Female-headed households hit harder by climate change

By Raya Muttarak, IIASA World Population Program

Taking action on climate change is one top priority of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially since its adverse impacts can undermine sustainable development. At the same time, reducing gender inequalities and empowering women and girls is fundamental in making progress across all the goals.

These two issues are also closely linked:  in certain circumstances, women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men, for example, due to weaker physical ability, lower socioeconomic status, and greater social, economic and political barriers in coping capacity.

This is why, in recent work, we have been exploring the differential impacts of climate change on subgroups of population such as by gender, age, education, and income. The rising number of households headed by women across the world and, in particular, in southern Africa calls for special attention to their economic welfare. In general female-headed households are more likely to be in poverty. Under the context of the changing climate, it is likely that weather extremes, rainfall variability, and natural disasters associated with climate change will exacerbate economic disadvantages of female-headed households.

Female-headed households are more economically vulnerable to climate-related shocks for three big reasons, which researchers call a “triple burden”. First, persistent gender disparities in the labor market and other productive activities, including limited access to formal credit markets and land contribute to greater economic disadvantage for female-headed households. Second, these households often have a higher total dependency ratio–that is, women take care of a higher proportion of dependent children and the elderly. Third, women who are heads of households with no other adult help have a “double day burden” where they have to fulfil both domestic duties and make money outside the home. That means that female heads face greater time and mobility constraints and may have to work fewer hours or choose lower-paying jobs.

Female-headed households are more economically vulnerable to climate-related shocks for three big reasons, which researchers call a “triple burden”. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Female-headed households are more economically vulnerable to climate-related shocks for three big reasons, which researchers call a “triple burden”.
Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Add climatic shocks to an already disadvantaged family, and the livelihood disruption can be a catastrophe.  However, there have been very few studies of how female-headed households actually fare in the context of climate change. In our new study published in World Development, we used  household survey data from South Africa and local rainfall data over the period 2006-2012 to examine how female-headed households fare economically when facing variation in rainfall. The study provides new empirical evidence on economic welfare of households headed by women following climatic shocks.

The new and unique part of our study is that we are able to control for observed and unobserved characteristics of households using a statistical technique called fixed effects estimation, which enables us to control for the household-specific effects on income. It also lets us account for different income trajectories in households with different demographic compositions. Furthermore, we were able to evaluate the impacts of income shock on economic vulnerability of female-headed households using rainfall variability as an exogenous source of risk. Income loss due to other variables such as death of a household member or losing a job are likely to be endogenously determined by household characteristics, that is, female heads have lower level of education and hence are more likely to fall into unemployment. But because rainfall variation is not connected to household factors, we were able to measure the causal effect of climate variability on incomes, comparing different household types.

Our study shows that female-headed households in South Africa are indeed more vulnerable to climate variability than households headed by two adults, and not just because of the greater economic disadvantages that they start with. Even after controlling for household socioeconomic characteristics, female heads still fare worse when facing economic shocks. This might be due to limited access to family support and protective social networks who can step in to help in time of crisis.

Our analysis also reveals that not all types of female-headed households are vulnerable to rainfall variability. This finding is especially important for designing a policy to reduce vulnerability of female-headed households. Given different routes into female headship, we show that never-married female heads, women with a non-resident spouse (for example, where the husband has moved to work in another region), and widows have greater economic vulnerability to climate variability. The group of female-headed households where the female head has never been married is the largest of these groups. Households with adults of both genders where the female works but the male does not work and households of separated or divorced women are no more vulnerable than male-headed households.

We also found that vulnerability to climate impacts is related to the effect of rainfall on agriculture. We find that female-headed households face greater economic vulnerability only in the districts where rainfall has a large effect on loss in agricultural yields. Regardless of household engagement in agriculture, crop losses in a district can affect food and livelihood security through surges in food prices and shortfalls in local demand.

Although our study focuses on South Africa, the results showing that female-headed households are more vulnerable to climate variability call for particular interventions to their vulnerability in the context of climate change. The number of female-headed households is rising, with an exceptionally high proportion in southern African countries (36.3% in Lesotho (2006), 43.9% in Namibia (2013), 47.9% in Swaziland (2007). As climate variation and extremes also increase, policies to reduce vulnerability to climate change need to explicitly consider the plight of this subgroup of population.

