What is the story behind your indicator

Migration dossier

Alex Wittlif

Alex Wittlif is a research associate at the Advisory Council of German Foundations for Integration and Migration. His tasks include the support and further development of the SVR integration barometer and collaboration on the SVR annual report.

Integration monitoring should provide information on the course of integration processes on the basis of defined indicators. But is this even possible? The post is looking for answers.

Members of the Cologne Carnival Association Rote Funken. The indicators used in the integration monitoring mostly relate to objective and officially recorded data, with a focus on the labor market and education and not on "soft", i.e. subjective components of integration, such as the values ​​and norms of the population with a migration background. (& copy picture-alliance, Geisler-Fotopress)

In the course of the discussions about a new self-image of Germany as a country of immigration, there have been increased efforts in recent years to depict the level of integration of the population with a migration background. But can integration be measured at all? For this purpose, the state has systematically developed a catalog of parameters or indicators (such as placement on the labor market and student success rate of people with and without a migration background) as part of the integration monitoring of the federal states and the federal government, which provides orientation on the course on the basis of official statistics the integration processes should give. Basically, integration is a complex process that can be subdivided into the sub-aspects of structural, social, cultural and identificatory integration. [1] In order to illustrate the difficulty of depicting something complex such as the 'level of integration', the integration monitoring of the federal states will be examined in more detail below. These represent a comprehensive attempt to quantify integration at the state or federal level over a longer period of time.

Integration monitoring of the federal states

In the third edition of the integration monitoring of the federal states [2], numerous selected indicators are used, mostly to make comparisons between the population with and without a migration background. In the case of indicators that include both comparison groups, a gap between people with and without a migration background signals a need for action with regard to the level of integration. For example, the employment rate can provide information about participation in the labor market. A comparatively lower employment rate among migrants [3] could in this context be an indication of poor labor market integration.

Overall, the indicators cover different integration-relevant areas in order to cover as many of them as possible. In addition to general demographic key figures (e.g. proportions of the population with a migration background by age group), official data is available for the following fields, broken down by migration background or nationality:
  • Legal situation of migrants (residence status and naturalization rates);
  • Education (e.g. student success rate, training participation rate);
  • Labor market (e.g. employment and unemployment rates);
  • Health (use of the child screening examination U8) [4];
  • Housing situation (e.g. owner quota);
  • Crime (suspects and convicts);
  • Intercultural opening (e.g. employees in the public service).
The individual indicators are not weighted according to their importance and the information obtained from them is not presented in an overall index. This would also be difficult, since most areas (e.g. labor market and education) influence each other and a weighting of individual indicators would distort the various integration processes. Depending on which research interest is leading, individual indicators gain in importance.

Limits of integration measurement

When assessing the individual areas, it must also be taken into account that the integration monitoring only allows an approximate localization of the level of integration of the migrants and expressly no cause-effect analyzes. For example, the different employment rates of people with and without a migration background can have different reasons, such as discrimination against immigrants or different qualifications or limited access to the labor market. Here, as with other indicators, it is not a question of key figures to be interpreted as absolute, but rather individual, one-dimensional key figures of a multi-dimensional area. The attempt to make integration objectively measurable is therefore always fraught with uncertainties and limitations with regard to the informative value of individual indicators. In addition, the definition of migration background used in the most recently published integration monitoring differs from the definition of the two predecessors. [5] In the current edition, the somewhat simplified definition of the 2011 census was used. According to this, all foreigners, all "those who immigrated to what is now the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany after 1955, as well as all persons with at least one immigrant parent" [6] have a migration background.

In addition, there are different comparison subgroups of migrants for individual indicators. Since the integration monitoring uses different data sets, the migrants are categorized differently. Some indicators compare the population with German citizenship with foreigners. An example: While the 'employment rates' indicator includes a total of around 16.5 million people with a migration background (and thus also all foreigners), information on the unemployment rate is only available for Germans, ie also naturalized migrants and for the total of around 6.8 million Foreigners before. However, these groups are very different in terms of their integration into various areas that are essential for integration, such as the labor market. For example, the category 'foreigners' completely excludes all (late) repatriates from the comparison group. For the interpretation of the individual indicators, it must always be taken into account which comparison groups statements are made about.
The described difficulties in the interpretation and limitations of the informative value are on the one hand based on the complexity of the integration process. On the other hand, every conception of an indicator catalog showing the integration in numbers is linked to the availability of data. Monitoring that includes numerous integration-relevant areas promises a more comprehensive overview. However, the different reference groups for the indicators also reduce the informative value of the surveys.

Data for 'soft' indicators are missing

Pupils of the Reinhardswald primary school in Berlin-Kreuzberg (& copy Susanne Tessa Müller)
The indicators used in the integration monitoring relate to a large extent to objective and officially recorded data, with a focus on the labor market and education. With regard to the areas used in it, this type of monitoring is more likely to be assigned to structural integration - here mainly objective indicators are used. What is fundamentally lacking are nationwide, 'soft', i.e. subjective components of integration, such as the values ​​and norms of the population with a migration background or the degree of their identification. Therefore, there is currently no comprehensive integration monitoring aimed at the 'soft' factors with a systematically compiled catalog of subjective integration indicators. There are only a few studies on this at federal state level and in some cases even more detailed for individual municipalities. Examples include "Integration succeeded?" [7] for Baden-Württemberg, a study on selected areas of intercultural coexistence in Berlin [8], "Coexistence in Hamburg" [9] for the Hanseatic city or the "Intercultural Integration Report" for Munich [10]. It should be noted that the studies listed were collected at different times and in some cases also target different social groups, which greatly limits comparability. In addition, the thematic focuses differ significantly. With a view to the next few years, a nationwide study is only planned at the federal level by the Expert Council of German Foundations for Integration and Migration, in which subjective attitudes to areas relevant to integration are collected.


Despite the numerous restrictions, integration monitoring can provide important insights into the development of integration by mapping the different life situations of people with and without a migration background. Because even if the individual indicators do not allow an absolute determination of the level of integration, a long-term uniform use of the key figures over the years can provide a gain in knowledge with regard to progress or regression in individual areas.