EqualStrength: from one closed door to the other | The politics of equal-opportunity policy in compulsory education in Switzerland | Solidarity and deservingness | Integration inequality from a gender perspective | Integrating immigrants and refugees in Western societies | Regional inequality and electoral behaviour

EqualStrength: from one closed door to the other

EqualStrenght is a Horizon Europe project funded by the European Union. This research project investigates cumulative and structural forms of discrimination, outgroup prejudice and hate crimes against ethnic, racial and religious minorities.

EqualStrength is led by a consortium of ten European research institutions. The UNIL team consists of co-IP Leader Flavia Fossati, co-IP Leader Stephanie Steinmetz and Postodc Jeremy Kuhnle.


Ethnic, racial and religious minorities experience discriminatory behaviour and prejudicial attitudes in multiple life domains, which accumulates across the life course. This continuous exposure perpetuates minorities’ subordinate position across generations. The main contribution of EqualStrength is to investigate cumulative and structural forms of discrimination, outgroup prejudice and hate crimes against ethnic, racial and religious minorities from a cross-setting and intersectional perspective. We deploy innovative, targetted and effective methods, which include field experiments, population-level secondary survey data, meso-level policy analysis and targeted data collection to include the perspective of minority groups who directly confront discrimination.

Our approach allows us to meet five interrelated research objectives:

  • First, we reveal structural and cumulative forms of ethnic and racial discrimination in Europe, focusing on the experience of Muslim, Roma and Black minorities.
  • Second, we assess the systemic nature of prejudice across life domains, targetting anti-Muslim, anti-Black and anti-Roma attitudes.
  • Third, we analyse policy and institutional factors that contribute to structural discrimination and prejudices.
  • Fourth, we document the lived experiences and coping strategies adopted to confront everyday discrimination.
  • And finally, we highlight the intersection of race, ethnicity and religion with other dimensions of inequality such as gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic position.

The politics of equal-opportunity policy in compulsory education in Switzerland

This project examines the attitudes of the Swiss population, especially native parents, and teaching staff, towards policy measures to promote equal opportunities for immigrant students. Moreover, this study also examines the reasons for the failure or success of some important reforms to promote equal opportunities for immigrants (e.g., in the cantons of Geneva, Zurich, and Neuchâtel). These reasons for the failure or success of these policies may be related to the preferences of the native population and those of teachers as well as to the strategies, preferences and decisions of political actors in the educational field.

The politics of equal-opportunity policy in compulsory education in Switzerland

Content and objective of the research project

The integration of migrants is one of the main challenges facing Western societies, as their performance is often inferior to that of the native-born. In the field of education, the problem lies in the fact that many education systems reinforce the exclusion and poor performance of students with a migrant background. Concretely, we can observe this phenomenon in Switzerland, where immigrants obtain different results according to the cantons and therefore according to specific educational policies and systems.

Effective ways to reduce these educational inequalities are proposed in the literature, but they are not always accepted by the parents of native students, by teachers, or by other political actors. Consequently, sometimes promising reforms are not necessarily implemented.

The objective of this project is to understand which equal opportunity measures - known to be effective in improving the outcomes of migrants - would be accepted by the general population and especially by native parents as well as teachers, and in which (cantonal) contexts these measures could be implemented. Furthermore, the project analyses the actors and processes responsible for the success or failure of the implementation of specific equal opportunity policies concerning (vulnerable) immigrant students. For example, this project analyses why in Neuchâtel early tracking, which is detrimental to students with an immigrant background was successfully abolished. Conversely, in a popular vote in Geneva on May 15, 2022, such early tacking was maintained to the detriment of immigrant and other vulnerable students.

Scientific and social context

This project uses so-called "mixed methods", i.e., a combination of surveys and survey experiments, interviews and "process tracing" (i.e., tracking the causal process of a reform). These methods fill an important research gap in Switzerland. This topic is important because of the high proportion of migrants and their constant increase, but also because of the importance of this topic in Swiss politics. Switzerland has a decentralized education system. For this reason, it is an appropriate case to study whether the preferences of native citizens and teachers for a particular equal opportunity education policy is influenced by the institutional context, i.e., the different cantonal school systems.


Equal opportunities, public attitudes, educational policy, monitoring the causal process of policy reform, immigration

Solidarity and deservingness

In modern societies there is a system of institutionalized solidarity, namely the welfare state. This institution defines the conditions under which individuals may benefit from social solidarity. In practice, a more or less strict set of explicit and implicit rules govern the redistribution of resources and the access to public policies, including to social benefits, health coverage, education, or labor market access, among others.