References

Flatø, M., Muttarak, R., & Pelser, A. (2016). Women, weather, and woes: The triangular dynamics of female-headed households, economic vulnerability, and climate variability in South Africa. World Development. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2016.08.015

Muttarak, R., Lutz, W., & Jiang, L. (2015). What can demographers contribute to the study of vulnerability? Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, 13, 1–13. doi:10.1553/populationyearbook2015s001

Rosenhouse, S. (1989). Identifying the poor : is “headship” a useful concept? (No. LSM58) (pp. 1–62). Washington, DC: The World Bank. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/1989/07/442370/identifying-poor-headship-useful-concept. Accessed 24 February 2015

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

It’s time to measure 21st century aging with 21st century tools

By Sergei Scherbov, IIASA World Population Program (This post was originally published on The Conversation)

The populations of most countries of the world are aging, prompting a deluge of news stories about slower economic growth, reduced labor force participation, looming pension crises, exploding health care costs and the reduced productivity and cognitive functioning of the elderly.

These stories are dire, in part because the most widely used measure of aging – the old-age dependency ratio, which measures the number of older dependents relative to working-age people – was developed a century ago and implies the consequences of aging will be much worse than they are likely to be. On top of that, this ratio is used in political and economic discussions of topics such as health care costs and the pension burden – things it was not designed to address.

Turning 65 in 2016 doesn’t mean the same thing as hitting 65 in 1916. So instead of relying on the old-age dependency ratio to figure out the impact of aging, we propose using a series of new measures that take changes in life expectancy, labor participation and health spending into account. When you take these new realities into account, the picture looks a lot brighter.

© The U.S. National Archives/Flickr

How facts from the census questionnaire were tabulated into statistics in 1950. © The U.S. National Archives/Flickr

Our tools to measure aging have aged
The most commonly used measure of population aging is the “old-age dependency ratio,” which is the ratio of the number of people 65 years or older to those 20 to 64.

But, since the old-age dependency ratio was introduced in the early 1900s, most countries have experienced a century of rising life expectancy, and further increases are anticipated.

For instance, in 1914, life expectancy at birth in Sweden was 58.2 years (average for both sexes). By 2014, it had risen to 82.2 years. In 1935, when the U.S Social Security Act was signed into law, 65-year-olds were expected to live 12.7 more years, on average. In 2013, 65 year-olds may expect to live 19.5 years more.

But these changes aren’t reflected in the conventional statistics on aging. Nor is the fact that many people don’t just stop working when they turn 65, and that people are staying healthier for longer.

To get a better sense of what population aging really means today, we decided to develop a new set of measures that take these new realities into account to replace the old-age dependency ratio. And instead of one ratio, we created several ratios to evaluate health care costs, labor force participation and pensions.

Who retires at 65 anymore?
One of these new realities is that the number of people working into their late 60’s and beyond is going up. In 1994, 26.8% of American men aged 65-69 participated in the labor force. That figure climbed to 36.1% in 2014 and is forecast to reach 40% by 2024. And the trend is similar for even older men, with 17% of those aged 75-79 expected to still be working in a decade, up from just 10% in 1994.

Clearly, these older people did not get the message that they were supposed to become old-age dependents when they turned 65.

This isn’t unique to the U.S. Rates like these in many countries have been rising. In the U.K., for instance, the labor force participation rate of 65- to 69-year-old men was 24.2% in 2014, and in Israel it was 50.2%, up from 14.8% and 27.4%, respectively, in 2000. In part this is because older people now often have better cognitive functioning than their counterparts who were born a decade earlier.

So, instead of assuming that people work only from ages 20 to 64 and become old-age dependents when they hit 65, we have computed “economic dependency ratios” that take into account observations and forecasts of labor force participation rates. This tells us how many adults not in the labor force there are for every adult in the labor force, giving us a more accurate picture than using 65 as a cutoff point. We used forecasts produced by the International Labor Organization to figure this out.

The old-age dependency ratio in the U.S. is forecast to increase by 61% from 2013 to 2030. But using our economic dependency ratio, the ratio of adults in the labor force to adults not in the labor force increases by just 3% over that period.

Clearly, doom and gloom stories about U.S. workers having to support so many more non-workers in the future may need to be reconsidered.

Is the health care burden going to be so high?
Another reality is that while health care costs will go up with an older population, they won’t rise as much as traditional forecasts estimate.

Instead of assuming that health care costs rise dramatically on people’s 65th birthdays, as the old-age dependency ratio implicitly does, we have produced an indicator that takes into account the fact that most of the health care costs of the elderly are incurred in their last few years of life. Increasing life expectancy means those final few years happen at ever later ages.

