrian Institute for Youth Research on young migrants reveals specific forms of discrimination concerning education on the one hand and the employment situation on the other hand. Young migrants from Turkey or the former Yugoslavia tend to work in certain economic sectors and to be blue-collar workers. In addition, they are more likely to be unemployed and to encounter difficulties in finding a job.

About the study

In 2006, the Austrian Institute for Youth Research (Österreichisches Institut für Jugendforschung, ÖIJ) conducted a study on young migrants in Vienna with a special focus on their educational decisions and labour market participation. The study comprises both quantitative and qualitative research methods. The quantitative part of the research is based on a dataset analysis from a representative survey carried out by the Institute for Empirical Social Research (Institut für empirische Sozialforschung, IFES) covering the period May to October 2003. The survey involved telephone interviews with 8,300 people.

The analysis in the ÖIJ study concentrates on 225 migrants who are between 15 and 25 years old and who – or whose parents – are originally from Turkey or the former Yugoslavia. The authors differentiate between young migrants of the first and second generation. Migrants of the first generation were born abroad and migrated to Austria after their sixth birthday; young migrants of the second generation were either born abroad and came to Austria before their sixth birthday or were born in Austria. The following outline of the research results only focuses on the quantitative part of the study.

Factors influencing decision to stay at school

Several factors influence whether young migrants decide to continue their school education or start working. One important aspect is the length of stay of the young migrants in Austria. The longer these young people have been living in Austria, the more likely they are to finish their schooling: 58% of young migrants of the second generation continue to go to school past the age of 15 years, compared with 34% of those of the first generation.

A similar influence can be attributed to the factor of citizenship which is not always linked to the length of stay of migrants: almost 75% of young migrants of the second generation and 44% of migrants of the first generation have Austrian citizenship. Young migrants who have Austrian citizenship are more likely to continue their school education (57%) than those who have not – or have not yet been able to – become Austrian citizens (32%).

The authors also assume a correlation between the per capita household income – which takes into account household size – and the decision between school and work. When compared with young people of Austrian origin, young migrants tend to start working earlier due to the smaller household income that migrant families have at their disposal.

Educational level and employment

The survey reveals that a correlation exists between the educational level and the employment situation of young migrants aged between 19 and 25 years. Young migrants with a medium level of education are well integrated in the labour market, some 70% of whom are employed, 6% are going to school or university and only 7% are unemployed.

Educational level and employment of young migrants in Austria, 2003 (%)
This table outlines the proportions of young migrants who go to school or university, are employed or unemployed according to their educational level in 2003.
  Students Employed Unemployed
Medium educational level 6 70 7
High educational level 48 32 11
Low educational level 20 40 27

Source: ÖIJ, 2007

Almost half of the migrants with a high educational level are students at school or university, and 32% of them have successfully started a working career. Nonetheless, 11% of young migrants with a high educational level remain unemployed. In contrast, more than one quarter of young migrants with a low educational level are unemployed, while only 20% of them go to school or university and no more than 40% are employed.

Sector and occupational status

Young migrant workers are mainly concentrated in sectors such as wholesale and retail trade (29%), trades (17%), industry (15%), and hotel and restaurants (15%). As these sectors mostly offer poorly paid and precarious jobs, it comes as no surprise that young people of Austrian origin work significantly less often in one of these economic sectors. The concentration of young migrant workers in these four sectors clearly shows that these sectors are predominantly open to them, thereby highlighting the segregation of the labour market.

Major differences also emerge in relation to the occupational status of young migrants from the former Yugoslavia and from Turkey on the one hand and young Austrians on the other. Only 14% of Austrians are blue-collar workers, whereas the share amounts to 35% for migrants from the former Yugoslavia and 40% for migrants from Turkey. At the same time, 72% of young Austrians are white-collar workers, while only 55% of young migrant workers from the former Yugoslavia and 31% of migrants from Turkey have white-collar status.

Blue-collar workers are more disadvantaged in terms of unemployment, dismissal or right to pensions than white-collar workers. Furthermore, blue-collar jobs tend to be subject to higher health risks than white-collar jobs. Also, white-collar workers’ incomes rise more steeply with increasing length of employment than those of blue-collar workers.

More young migrants with a Turkish cultural background (29%) are self-employed or work in a family business than young people from the former Yugoslavia (11%) or young Austrian workers (14%). Young Turkish migrants often start their employment career in ethnic business at their own or their family’s company.


The discrimination of young migrant workers on the labour market is even more evident when it comes to unemployment. They are more frequently unemployed than young Austrians: while only 8% of young Austrians are unemployed, this proportion amounts to 23% of young migrants. Moreover, their risk of not finding a job is three times higher than that of young people of Austrian origin.

In relation to unemployment, the country of origin plays an important role: 18% of young migrants from the former Yugoslavia are unemployed, compared with 25% of young people of Turkish origin. The length of stay in Austria has also some implications on unemployment: 18% of young migrants of the second generation are unemployed, whereas this share amounts to 25% of young migrants of the first generation.


Österreichisches Institut für Jugendforschung, Jugendliche MigrantInnen in Bildung und Arbeit. Auswirkungen von Sozialkapital und kulturellem Kapital auf Bildungsentscheidungen und Arbeitsmarktbeteiligung [Young migrants in education and work. Consequences of social capital and cultural capital on educational decisions and labour market participation], Final report, Vienna, April 2007.

Marion Vogt, Working Life Research Centre (Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt, FORBA)

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