This project focuses on understanding popular attitudes towards the redistribution of resources and the access to different policies in multiethnic societies. In particular, it aims at understanding better, which individual characteristics (e.g. age, gender, nationality) and contexts conditions (e.g. countries, health crises) influence the perception of who deserves to be supported and who does not.

Solidarity in times of crisis: perceptions of deservingness during the pandemic in Switzerland
Welfare deservingness perceptions in multiethnic societies

Together with Prof. Bonoli and Prof. Maiani, Dr. Carlo Knotz and Mia Gandenberger

Welfare states are the main tool market economies use to redistribute wealth and reduce inequality. Migration and mobility have placed European welfare states before new challenges. This is visible in patterns of public opinion and in the evolution of social legislation.
This nccr-on the move project analyses politically Acceptable Redistributive Arrangements for Multi-Ethnic Societies. in particular, it is important to understand whether the willingness to enter redistributive arrangements is affected by ethnic images of the beneficiaries. What kind of redistributive arrangements are more politically acceptable in multi-ethnic societies, and to what extent legal provisions on free movement have changed views on entitlements? We want to study the link between the willingness to redistribute resources and the multi-ethnic character of a society by refining our understanding of redistribution and otherness.

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Integration inequality from a gender perspective

Gender and gender stereotypes are potential sources of disadvantage and discrimination in many social realms. For instance, women encounter unequal treatment and discrimination in the labour market, in particular regarding access to desirable jobs, equal wages, promotions, and many other economic outcomes.

Similarly, there are domains which women tend to avoid because they fear negative assessments, competition, or prejudices. An important case in point is the participation in online knowledge generation and the participation in digital platforms that democratize the delivery of public service provision.  

This project analyses how gender and other stereotypes affect women’s integration in different social realms.

Do gender stereotypes hinder refugees’ integration? (completed)

Together with Carlo Knotz (University of Lausanne), Fabienne Liechti (Ecoplan) and Ihssane Otmani (University of Lausanne)

In the light of the refugee influx of 2015-2017 into Europe the pressing question arose of how to best integrate refugees into their new host countries. It is undisputed that refugees are particularly vulnerable regarding their economic and social outcomes in most Western countries. A question that is still under-explored is whether and subsequently how refugees’ gender stereotypes affect their integration outcomes. In more detail, this study inquires how stereotypes related to gender and marital status shape the perception of employers regarding the employability of refugees in three Western labour markets. The findings show that gender and family status interact and shape complex inequality patterns; whereby, particularly refugee men and refugee mothers are disadvantaged, albeit for different reasons. We argue that while men suffer from negative stereotypes regarding their expected attitude and manageability on the job, refugee mothers are discriminated against because of a lower productivity expectation due to their family obligations.

This study is based on a survey experiment carried out in 2019 among employers, who were asked to evaluate fictitious profiles of refugees who applied for different jobs in Austria, Germany, and Sweden.

Output: Fossati, F., Knotz, C., Liechti, F. and I. Otmani (forthcoming) The Gender Employment Gap among Refugees and the Role of Employer Discrimination: Experimental Evidence from the German, Swedish and Austrian Labor Markets, International Migration Review, 10.1177/01979183221134274


Integrating immigrants and refugees in Western societies

Integration processes entail several important challenges for immigrants and refugees in particular as a particularly vulnerable group. Some of the disadvantages are related to their human and social capital endowment, but also institutional hurdles and discriminatory behaviour by employers may be important obstacles to their successful social and economic integration.

On the one hand, this project asks which individual level variables - including motivation, language proficiency or participation in extracurricular activities - can positively influence the labour market integration of refugees and immigrants. On the other hand, it also analyses whether and subsequently how different integration and active labour market policies (e.g. training, subsidies, and employment programs) can support the integration of immigrants in Western societies. This project combines registry data analysis, qualitative interviews, and survey experiments and comprises several subprojects.

Explaining the limited effectiveness of labor market integration programs for workers with immigrant backgrounds (ongoing)

Together with Carlo Knotz (University of Lausanne) and Fabienne Liechti (Ecoplan)

Do active labour market programs (ALMPs) improve the labour market outcomes of workers with immigration backgrounds? In other words, do these programs contribute to increasing the employability of these jobseekers? This question is relevant because the empirical evidence on the subject is mixed. Therefore, we inquire how stereotypes and discrimination influence employers’ evaluation of immigrant workers who participated in an ALMP program in Germany, Sweden, and the UK by means of a survey experiment. We argue that if immigrants are disadvantaged during their job searches, it is due foremost to the quality of the job they apply for and in the way employers process information when hiring for critical and less critical positions.

