Geographical concentration of problems related to living conditions

Last updated: 2/4/2022

Illustrasjon av levekårsproblemer

Characteristics and consequences

The geographical concentration of problems related to living conditions is a typical challenge in large cities. In residential areas with major challenges concerning living conditions, the inhabitants have lower scores than the rest of the population in many social indicators. They have lower scores in education, employment and income and the use of social services and social security schemes in the area is often high. Many also live in cramped conditions.

Many of the residents in these areas have immigrant backgrounds and in the most affected district in Oslo, more than 65 per cent of the population have immigrant backgrounds. This is because, on average, the immigrant population has lower incomes and lower scores in several living conditions variables than the rest of the population.
The area is also characterised by social challenges, and there is often a need for physical upgrading of outdoor areas and housing. House prices in the area are also lower than elsewhere and this affects who wants to live there.

When a group of people with common characteristics dominate a residential area, the residential environment can be characterised as segregated. Segregation is about the concentration of – and setting apart or separation of different groups in different places. Much of the segregation research has focused on groups defined by immigrant background and socioeconomic status - i.e., indices for income and education.

There is often an overlap between ethnic and socioeconomic segregation because many of those who immigrate to Norway have lower education, income and labour participation than the rest of the population.

When there are many problems related to living conditions in a residential area, the social challenges are complex. There is often a high percentage of municipal and private rental housing in the area. Many low-income families live in cramped conditions. On average, 23 per cent of all immigrants live in cramped conditions, compared with 8 per cent of non-immigrants.

When living in cramped conditions, the children are more dependent on using outdoor spaces to be with their friends. Therefore, a good, safe outdoor environment is important. When many of the people living in the neighbourhood are disadvantaged, which can affect the local community in ways that are negative for the children. There is often also a high turnover of housing in the area.

All this helps to create a negative spiral. The area gains a bad reputation and is further marginalised. The residents feel that the area they are living in is stigmatised and disparaged by others.

There is a tendency towards an accumulation of problems related to living conditions in Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger and Drammen, as well as in many of the neighbouring municipalities around Oslo. Nevertheless, the largest concentrations of problems related to living conditions can be found in Oslo. The highest proportion of low-income families is in specific geographical areas in Oslo, where many people have immigrant backgrounds. There is a link between immigration status, poverty and vulnerable residential areas. Immigrants as a group also live more centrally than the rest of the population, although this varies for different immigrant groups who have different reasons for immigration and period of residence.

When it comes to Oslo, the figures from 2019 show that the district of Gamle Oslo had 19 per cent low-income households with children while the average for the city as a whole was 11 per cent. The share of municipal dwellings in the district was 5.7 per cent in 2021 while the average for the city as a whole was 3.3 per cent. Another example is the district of Grorud. Here, 32 per cent of the population between the ages of 21-29 have not completed upper secondary school. By comparison, this applies to 20 per cent of the total population of Oslo. It is important to note that even if the living conditions in some parts of Oslo differ clearly from the city average, the differences within the same district can be significant. Oslo does not have entire districts that are vulnerable, but sub-districts that are vulnerable.

The picture in these residential areas is rarely clear. In several studies of vulnerable areas it has emerged that despite the challenges, many people enjoy living there. Solidarity, participation and neighbourhood patriotism are recurring findings.

The drivers behind the problem

At a general level, the challenges are about social inequality, i.e., that there are differences between groups when it comes to income and education. Therefore, we must look at how national policy distributes society’s resources. Several sectors are relevant, such as the labour market and education policy.

To understand the geographical concentration of problems related to living conditions, a special focus must be on the dynamics of the housing market and price differences that arise between housing in different parts of the city. This affects people’s opportunities to choose housing and residential area. The Norwegian housing model favours ownership and remaining in the rental market can be a potential poverty trap. In residential areas with many rented properties, the quality of the housing and the residential environment is often poor. People with low incomes are at the mercy of housing in beleaguered areas. Thus, the housing market determines where groups of people with different finances choose to live. This is an important explanation of why some residential areas face greater challenges with problems related to living conditions than others.

Furthermore, demographic changes such as strong urban growth and increased immigration of people with few resources are contributing factors. More immigrants are out of work than the rest of the population. This applies particularly to refugees. One explanation is a gap between the competence the refugees have with them and what is required in the Norwegian labour market.