In Japan, for example, when the burden of the health care costs of people aged 65 and up on those 20-64 years old is assessed using only the conventional old-age dependency ratio, that burden is forecast to increase 32% from 2013 to 2030. When we compute health care costs based on whether people are in the last few years of their lives, the burden increases only 14%.

Pension ages are going up
The last reality we considered concerns pensions.

In most OECD countries, the age at which someone can begin collecting a full public pension is rising. In a number of countries, such as Sweden, Norway and Italy, pension payouts are now explicitly linked to life expectancy.

In Germany, the full pension age will rise from 65 to 67 in 2029. In the U.S., it used to be 65, is now 66 and will soon rise to 67.

Instead of assuming that everyone receives a full public pension at age 65, which is what the old-age dependency ratio implicitly does, we have computed a more realistic ratio, called the pension cost dependency ratio, that incorporates a general relationship between increases in life expectancy and the pension age. The pension cost dependency ratio shows how fast the burden of paying public pensions is likely to grow.

For instance, in Germany, the old-age dependency ratio is forecast to rise by 49% from 2013 to 2030, but 65-year-old Germans will not be eligible for a full pension in 2030. Our pension cost dependency ratio increases by 26% over the same period. Instead of indicating that younger Germans will have to pay 49% more to support pensioners in 2030 compared to what they paid in 2013, taking planned increases in the full pension age into account, we see that the increase is 26%.

Pranom Chartyothin, a 72-year-old bus conductor, sells and collects bus tickets in downtown Bangkok, Thailand. Photo Credit: Jorge Silva/Reuters, CC BY

Sixty-five just isn’t that old anymore
In addition to this suite of measures focused on particular aspects of population aging, it is also useful to have a general measure of population aging. We call our general measure of population aging the prospective old-age dependency ratio.

People do not suddenly become old-age dependents on their 65th birthdays. From a population perspective, it makes more sense to classify people as being old when they are getting near the end of their lives. Failing to adjust who is categorized as old based on the changing characteristics of people and their longevity can make aging seem faster than it will be.

In our prospective old-age dependency ratio, we define people as old when they are in age groups where the remaining life expectancy is 15 years or less. As life expectancy increases, this threshold of old age increases.

In the U.K., for instance, the conventional old-age dependency ratio is forecast to increase by 33% by 2030. But when we allow the old-age threshold to change with increasing life expectancy, the resulting ratio increases by just 13 percent.

Populations are aging in many countries, but the conventional old-age dependency ratio makes the impact seem worse than it will be. Fortunately, better measures that do not exaggerate the effects of aging are now just a click away.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Migration analysis: A growing priority for policy

By Luis Castro, researcher in the Sustainability NEXUS Research Cluster of the IIASA World Population Program.

The refugee crisis going on across Europe has brought the importance of migration analysis into sharp focus. Policymakers need to know the answers to many questions that require realistic and timely answers, such as:

  • What are the demographic impacts of massive immigration in the short, medium, and long term?
  • What are the impacts on a population’s age distribution if the immigrants are migrating as family units, especially if they have a cultural tradition of large numbers of children?
  • What are the impacts if the immigrants are mainly males of labor-force age?
  • Is there a relationship between education level and the propensity to migrate?

For almost 40 years, IIASA has developed analytical tools and system analysis methods to help answer these questions and others. These methods and tools have been used for UN population projections, as well as by many individual countries around the world, but there is still much research to be done on to help us understand the complex dynamics of migration.

Until the end of the last century, migration modeling was given scant attention. A simple explanation for such lack of interest is perhaps the fact that most social, economic, and demographic research was targeted at the national level. Under such circumstances it was generally assumed that populations were “closed” and international migration was not considered. In addition, demographic studies of sub-national areas used the measure of “net migration”—the number of immigrants minus the number of emigrants—even though this simplifies the situation to the point where key information is lost.

In 1977, just after IIASA had completed its first five years of research activity, the institute announced that a key research theme for the future would be human settlements and services. This focused on developing methods for multiregional demography and included analysis and modeling of age specific migration flows was using data from 17 IIASA national member countries as well as Mexico, which was not yet a member. I dedicated five years at IIASA to developing and testing different migration models investigating patterns of age distributions among groups of migrants, see the graph.

graph

This graph shows how the numbers of migrants of different ages vary. Families migrating, for example, cause a peak in numbers at pre-labor force ages.

Demographic studies often view migration as a collection of independent individual movements. Yet it is widely recognized that many migrations undertaken by individuals whose movements are linked to others. For example, children migrating with their parents, wives with their husbands, or grandparents with their grandchildren.