Are public policies always useful for refugees’ integration ? (completed)

Together with Fabienne Liechti (Ecoplan)

Throughout Europe different types of policies have been introduced to help refugees after the 2014-2017 influx. This study analyses how measures, such as basic integration courses, volunteering, and various types of labour market counselling and training services, impact refugees’ chances of obtaining employment and thus fostering their integration in Austria, Germany, and Sweden.

We find that the successful economic integration of refugees crucially depends on the employers’ positive attitudes towards this group. More precisely, the results show that, in general, integration measures are valued by employers as a positive signal of employability. However, this applies only to respondents who are not prejudiced against this group of particularly vulnerable immigrants. This finding implies that, the efficacy of integration measures crucially depends on the attitudes of the host country's population and its employers, in particular.

Output: Fossati, F. and Liechti, F. (2020, forthcoming) Integrating refugees through public policy: A comparative survey experiment, Journal of European Social Policy.

Signalling motivation: the key to employment ? (completed)

Together with Fabienne Liechti (Ecoplan) and Anna Wilson (University of Lausanne)

In this study, we analyse whether and how active labour market policy (ALMP) participation can improve vulnerable groups’ success in the labour market in Switzerland and Sweden. Our key finding is that when employers assume that the agency of program participation in ALMPs lies with the unemployed person, he or she is more likely to be evaluated positively by a prospective employer. In other words, signalling a strong motivation to find employment, in particular through a pro-active engagement and participation in a labour market program, is beneficial to the labour market integration of jobseekers. This project shows that signalling motivation is an important asset on the labour market and contributes to the understanding of how policies may affect outcomes in unexpected ways.

Output: Fossati, F., Liechti, F. and Wilson, A. (2020) Participation in labour market programmes: A positive or negative signal of employability? Acta Sociologica. DOI:

Does signalling cultural assimilation help integration ? (completed)

Together with Daniel Auer ( WBZ Berlin) and Fabienne Liechti (Ecoplan)

Can immigrants influence their integration chances? This project inquires whether immigrants who signal a particularly high level of cultural assimilation to the host society are more likely to be evaluated positively by employers and thus are more likely to find a job. The results show that, indeed, individuals who assimilate to the host country’s ways of living benefit regarding their perceived employability. This project contributes to better understand the challenges of successful integration processes in the “age of migration”.

Output: Fossati, F., Liechti, F. and Auer, D. (2020) Can signaling assimilation mitigate hiring discrimination? Evidence from a survey experiment Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 65, Special issue edited by Barone, C. and Solga, H. “Experimental Methods in Social Stratification Research”. DOI :

Do immigrants obtain the right integration support ? (completed)

Together with Daniel Auer (WBZ Berlin).

In recent decades, governments across Europe have invested conspicuous resources in the implementation of different active labour market programs (ALMPs) to support the unemployed during their job search process. A particularly vulnerable group in terms of labour market opportunities and thus economic integration are immigrants. Individuals with an immigration background are known to be less likely to obtain a job, and even if they do, these jobs are often less desirable in terms of, for instance, social status, earnings, working conditions, among other things.

This project inquires whether immigrants are attributed the same type of ALMPs as natives are, or whether there is an unequal treatment in the attribution of particular measures. In fact, it is known that not all policies are equally effective and thus able to compensate for existing inequalities and lacunas. This project contributes to understanding to what extent different policies and institutional attribution mechanisms can mitigate or exacerbate existing differences in labour market chances for immigrants in Switzerland. 

Output: Auer, D., and Fossati, F. (2020) Compensation or Competition : Bias in immigrants’ access to active labour market measures, Social Policy and Administration, 54: 390-409. DOI : 


Regional inequality and electoral behaviour

Regional inequality and electoral behaviour: the effect of an anti-crisis policy (completed)

Together with Philipp Trein (University of Lausanne)

The financial crisis of 2007-2009 triggered the implementation of various anti-crisis policy responses across Europe. An interesting question is how and to what extent such policies, and in particular their regional distribution, affect the electoral fortunes of political parties during elections. Specifically, this project analyses to what extent and how the massive expansion of short-time work that was implemented just before the 2009 German election affected electoral behaviour at the local level. Following this context, do social democratic parties, after suffering a steady decline in the recent decades, gain influence through policies that support and protect workers (i.e. their traditional constituency)? The results show that there are important regional inequalities in terms of both problem pressure (unemployment) and the take-up of short-time work (anti-crisis policy) and that this is connected to political behaviour. In fact, in regions with higher problem pressure and higher policy take-up social democrats tend to gain electorally, albeit not enough to win the elections. 

Output : Fossati, F. and P. Tein (2020), ‘Cobbler, Stick to Your Last? Social Democrats’ Electoral Returns from Labour Market Policy‘, Journal of Social Policy, 15, 1–21. DOI:


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Prof. Flavia Fossati
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