Living in Two Worlds - Second-Generation Children of Foreigners

Integrating young people of foreign origin growing up in Austria is the issue being focused on in a current study at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Vienna. A paramount aspect in this debate is young people caught between the cultures of their parental houses and Austria. By supporting this study, FWF Austrian Science Fund proves once again how committed it is to the social sciences.

Two cultures with one home. Second-generation children of foreigners torn between adapting to a culture or individual development. © Use of this photo for editorial purposes is free of charge, subject to attribution: Patrizia Gapp

Young second-generation foreigners are born or grow up in Austria. Although they make up a major portion of the population, we still know little about the way they live and what they feel. But, for socio-political reasons alone, this is of eminent importance. After all, with an overaged negative-growth native population, successfully integrating foreigners living in Austria can help meet the demand for workers and keep the social-welfare coffers full. Now, Professor Hilde Weiss, a sociologist at the University of Vienna, is compensating for this lack of knowledge.

Professor Weiss explains the point of departure for the study by remarking that "there are a lot of studies on immigration and xenophobia in Austria, which is why it seems paradoxical that there is hardly any reliable information on how foreigners live who grow up in Austria". Education, profession and friends figure just as strongly in the life of these persons as their objective and subjective social and economic status.

Oscillating between Two Worlds
Being torn between two worlds in their upbringing has a major bearing on the development of these young people. Their parents' feeling of loyalty to the culture of the home country has a major impact on their private world, although outside of the family, in school, in vocational training courses and in leisure-time they have to come to grips with a world where Austria's culture is the major factor. Professor Weiss goes on record as saying that "both value systems put pressure on them to conform. However, the more they conform to one, the more they are inescapably alienated from the other. Ultimately, greater integration in Austria means a greater discrepancy to their parents. This lose-lose situation generates an internal conflict among young people". This study will now supply information on how to deal with this problem.

Professor Hilde Weiss also mentions a potential benefit of living in two worlds. Since these young people deal with two different cultural environments, they can opt for values from either system depending upon their emotional needs. They never subject themselves to one value system completely. She asserts that "these young people may not be firmly rooted in one of the social systems relevant to them, but that also means a certain flexibility. That makes them modern cosmopolitans".

Intelligent Study Design
This painstaking study is broken down into three phases. First of all, they will analyse the structures of similar studies in other countries of the European Union to guarantee international comparability. In addition, 30 interviews will be conducted with young foreigners in Austria in a pilot study. These interviews will have an open-ended structure so that their primary focus will be filtering out the pertinent issues. Then, a uniform complex of questions will be outlined based upon this groundwork which will form the core of the study. 1,000 young foreigners ranging in ages from 16 to 26 will be surveyed in this second phase while in excess of 400 young Austrians will be interviewed from a comparable milieu. This will be the control group to identify influences originating in general circumstances. Finally, the last phase will survey another 40 young people in open-ended interviews to underscore the temporary interpretation of the data.

The FWF, by supporting this study set up intelligently over two years, will create a solid foundation of information for making future socio-political decisions for integrating foreigners living in Austria. This will be an important prerequisite for them to identify with a different culture.

Professor Dr. Hilde Weiss
Institute for Sociology
University of Vienna
Rooseveltplatz 2
A 1090 Vienna
T +43/1/4277 48 136
F +43/1/4277 94 81

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A 1010 Vienna
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Vienna, December 9, 2003