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Social capital key to good job

Education does count, but social capital, that is, having the right kind of contacts, is at least as important when it comes to landing a good job. This is shown in a new dissertation from Linköping University in Sweden.

Two thousand new employees in a municipality were asked: "Do you know anyone in this line of work?" The various occupations were ranked in accordance with a generally accepted international scale that measures the value of the social network, or the social capital. The social capital is of greater value if it includes individuals in key positions.

The study showed that those who had a more social capital also had a higher salary and more stable employment conditions than those with less social capital. Or, to put it bluntly: those whose friends primarily make pizzas and drive taxis have less of a chance of getting a good job than those who hang around with CEOs and lawyers.

In his dissertation Unequal Opportunities, Alireza Behtoui carried out several studies that show the correlations between formal education, place of birth, social capital, and the chances of getting a good job.

One clear finding is that place of birth, especially for non-European immigrants, has a considerably greater impact on what type of job people get than formal education does, regardless of whether the education was largely acquired in Sweden.

Alireza Behtoui also studied the importance of formal vs. informal channels when people get jobs. Nearly half of all jobs in Sweden are arranged via non-official or informal channels. Alireza Behtoui demonstrates that the chances of getting a well-paid and stable job via informal channels are much better for native Swedes than for those born abroad. This is especially true for men.

"For women, the differences in pay are substantially smaller," he says, "whether they got their job via informal or formal channels and whether they were born in Sweden or abroad."

A third study focused on how things had turned out for young people eight years after they graduated from high school. These young people were divided into two groups: those with foreign-born parents and those with Swedish-born parents. Otherwise, their backgrounds did not differ: they themselves were all born in Sweden, had all gone through the same school system, and were all of the same age. It turns out that those young people who had foreign-born parents were considerably less successful, especially if their parents were from outside Europe.

In summary, his studies demonstrate something stated by the French philosopher Bourdieu, namely, that society's hierarchies will be reproduced, a conclusion that may appear to be rather depressing.

"Not in the least," says Alireza Behtoui. "This type of study actually fortifies those who are in the weaker groups, because it shows that this is not their fault as individuals, but rather a matter of structural forces."

Alireza Behtoui can be reached at cell phone: +46 730-238911; phone: +46 11-218921 or +46 8-6242513; e-mail:

Anika Agebjörn | idw
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