Urban development projects can also play a role, such as when some urban areas undergo comprehensive socioeconomic changes. Such changes are called gentrification. This refers to changes in the urban space where working-class neighbourhoods have been “rehabilitated” to middle-class neighbourhoods. Housing prices rise and a displacement effect occurs. Groups that rely on affordable housing move to the suburbs thus intensifying the challenges related to living conditions in the suburbs.

The above explanations are at a structural level but explanations at the individual level can also have an effect. For some, this may be the desire to live close to family, friends or others who have the same background.

The consequences for individuals and society

It is primarily the parents’ socioeconomic situation that has the most to say about how children and young people manage at school, further in working life and how their living conditions develop in the long run. However, the neighbourhood itself also affects the living conditions of its residents. This applies particularly to children, as well as people from immigrant backgrounds. Research shows that vulnerable residential areas can affect a number of welfare outcomes such as health, work and education.

The quality of the neighbourhood is also important for children and young people who have their local environment as their arena for learning and socialisation.

When the geographical concentration of problems related to living conditions contributes to social differences between residential areas, it also has consequences at the societal level. Social and economic differences between population groups and between residential areas can cause tension, social unrest and exclusion. Such challenges have been major in many European cities. Norwegian cities have avoided such extensive challenges as have been seen in, for example, Sweden and France. Nevertheless, in recent years, the public authorities and researchers have expressed concern, especially for the growing conditions for children and young people in some neighbourhoods in Oslo.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted challenges with segregation and geographical concentration of problems related to living conditions. There has been concern about the long-term consequences the Covid-19 pandemic may have on living conditions and segregation and that the coronavirus crisis seems to exacerbate the existing differences. Segregation has also been discussed as a possible negative factor in an emergency situation that complicates efforts towards certain immigrant groups. Fewer meeting places between immigrants and the rest of society and a lack of contact across backgrounds can contribute to poorer conditions for linguistic integration and a more divided society.

Solutions

The authorities have several strategies to meet the challenges. At an overall level, the Norwegian model for controlled and dispersed housing of refugees has ensured that refugees are housed throughout the country and not just in the cities. Around one in five refugees leave their original municipality of residence within five years of settling, although this trend has declined in recent years. Furthermore, in its new integration strategy, Integration through knowledge, the government has initiated a focus on education, qualification and competence. The objective is that more people pursue an education and find employment.

Furthermore, work will be done through universal policy instruments for the entire population and area-specific initiatives where the challenges are greatest.

Universal policy instruments

Universal policy instruments that involve vulnerable groups will have a preventive effect on problems related to living conditions. This applies to instruments within a number of sectors, such as family, upbringing and education policy. For example, the opportunities the individual has to become financially self-sufficient will counteract that problems related to living conditions occur.

Area-specific instruments

Area-specific initiatives will also be used to raise urban areas that need it the most. In one area initiative, the municipality and the central government are working in a coordinated and cross-sectoral manner. The effort spans over several years and will give the area a physical and social boost.

The area initiatives in which the central authorities are involved have a different focus. Common to them all is that they will contribute to inclusion, security and good quality of living, childhood and local environment. In 2019, the work on improving living conditions in vulnerable urban areas was strengthened. There are area initiatives in Oslo (Groruddalen, Oslo inner East and Oslo South), Drammen, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim.

The living and growing up conditions of children and young people have been prioritised by local and national authorities in several area-specific initiatives. For example, the trial with free core time in kindergartens in urban areas with problems relating to living conditions has been tested as a part of area initiatives over several years, before the scheme was developed into a national scheme in 2015. The trial yielded good results with more children from immigrant backgrounds in kindergarten and improved results in reading and arithmetic when the children were in the first and second grades. Attending kindergarten contributes positively to children’s language development and social competence and lays an important foundation for further education. In the integration strategy, Integration through knowledge, the government strengthens the work on recruitment and information measures to increase attendance in kindergarten among minority language children in vulnerable urban areas.

Urban and residential planning

Developing neighbourhoods where different groups in the population can live is also important. To achieve this, the residential planning must facilitate varied housing with different types of accommodation such as freehold and rental housing, different sizes of housing and good quality housing. Furthermore, the urban development and planning policy is important in preventing a residential area from developing negatively in the long term. Universal and area-specific remedies have affected the development in the major Norwegian cities. The redistributing welfare state in Norway is highlighted as one explanation why Oslo does not have similar challenges as other European cities. The preventive efforts in the area initiatives are also considered to have a mitigating effect on the problem.

