Social and Economic Integration of Refugee Youth

Project Researchers

Reza Nakhaie
Project Lead

Professor at University of Windsor

Project Description

Sociological research on integration of refugees, whether youth or adults, explains their social and economic integration by differences in sociodemographic characteristics, cultural distance, language proficiency, governmental support, discrimination, class background, and social and human capital (due to the space limitation references are deleted). Although this research has been important in identifying factors responsible for socio-economic integration, it has been less attentive to the importance of the personality characteristics of refugee youth.

In this research project, I suggest that an emphasis on self- and social-control can offer an alternative explanation for integration of refugee youth. Hirschi (1969: 16-34) has stated that individuals’ attachment or ties to significant others, commitment or investment in conventional society, involvement in conventional behaviour, and belief in society’s values ensures compliance and success, the lack of which results in non-conformity. Moreover, in The General Theory of Crime (1990), Gottfredson and Hirschi have argued that ineffective childhood socialization tends to produce an enduring predisposition called low self-control. Low self-control is established in early childhood in families in which a child’s behaviour is not well monitored, non-conforming behaviour is not recognized when it occurs, and such behaviour is not punished. What is required for adequate child rearing is social investment in the child such as monitoring, recognizing and punishing bad behaviour. General theory explains crime and non-conformity in terms of a single underlying personality attribute –self-control–and its cause to the life course of the family. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990: 107-08, 117) have asuggested that once established in early childhood, an individual’s level of self-control remains stable over the life course and is relatively unaffected by other institutions.

No previous empirical research has investigated whether or not the General Theory can account for refugee youth integration. The theory seems to imply that it does because, as a general theory, its aim is to explain with a single concept, “low self-control,” a wide variety of behaviours across time (history) and space (culture) (Arneklev et al., 1993: 240). Gottfredson and Hirschi argue that individuals with low self-control will have difficulty satisfying the academic and labour force requirements in return for their long-term benefits. Take the example of school; it requires young people to be at a certain place at a certain time; it requires them to do things when they are not under its direct surveillance; and it requires them to be quiet, physically inactive, and attentive, often for long periods of time. At the same time, the school rewards punctuality, the completion of homework, and proper deportment; it also rewards demonstrations of academic competence, providing in return affection from teachers, advancement within the system, and ultimately educational certification, employment, and occupational success. These requirements are all examples of high self-control (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990: 162-63; also see Hirschi, 1969; Nakhaie et al., 200a, 200b).

Accordingly, in this project I ask: Do self- and social-control help refugee youth’s social and economic integration after accounting for other relevant explanations? I suggest it does because previous research has shown that parenthood is more likely to be disrupted among refugees than immigrant newcomers thus resulting in potentially self-control deficit among refugee children and youth. The stress arising from leaving their homes and residing in refugee camps as well as their new living conditions in the host country could result in maladaptive attitudes, behaviours and 3 personality problems among refugee children and youth. Given that parents of refugee children and youth tend to suffer psychological distress themselves, they are less able to effectively address social and emotional needs of their children. Their children tend to experience separation and loss of family, disruption of socialization, and traumatic experiences. Fleeing persecution and experiencing trauma and relocation can have a significant negative effect on parenting, adequate child rearing, and investment in the child, such as monitoring, recognizing and punishing bad behaviours. As an example, Yogendra et al. (2010) pointed out that refugee youth and children had a high rate of aggressive behaviours, bed-wetting, nail-biting and self-harm, all of which are indicative of low self-control. However, others have argued that these children tend to become highly adaptable and flexible, pointing to their resilience (Dawes, 1994).