High ambitions but lacking contacts can be a health risk

Alexander Miething foto Leila Zoubir, Sociologiska institutionen
Alexander Miething. Photo: Stockholm University.

Author: Alexander Miething Young adults with non-Swedish background suffer more often from worse mental health than their peers without immigrant background. In particular, young adults with Iranian parents experience depressive symptoms more often. This can be explained by a combination of high ambitions and lacking certain occupational contacts. These are the results of a new study in Sociology.

It has been frequently shown that mental health is influenced by individuals’ living circumstances, socioeconomic factors and contextual conditions. Previous research on so-called social capital advocated that individuals’ access to social networks mobilizes resources that are supposed to affect mental health in a positive manner. People are usually engaged in several networks that fulfill different purposes and provide different forms of support. Occupational contacts, for example, may improve individuals’ labor market and career opportunities. Even younger adults who have not yet entered the labor market may benefit from these contacts. Friends, relatives or acquaintances in certain occupations may stimulate interests for specific jobs, function as role models, provide orientation, and help making decisions to increase chances on the job market.

Our findings stem from a  representative longitudinal Swedish survey about 19- and 23-year-old Swedes whose parents were born in either Sweden, Iran or the former Yugoslavia. The used survey data allowed examining how young adults’ self-reported depressive symptoms relate to whether and how well they know persons in specific jobs. From a list of 40 common occupations that comprised jobs with lower and higher prestige the respondents could rate whether they know persons in these occupations.

Our analysis showed an increased depression propensity for young women of Iranian origin who to a larger extent had contacts in the manual sector and with lower occupational prestige. For men and respondents with Yugoslavian parents and Swedish parents the respective associations were notably weaker.

Fig 4 blog ny
Description of the figure:
Predicted probabilities of depressive symptoms with 95% confidence intervals by accessed prestige scores, ethnic background, and ethnic identity for men and women.

Additional analyses considered respondents’ ethnic identity and helped to dissolve the puzzle. We found that the association was notably stronger for women with Iranian origin who had a Swedish identity, i.e., perceived themselves as Swedish. By contrast, only weak associations were found for respondents with parents from Iran who perceived themselves as a non-Swedish.We found that the Swedish identity is stronger expressed in descendants of Iranians who emigrated in the wake of the Islamic revolution. These refugees belonged to the academic middle class in Iran, which explains their relatively high educational attainment. Despite their middle class background and career aspirations, Iranians experienced downward mobility when emigrating, and faced difficulties finding adequate jobs in Sweden. The health risks of downward mobility and (simultanious) status inconsistency were recently adressed in a dissertation by Andrea Dunlavy from CHESS and the Department of Sociology. As shown in another dissertation by Per Engzell from SOFI and the Department of Sociology, these experiences may impose higher ambitions that their children advance on the labor market. This in turn may inflict status concerns and stress in their children, which subsequently increases the propensity to depressive symptoms in this specific group.

Our study proposes that lacking access to prestigious occupational contacts poses a health risk for groups with high career ambitions. Immigration background in combination with contextual conditions (i.e., access to occupational contacts) rather than ethnicity in itself, explain ethnic differences in the prevalence of depressive symptoms.

Reference: Alexander Miething, Mikael Rostila and Jens Rydgren, ”Access to occupational networks and ethnic variation of depressive symptoms in young adults in Sweden”, Social Science and Medicine.


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