The aim of my early research at IIASA was to identify some of the effects of family dependency on the migration of men and women, and those of different ages. We developed a model that split migration into independent and dependent flows. This work can explain variations in patterns of migration in societies at different stages of development.

The world has drastically changed since the past 25 years or so, and most nations have become more open and dependent on other countries, more regional alliances have appeared. However, international migration will continue to have the utmost priority for policymakers, not only because of the impacts on the receiving countries but also because of the consequences for the countries of origin.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Interview: The role of education in the future of humanity

In the 21st century the major global divide runs between knowledge societies and those where access to education is hampered or denied, say population experts Reiner Klingholz and Wolfgang Lutz in a new book. In an interview with campus.de they explain what this means. 

Education empowers us to look beyond our own horizon and to consciously choose our lifestyle. Better qualified people are more involved in political decision making processes and foster democratization – this is what your book says. Does this mean in reverse that societies with limited education opportunities are, as a rule, less democratic?
Rainer Klingholz: From antiquity to medieval times, the uneducated masses were dominated by despotic elites. Wherever the first seeds of democracy were observed, for example in ancient Greece or Florence during the Renaissance, at least a certain part of the male population could write and read. They were in a better position to see what was going on and they strived for more influence in decision making. The more educated the population became, the more chance there was for democracy. In the modern world, we see a clear statistical association between the education of broad segments of society and a well-functioning democracy, although education is a precondition and not always a guarantee.

There are direct and indirect reasons why education is good for democracy. Education directly fosters the ability to obtain information, express one’s own opinions, engage oneself in discussions and look for compromise, all prerequisites for a lively democracy. Education works indirectly through economic development as it fosters prosperity, and such societies are in a better position to afford the ‘luxury’ of democracy. Even autocratically governed countries, such as Singapore and China, which have invested massively in education and achieved rapid economic growth, can also be seen as moving in the direction of democracy in a long term.

© Goinyk Volodymyr | Dreamstime.com

Singapore (home of the aquarium pictured here) and other Asian countries have invested heavily in education, with impressive results. © Goinyk Volodymyr | Dreamstime.com

You say that in a context of global competition countries with low educational standards have lower chances to succeed. Could these countries get out of misery by their own strength or does this problem require a global solution?
Wolfgang Lutz: Looking back in history, we see that many countries have made it without outside assistance. In our book we describe the example of Finland, which was one of the poorest regions of Europe before 1900 and later due to massive educational efforts became not only a winner of PISA test but also one of the most innovative industrial countries. Or, let’s look at Mauritius, which as recently as the 1960s presented a textbook example of a country trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty, population growth, and destruction of the environment. Today, thanks to an early boost in education that was followed by fertility decline and economic growth, it is the most successful country in Africa. Similarly, the rise of the “Asian Tigers” has been induced by massive investment of their own modest means into basic education of the broad layers of population.

In many other countries, mostly in Africa and in South and West Asia, this did not happen.  As a consequence, there is still widespread poverty and birth rates have remained high, causing continued rapid population growth and difficulties in finding solutions for existing problems. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that dissatisfaction results in conflicts which in turn trigger streams of refugees. There are of cause many other reasons for this but lack of education is a root cause.

The most important factor behind decreasing fertility rates is female education. If women complete at least secondary school, they have substantially fewer children, they and their offspring are much healthier, and they become more independent from their husbands, as they are better informed and can obtain their own income. Education is the best and most effective development aid. In order to make this happen, the least developed countries need urgent help from outside. The world cannot wait decades for these countries to later possibly make it on their own. By that time, their population may have multiplied by a factor of 3-5, resulting in higher poverty and possible conflicts. There is good reason why there has been compulsory education and a right to education for all children until the age of 16 for a long time in all developed countries. This must apply equally to all children of the world.

Just a small portion of total development aid expenditures goes into education. Have we still not recognized the problem?
Reiner Klingholz: We have, on paper. The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations postulate exactly this. The problem is that these ambitious education goals are not being implemented. Only 2 to 4 percent of global development aid goes into basic education; this makes it impossible for all children to complete primary school and even less secondary school. Most of the development money goes into big infrastructure projects that satisfy local potentates and promote corruption and exports from the donor countries. Building of a rural school, or education of teachers, in Mali or Pakistan are not attractive in that sense. Since educational efforts only become noticeable in 10-20 years, it is much more attractive for a current president to build a new highway. Despite or perhaps because of this, we point out that investment in basic education is the most important investment for enhancing the ability of people and countries to help themselves and it therefore should become an absolute priority in international development.

