It is core course week, which means we spend the whole week with our core course in the classroom, on field study tours, and a weekend trip! In my core course, Cultural Diversity and Social Capital, we have been focusing on immigration in Denmark.
Denmark is known for being a homogenous country (ethnically, religiously, culturally, etc.), and for its welfare state where Danes pay high taxes but receive many benefits. In recent years, immigration to Denmark has increased, especially from non-Western countries, where the culture is very different. The question we are exploring is whether immigrants and the cultural diversity that they bring threaten the nation and welfare state of Denmark.
Why might immigrants threaten the nation state of Denmark?
Denmark prides itself in its high levels of social trust – trust among people like yourself, people unlike yourself, institutions, and government. I myself can feel the strong sense of social trust in Denmark when I feel completely comfortable walking home late at night by myself. The homogenous country may be threatened by immigration because high levels of cultural diversity are correlated with lower social trust. The worry is that with more immigrants, especially from non-Western countries where the culture is very different, social trust will decrease.
Furthermore, because of some of the cultural differences (and perhaps cultural disagreements) between Danes and immigrants, the question of integration vs. assimilation of immigrants must also be asked. I’m sure my class will be going further into depth on this later on.
Why might immigrants threaten the welfare state of Denmark?
The welfare system may not be sustainable with all of the new immigrants. Immigrants may become dependent on the welfare system without contributing to it. There is also not much room in Denmark for unskilled labor (if you have uneducated immigrants) since everyone in Denmark gets free education. Hiring immigrants may also cause Danes to lose their own jobs, especially for those that work in the immigration field.
These are just a few points, and of course, there are arguments that immigrants do not threaten either the nation or welfare state of Denmark, but that is for another time.
To help answer this question, we have gone on some field study tours throughout the week:
On Monday, We visited a Muslim private school. The idea of the school was that it was a safe place for Muslim students to go and to learn about their culture while living in a Danish society. Most of the students are from families of immigrants. We got to personally talk with the students and it seemed that most of the students feel Denmark is their home (not their parents’ home country). In a school like that I can’t help but think how isolated the students are from people different from themselves even with all of the integration field trips the teacher was assuring us of. Does a school like this help the assimilation/integration of Muslims into Danish society? Does growing up feeling accepted and building a strong sense of self help you tolerate others more later on? Or should these students be exposed to people unlike themselves even if it risks them feeling unaccepted?
We took a guided walking tour of Nørrebro and Tingbjerg, to look at the ghettos that recently lost their ghetto title, aka ex-ghettos. Besides the close and crowded buildings, a neighborhood must meet two of the following criterion to be given the title of a ghetto in Denmark:
1. Have 270 of 10,000 people with a criminal record living in the area
2. Have 50% or more Non-Western immigrants or descendants of immigrants living in the area (interesting that the origin of the immigrants is specified).
3. Have 40% unemployment rate for residents aged 18-64
One of the ex-ghettos we visited had only been declared an ex-ghetto three days ago. This is because when they renewed their data, they found 263 of 10,000 had a criminal record. Because the number was below 270, the neighborhood no longer met two of the three criterion and lost their title of a ghetto. This sounds like a good thing but a ghetto means benefits such as extra money from the government for special programs to help improve the neighborhood. With only seven people with criminal records that moved out of the neighborhood, the neighborhood is probably not much different.
We visited a Danish high school and got to ask the students questions about trust. Do they trust others? Do they trust people that don’t look like themselves? Why is trust different in Denmark and the U.S.?
With the Danish students that I talked to, I found that they do trust people that are like themselves more. However, they interpreted “people unlike themselves” not as a physical characteristic, but a behavioral characteristic. For example, one of the Danes said if the person was very loud they might be less trusting. It had nothing to do with if they physically looked different from them. The main idea I found was that Danish people base trust off of one’s attitude. We compared trust in the U.S. In the U.S. we base trust off of attitude but also off of socioeconomic status. Since Denmark is a welfare state, big disparities in socioeconomic status are basically nonexistent, therefore it is not an item trust is based off of.
We also got a little off topic and started talking about other American cultural things. Some of the Danes could not fathom why we would pay doctors to treat us. They thought the doctors were just greedy people charging clients outrageous amounts. This can be seen the other way around. We may have reason to trust our doctors more because bad doctors are eliminated through the competitive labor market for doctors. In Denmark it is easy for the doctors to remain complacent (not grow in their craft) since they have more security in their job (it is more difficult to fire someone in Denmark). It was nice to hear some Danish perspectives on American culture.
I have very much enjoyed the week so far! I really like my professor, my classmates, the course content, and the field study tours we have participated in! The rest of the week we will be in Sweden exploring the Swedish immigration perspective, so until next time!