Mixed neighbourhoods and native out-mobility in the Oslo region: the importance of parenthood

Blog by Terje Wessel and Viggo Nordvik

9 May 2018, 1:32 p.m.
Terje Wessel, Viggo Nordvik

Abstract: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0042098018768452 


Social and ethnic diversity is a much-praised quality in the larger part of Scandinavia. It is often linked to egalitarian ideals, and even to population stability and shared modes of behaviour at the community level (Hort Olsson 1992).

Given this background, it is not surprising that patterns of migration to and from multi-ethnic neighbourhoods receive widespread attention. Nor is it surprising that people, in lack of alternatives, turn to existing expressions and theories. The term ‘white flight’ emerged in Norwegian media in 2006, and is by now well-entrenched in public consciousness. Journalists, academics and politicians use the term as a convenient label for native responses to increasing diversity, with unpleasant connotations to anxiety, threat and disorder. A more frequent element in the debate, however, concerns local conditions that may influence child-welfare and school achievements. The underlying suggestion is that native parents exit mixed neighbourhoods because they prioritize the environment in which they raise their children.  

We explore this topic with register data for the Oslo area. More concretely, we estimate the probability that native parents will leave neighbourhoods with large or increasing shares of ethnic minorities, controlling for housing tenure, demographics, socioeconomic status, duration of residence in the neighbourhood, location in the inner city, neighbourhood deprivation, change in neighbourhood deprivation, and housing characteristics at the neighbourhood level. We also perform identical analyses for a control group consisting of non-natives.

Our results broadly confirm the proposed role of parenthood. Native parents are indeed sensitive to the concentration of ethnic minorities, and this sensitivity depends on the age of the youngest child. The most dramatic effect obtains for parents with children under 6 years of age: this group is more stable than non-parents as long as the minority share is below 25-30%, but far more unstable as the share rises to 40, 50 and 60%. Important as well, homeownership increases out-mobility, in stark contrast to conventional knowledge.

Looking at non-natives, a highly different picture emerges. Non-native parents respond strongly to deprivation in the neighbourhood, whereas the balance between natives and non-natives has no impact at all. The probability of out-mobility is, as expected, different for non-native parents and non-native non-parents, but this margin does not increase with increasing minority share. In other words: there is no parenthood effect among non-natives.  

The study as a whole suggests that natives who are most invested in the future strength of the neighbourhood are the least stable ones. This interpretation corresponds to Ingrid Gould Ellen’s revision of the ‘racial proxy’ thesis (2000). The mechanism driving out-mobility, according to Ellen, is fear of neighbourhood decline, and not old-fashioned prejudice against individuals or groups. A supplementary explanation in the Oslo case is that native parents have a strong preference for single-family houses and low-rise environments. Non-native parents, by comparison, appear to tolerate apartment blocks and dense urban environments.

What about morality – are there grounds for scepticism about the true motives of native parents? Our answer is a hesitating ‘yes’. Aversion against mixed neighbourhoods implies that increasing minority presence affects the quality of schools and local environments. So far, there is little evidence in this direction, i.e. native responses do not appear to be colour-blind. One mitigating factor, on the other hand, is that ethnic geographies have changed a lot over the last two decades. Such developments do not facilitate rational adjustments, and call for public intervention. One type of policy that could stabilize the situation is to increase housing diversity throughout the city, in areas of high as well as low ethnic concentration.   


Ellen, I Gould (2000) Sharing Americas Neighborhoods. The Prospects for Stable Racial Integration. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press.

Hort Olsson, S E (1992) Segregation – ett svenskt dilemma: socialpolitiska og sociologiska synpunkter [Segregation – a Swedish dilemma: social-political and sociological viewpoints]. Stockholm: Finansdepartementet. Volum 9 av Bilaga till Långtidsutredningen.  Social and ethnic diversity is a much-praised quality in the larger part of Scandinavia. It is often linked to egalitarian ideals, and even to population stability and shared modes of behaviour at the community level (Hort Olsson 1992).


Read the paper in Urban Studies - Online First here


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