Participation of immigrants in the European Union's national labour markets in a context of complementarity: substitution or competition with local labour force?

Elena Vidal, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Fernando Gil Alonso, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Andreu Domingo, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

The European Union has experienced a positive migratory growth between 1995-2005. However the size of the arriving flows is extremely diverse by country: Southern EU member states and Ireland present the highest increase. In order to explain these differences, the authors' hypothesis is that there is a process of complementarity between the foreign and the national labour forces in EU countries, which is more related with the socio-demographic trends of host societies and the dynamics of their labour markets than with the characteristics of the immigrants. The aim of this paper is to explain how complementarity between national and immigrant labour forces works across activity sectors in the EU Member States. This territorial and sectorial analysis allows us to differentiate the competition (where foreign workers compete with national ones in the same sector) from the substitution (where the immigrant labour force smoothly replaces the national one) dynamics by studying the socio-demographic characteristics of the respective working age populations using Labour Force Survey data. Especial attention is devoted to the analysis of education and participation levels of key sub-populations like young people and women. The main result of the research is that differential increase of immigration in EU countries is not mainly due to demographic factors (like the decreasing size of birth cohorts entering the labour market), but to the general improvement of educational levels, especially those of women, in Southern member states and Ireland. This process is parallel to the increasing participation of native women in those countries’ labour markets and to the improvement of their positions in it, generating a demand for main d’oeuvre in specific (low-paid, highly flexible) sectors that the national workers are not able to fill –or try to avoid– in a context of dual labour markets.

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Presented in Session 65: Economic determinants and effects of international migration