In some Arab or African countries there is a youth bulge without adequate occupation or place in the society. What are the long-term consequences of this?
Wolfgang Lutz: The main problem of these countries is that the population grows faster than opportunities are being created, especially job opportunities. Many young people do not see prospects for their lives and at the same time they see through TV or internet that elsewhere people are much better off. Under such conditions, young men in particular have a tendency to become radicalized, or fall victim to religious zealots, who tell that people of different religions are the enemies. This mixture leads to a clash between education cultures that we describe in the book.

Students outside a school in Rwanda © Alangignoux | Dreamstime.com

Who or what impedes education in countries like Pakistan, Egypt, or in Western Africa?
Rainer Klingholz: Until the middle of 20th century, most of those countries were pawns in the hands of colonial powers that did not invest in broad education. They were afraid of a population empowered through mass education. In the majority of these countries with independence, authoritarian governments came to power who pursued the same goal: they wanted to stay in power surrounded by small educated elites and had no intention of empowering their citizens through education. Fortunately, in many of the countries the situation has improved in recent years and younger generations are now better educated than the older ones. But there is a real threat from fundamentalist religious or terroristic groups, such as IS or Boko Haram, that actively fight against modern education. They want to stop the teaching of natural sciences and instead have boys memorize the holy scriptures and exclude the girls from education altogether

What does Martin Luther have to do with your book?
Wolfgang Lutz: Martin Luther was the first person in history who actively and successfully fought for the basic education of all, including girls and the poorest farmers. He wanted every individual to find his/her own way to salvation through being able to read the Bible. To achieve this, Luther had to translate the Bible into a language that people understood. But most of all, he had to do something to enable all people to read themselves. This focus on universal literacy was new in world history and went further than e.g. the rather elitist humanists had gone.

Interestingly, we see today that the protestant countries that first implemented those educational reforms in the course of the next decades and centuries became more economically successful as a consequence. The rise of the Netherlands and Great Britain, the industrial revolution, and the later success of the United States, the improvement of living conditions and declining death rates—all this had as a necessary precondition  the education of broad segments of the  population that ultimately goes back to the Reformation. Luther himself did not have long-term social and economic consequences in mind. Coming from a medieval culture he personally would have been probably unsettled by the following developments towards modernity.

In your book “Who survives?” you describe different scenarios of the future of humanity to the end of the 21st century depending on investments in education in the near future. Can we only survive current and future crises if we indeed prioritize education?
Rainer Klingholz: At the beginning of the 21st century, humanity faces the biggest challenges in its history. It has to abolish poverty, stop population growth, combat climate change, and sustain peace in a world which at the moment may seem to be falling apart. These problems require the best possible brain power and the empowerment through education of everybody. The alternatives to education are high population growth in the poor countries where uneducated women have much higher birth rates together with many other development problems, which likely result in chaos and possibly conflict.

Wolfgang Lutz: The problem is that education needs time to show its positive effects. We have to wait until children come out of school and become active adults. Education is hence not a quick solution to any of the urgent problems that fill today’s newspapers. But in a long run, there are no alternatives to universal education.

Note: This article gives the views of the interviewee, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

What does your walking say about your true age?

By Daniela Weber, research scholar in the IIASA World Population Program.

Did you ever notice that you walk faster than your friends, or are you the one lagging behind? Your walking speed doesn’t only reveal how fast you walk; it can predict survival and the “slowing down process” and – according to a recent study – it can tell how old you are in terms of your physical fitness. If you are highly educated, or work in a non-manual job, you could be up to 15 years younger when it comes to your “walking age”—the age you are supposed to be according to your physical performance.

dreamstime_m_59593141

Your chronological age does not necessarily reflect your “walking age,” which can be much younger depending on your lifestyle.

For almost all of us, walking is necessary for our everyday lives. For instance, did you know that walking at about 1.1 meters per second (m/s) means that you can cross the street safely in time before the light changes? The decline in walking speed starts around age 60, previous research has found, and a speed of less than 0.6 m/s is associated with substantial impairments to daily life. In my new study, I investigated physical aging and particularly the walking age of older adults in England.

It’s well documented that higher socioeconomic status is positively associated, for older individuals especially, with better physical functioning, such as faster walking. My results confirmed the effects of education, occupation, and regional wealth on physical aging. For instance, a more highly educated 70 year old walked around 0.1 m/s faster at their normal pace than a less educated person of the same age. I noticed a gap of a similar magnitude comparing manual and non-manual workers, with a higher walking speed in those that worked in non-manual jobs.

