Several Norwegian studies show that immigrants are over-represented among families with low incomes. Still we know little about what it is like to grow up in an immigrant family with little money. This report is about children growing up in low-income families, with a special emphasis on differences and similarities between immigrant children and children from ethnically Norwegian families. We paint with broad brushstrokes, touching upon most of the central areas in the lives of children and families. We discuss income levels, housing and levels of living, health, children´s school satisfaction, leisure activities, media use and children´s spending. This approach does not allow for in-dept analyses of each topic. The details of this analysis is less important than the main picture - we primarily wish to give an overview of the research field. Data for the report have been provided through the project ‘Children´s level of living - the implications of family income for children´s everyday lives´, which is funded by the Norwegian Women´s Public Health Association (N.K.S.) and NOVA. Interviews have been carried out with parents of children between 6 and 12, as well as with children aged 10-12. The low income sample, to which most of the families in this survey belong, consists of families who had incomes below the poverty line (60 per cent of the median per consumption unit) in 2000.
Previous analyses of this material has shown that in this sample of low-income families, immigrants are considerably over-represented compared to general population surveys. Immigrants are, in other words, overrepresented among low-income families. Analyses in this report also show that immigrants as a group are poorer than ethnical Norwegians, even within the low-income sample. More immigrants have incomes in the lowest quintile, and fewer in the highest. Moreover, more immigrants have had low incomes for several consecutive years. 42 per cent of the immigrants in our low-income sample had low incomes both in 2000, 2001 and 2002, compared to 31 per cent of the Norwegians in the same sample. These are however tendencies more than absolutes: we find Norwegian families also in the lowest quintiles of the income distribution, and we have immigrants whose poverty spells have been of short duration.
85 per cent of the poor immigrant children live with both their biological parents, compared to 60 per cent of the poor Norwegian children. On the other hand, we find that many poor immigrants live in very large households. This suggests that the typical path into poverty is different for Norwegians and immigrants: for Norwegians, the typical path is through parental break-up/ divorce, for immigrants, through having a very large family.
Looking at housing standards and consumer durables, we find that immigrants are clearly worse off than the Norwegians in the sample. This is even truer for the subjective experience of the situation, such as feeling that money is insufficient, or not being able to get NOK 10.000 at short notice. Immigrants are also less likely to say that they have one or more persons they can turn to when the family needs help or support.
Regarding school satisfaction, contact with teachers, subjective assessment of school performance and leisure activities, there are only small differences between Norwegian and immigrant children, and between children in low-income families and better-off children. Some trends can still be found: immigrant children more often meet friends outside the home (they are less likely to bring friends home, and also less likely to go to friends´ homes), they participate less in organised leisure activities, but they enjoy school more than their Norwegian peers, and they express more trust in the teachers. School thus comes across as an important area of inclusion for these children: for children from low-income families it does not appear to be an added burden to also be an immigrant, rather,having an immigrant background rather seems to be a resource in this situation. Poor immigrant children are even more likely than poor Norwegian children to have experiences of being denied money for activities - a reasonable consequence of the fact that their family incomes on average are even lower - still immigrant children more often feel that their families are reasonably well off. There are only minor differences in trust and intimacy with parents, but we find a clear tendency that immigrant children more often experience that their parents make decisions without consulting the children, while the ideal of negotiation appears to be stronger in Norwegian families.
This data material is not suited to discuss causes and effects, thus we cannot explain why these differences occur. It is also too small to distinguish between immigrants with different migrant histories and geographic background. The patterns found still suggest that there is an interplay between the family´s financial situation and immigrant status when it comes to consequences for children. A greater sensitivity for cultural differences in poverty research (for instance in the discussion of indicators of deprivation), as well as for financial/ poverty issues in immigration research, is thus called for.