Knowledge needs

It will be important in the future to ensure that the initiative has a long-term perspective that prevents poverty from being inherited and counteracts further marginalisation and segregation. To achieve this requires better knowledge about long-term and preventive measures and whether the effects of these in general and the effects of the area-specific efforts in particular.

Reference list

Note: Most references are only available in Norwegian.

  1. See among others:
  2. Oslo Municipality and the ministries (2016) Programbeskrivelse for Groruddalssatsingen 2017-2016. Available from https://www.oslo.kommune.no/slik-bygger-vi-oslo/groruddalssatsingen/#gref (Retrieved 22 January 2020)
  3. It may be useful to distinguish between different types of segregation processes; demographic, socioeconomic and ethnic segregation. Demographic segregation is about the spatial distribution of a population being linked to demographic variables such as age, civil status, etc. Socioeconomic segregation is about where you live being linked with your class background and resource situation. In ethnic segregation people with the same ethnic/national background settle in the same area. Source: Søholt, S. 2010: Etniske minoriteter og boligmarkedet: Integrert, marginalisert, segregert. The Research Council of Norway. Available from https://www.forskningsradet.no/om-forskningsradet/publikasjoner/2006/etniske-minoriteter-og-boligmarkedet.integrert-marginalisert-segregert/ (Retrieved 22 january 2020)
  4. Ljunggren, J. og P. L. Andersen 2017: “Vestkant og østkant, eller nye skiljelinger? Bostedssegregasjon blant Oslo-ungdom mellom 2003 og 2012” in Ljunggren, L. (ed.) Oslo – ulikhetenes by. Cappelen Damm Akademisk.
  5. SSB 2017: En av ti bor trangt. Available from https://www.ssb.no/bygg-bolig-og-eiendom/artikler-og-publikasjoner/en-av-ti-bor-trangt (Retrieved 22 January 2020).
  6. SSB 2020: Innvandrere bor trangere. Available from https://www.ssb.no/bygg-bolig-og-eiendom/artikler-og-publikasjoner/innvandrere-bor-trangere (Retrieved 28 June 2021)
  7. See for example:
  8. Brattbakk, I. and B. Andersen (2017) Oppvekststedets betydning for barn og unge. Nabolaget som ressurs og utfordring. AFI Report 02:2017. Available from http://www.hioa.no/Om-OsloMet/Senter-for-velferds-og-arbeidslivsforskning/AFI/Publikasjoner-AFI/Oppvekststedets-betydning-for-barn-og-unge (Retrieved 22 January 2020)
  9. Strand, A. H. and M. Takvam (2019) Unge i utsatte boområder – en kunnskapsoversikt. Sub-report. Fafo report 2019:24 Available from https://www.fafo.no/index.php/zoo-publikasjoner/fafo-notater/item/unge-i-utsatte-boomrader-en-kunnskapsoversikt (Retrieved 29 June 2021)
  10. SSB 2021: Innvandrere og norskfødte med innvandrerforeldres fordeling på kommunenivå. Available from https://www.ssb.no/befolkning/artikler-og-publikasjoner/innvandrere-og-norskfodte-med-innvandrerforeldres-fordeling-pa-kommuneniva (Retrieved 29 June 2021)
  11. Oslo Municipality (2019) https://bydelsfakta.oslo.kommune.no/bydel/gamleoslo/levekaar (Retrieved 29 June 2021)
  12. Oslo Municipality (2019) https://bydelsfakta.oslo.kommune.no/bydel/grorud/levekaar (Retrieved 29 June 21)
  13. See for example:
  14. Brattbakk, I. and B. Andersen (2017) Oppvekststedets betydning for barn og unge. Nabolaget som ressurs og utfordring. AFI Report 02:2017. Available from http://www.hioa.no/Om-OsloMet/Senter-for-velferds-og-arbeidslivsforskning/AFI/Publikasjoner-AFI/Oppvekststedets-betydning-for-barn-og-unge (Retrieved 22 January 2020)
  15. See for example:
  16. IMDi (2021) Indikatorer for integrering. Tilstand og utviklingstrekk ved inngangen til 2021. IMDi rapport. indikatorer-for-integrering-2021.pdf (imdi.no) https://www.imdi.no/om-integrering-i-norge/innvandrere-og-integrering/sysselsetting/ (Retrieved 25 June 2021)