Interestingly, living in a wealthier region was also associated with higher walking speed, although the difference is only minor. The positive effect of living in a wealthier area might be down to fitness as a result of daily routine. People living in wealthier, urban areas are more likely to walk to the shops or to catch public transport than their counterparts living in rural areas, where people tend to use their cars for shopping or commuting.

What does a difference of for instance 0.1 m/s mean and why is it important? I highlighted the differences by converting them into years of age. In a nutshell, less educated 70-year-olds walked on average at the same pace as more highly educated individuals who were 6.5-9 years older. At higher ages they had lost 2.5 years of walking age, which has been linked to many general health issues. Overall, the advantage of more education, non-manual work, or living in a wealthier region comprises up to 15 walking age years for men and up to 10 years for women. However, the size of the advantage declines with increasing age.

More information: IIASA Research Project: Reassessing aging from a population perspective

Reference
Weber D (2016) Differences in physical aging measured by walking speed: evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. BMC Geriatrics, 16(1):31 [December 2016] doi:10.1186/s12877-016-0201-x

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Who are the refugees?

In recent years the world has been in the grips of the worst refugee crisis since the horrors of WWII. Between January and August 2015 over 44,000 people applied for asylum in Austria alone. While much attention has been focused on immigration and asylum policies, there is a lack of data on the actual people; what are their backgrounds, qualifications, and expectations?

To address this, IIASA scientists are working with colleagues from the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU). Together the three institutions have designed a questionnaire for refugees in Austria, the first survey of its kind in German-speaking countries.

The team—consisting of over 40 researchers, students, and volunteers—is aiming for around 500 interviews with people seeking asylum in Austria, and the survey is carried out in Arabic, Farsi, and English. Zakarya Al Zalak, IIASA researcher in the World Population Program, former director of the Damascus Statistical Technical Institute, and a Syrian himself, speaks to science writer Daisy Brickhill about directing the work.

Why are you carrying out this survey?

We know almost nothing about the refugees as individuals. Who are these people? How much education have they received? What are their qualifications? What are their hopes and values? This kind of information is vital, because it can assist policymakers to design strategies to help these people integrate into Austrian society.

Training for the survey

Training for the survey. Photo credit: Judith Kohlenberger

What kind of questions do you ask?

There are six sections to our questionnaire. The first covers demography—things like age, sex, ethnicity, and religion. Even on these basic characteristics there is very little data. The second is about education. How long did they stay in school? What are their qualifications?

For the third section we focus on employment, asking whether they had a job before leaving their native country, and what their profession was. This will help assess the skills these people can bring to the Austria, and where they might be able to work. This is particularly important for integration, as it can help policymakers see where they might fit in to Austria’s workforce.

We use all kinds of questions and measures to get the most information possible. For example, when asking about health, we test the participants’ hand-grip strength. Previous IIASA research has shown that this is related to markers of aging, future disability, cognitive decline, and the ability to recover from hospital stays.

In the fifth section we ask about family. This is important because although many refugees are men travelling alone, they may be planning to bring their family once they have made a life for themselves.

You mentioned attitudes and values, how do you find out about these things with a simple questionnaire?

In the last section of the questionnaire we use several different approaches to explore attitudes. We ask whether they would mind if their children were taught about other religions at school, for instance. We also ask about their views on abortion and gender equality, among other things.

What are the next steps?

We finish sampling soon, so we are hoping to publish the preliminary results in January 2016. However, the most important part of the work is in the next stage. We have asked for participants’ contact details, and our plan is that we will reconnect with these people after some time, eight or nine months, say. At that point we can ask more about how they are finding life in Austria, and whether integration is going well. Have they taken a German language course, for example? Do they have work? Have they received training?

If we are unable to reach some people for follow-up there is a possibility of recruiting new participants. Although we will not have the data from the initial survey we can still ask them how long they have been here, and how their integration is going.

It must be difficult seeing your fellow Syrians in such dire straits.

Before coming to Austria, I worked with refugees in my own country. It seems strange to think of now, but at that time there were Iraqi people who had fled to Syria to seek asylum. Now, we are finding people who are “double refugees,” first fleeing to Syria from Iraq and then, as the situation in Syria worsened, from Syria to Austria. It must be an extremely hard journey. I very much hope this work helps policymakers to make things easier for them.

Austrian Academy of Sciences Press Release

This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.