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Ethnic diversity in school classrooms promotes positive social relationships among refugee youth

In more ethnically diverse school classes, young people with a refugee background have more friends and experience less rejection than in more homogeneous classes. This is the conclusion of an international research team involving Dr. Georg Lorenz from the University of Potsdam. In their study, the results of which have now been published in the scientific journal Nature Human Behavior, the researchers also present evidence for the causes of their findings: “In more diverse classes, there are more opportunities for contact with peers from immigrant families. They befriend refugee youth more often and reject them less often,” Lorenz says. “In addition, peers from the majority society in more diverse classes are also more open to refugee youth.”

Currently, around one percent of the world’s population is displaced, including many children and young people. For successful participation, these children and adolescents need both access to formal education and positive relationships with their peers. To answer whether and how such social integration can succeed, the researchers examined the peer relationships of adolescent refugees in schools. Their study analyzed the friendship and rejection networks of 39,154 secondary school students in 1,807 classes.

The results show that refugee youth are less socially integrated in their classes a few years after their arrival than peers who belong to an ethnic majority or an ethnic minority without a refugee background. However, refugee youth are significantly less likely to be rejected in more ethnically diverse classes than in less diverse classes.

“Our findings suggest that placing refugee youth in a school environment that is already ethnically diverse may, to some extent, promote their social integration,” Lorenz says. Because positive contact with majority group peers is critical to the academic success and school adjustment of immigrant students, assigning refugee youth to ethnically diverse schools and classes could also promote their future opportunities in life.

Nevertheless, Lorenz cautions that we cannot derive any direct recommendations from these findings. The development of the majority language among refugee youth benefits from many contacts with students from the majority population - and language skills are a decisive factor for educational success at school. Furthermore, assigning refugee youth to more diverse schools could increase segregation overall. “The crucial point is that increasing diversity in Germany through steady immigration can more or less automatically contribute to a reduction in ethnic inequalities in the long run,” Lorenz says. His recommendation is therefore to provide special support for students with a refugee background in the current situation: “Our results show that special attention must be paid to young refugees in classes with low diversity in order to avoid exclusion processes and enable successful social integration.”

To the study:
Georg Lorenz; Zsófia Boda: Ethnic diversity fosters the social integration of refugee students, Nature Human Behaviour (; DOI: 10.1038/s41562-023-01577-x

Contact: Dr. Georg Lorenz, Akademischer Mitarbeiter/Professur Schulentwicklung/Projekt MuHiK
Tel.: 0331 977-213878
Email: georg.lorenzuni-potsdamde

Media Information 28-04-2023 / No. 044


Online editorial

Sabine Schwarz


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