  17. Brattbakk, I. and B. Andersen (2017) Oppvekststedets betydning for barn og unge. Nabolaget som ressurs og utfordring. AFI Report 02:2017. Available from http://www.hioa.no/Om-OsloMet/Senter-for-velferds-og-arbeidslivsforskning/AFI/Publikasjoner-AFI/Oppvekststedets-betydning-for-barn-og-unge (Retrieved 22 January 2020)
  18. NOU 2011: 14. Bedre integrering. Mål, strategier, tiltak. Available from https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/nou-2011-14/id647388/ (Retrieved 23 January 2020)
  19. Dette blir omtala som nabolagseffektar. For a more detailed explanation refer to: Brattbakk, I. and B. Andersen (2017) Oppvekststedets betydning for barn og unge. Nabolaget som ressurs og utfordring. AFI Report 02:2017. Available from http://www.hioa.no/Om-OsloMet/Senter-for-velferds-og-arbeidslivsforskning/AFI/Publikasjoner-AFI/Oppvekststedets-betydning-for-barn-og-unge (Retrieved 22 January 2020)
  20. See among others:
  21. Strand, A. H. and M. Takvam (2019) Unge i utsatte boområder – en kunnskapsoversikt. Sub-report. Fafo report 2019:24 Available from https://www.fafo.no/index.php/zoo-publikasjoner/fafo-notater/item/unge-i-utsatte-boomrader-en-kunnskapsoversikt (Retrieved from 23 January 2020)
  22. Brattbakk, I. et al. (2017) På sporet av det nye Grønland. Sosiokulturell stedsanalyse av Grønland i Bydel Gamle Oslo. AFI report 04:2017. Available from http://www.hioa.no/Om-OsloMet/Senter-for-velferds-og-arbeidslivsforskning/AFI/Publikasjoner-AFI/Paa-sporet-av-det-nye-Groenland (Retrieved 23 January 2020)
  23. NOU 2020: 16 (2020) Levekår i byer: Gode lokalsamfunn for alle. Available from https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/nou-2020-16/id2798280/ (Retrieved 29 June 2021)
  24. The Ministry of Education and Research (2021). Expert group report. Innvandrerbefolkningen under koronapandemien. Smitte, vaksine og konsekvenser for integreringen. (Retrieved from 29 June 2021)
  25. Strøm, F., Kirkeberg, M.I. and Epland, J. (2020). Monitor for sekundærflytting Sekundærflytting blant personer med flyktningbakgrunn bosatt i Norge 2007-2016. Reports 2020/36. Statistics Norway. (Retrieved 10 August 2021).
  26. The Ministry of Education and Research (2018) Integrering gjennom kunnskap. Regjeringens integreringsstrategi 2019-2022. Available from https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/integrering-gjennom-kunnskap/id2617246/ (Retrieved 27 January 2020)
  27. See for example Strand, A. H. og M. Takvam (2019) Unge i utsatte boområder – en kunnskapsoversikt. Sub-report. Fafo report 2019:24. Available from https://www.fafo.no/index.php/zoo-publikasjoner/fafo-notater/item/unge-i-utsatte-boomrader-en-kunnskapsoversikt (Retrieved 23 January 2020)
  28. Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation (2018) Prop 1 s Proposition to the Storting (parliamentary bill). For the budget year 2019. Available from https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/prop.-1-s-20182019/id2613128/ (Retrieved 23 January 2020) and The Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation (2019) Prop 1 s Proposition to the Storting (parliamentary bill). For the budget year 2020. Available from https://www.regjeringen.no/no/dokumenter/prop.-1-s-20192020/id2671418/ (retrieved 23 January 2020)
  29. Bråten, B., N. Drange, H. Haakestad, K. Telle (2014) Gratis kjernetid i barnehager. Final report. Fafo report 2014:04. Available from https://www.fafo.no/index.php/zoo-publikasjoner/fafo-rapporter/item/gratis-kjernetid-i-barnehager (retrieved 23 January 2020)
  30. Brattbakk, I. and B. Andersen (2017) Oppvekststedets betydning for barn og unge. Nabolaget som ressurs og utfordring. AFI Report 02:2017. Available from http://www.hioa.no/Om-OsloMet/Senter-for-velferds-og-arbeidslivsforskning/AFI/Publikasjoner-AFI/Oppvekststedets-betydning-for-barn-og-unge (retrieved 22 January 2020)