Beyond Conflict: Long-Term Labour Market Integration of Internally Displaced Persons in Post-Socialist Countries

Artjoms Ivlevs, and Michail Veliziotis

Journal of Vocational Behavior, Issue 105 (2018), Pages 131-146


This paper analyzes how IDPs fare after displacement in terms of their labor market outcomes, focusing on the long-term labor market disadvantage of IDPs (10 to 15 years after conflict). The conceptual framework draws on the theory of cumulative disadvantage and theoretical explanations of the long-term effects of unemployment. The empirical analysis focuses on nine post-socialist countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Russia, Serbia and Tajikistan), which, throughout the 1990s, witnessed some of the worst military conflicts of modern history that led to the internal displacement of millions of people. The authors discuss several factors that are likely to exacerbate the initial, displacement-related shock (in particular, make the initial loss-of-activity spell longer) and hamper the subsequent labor market integration efforts of IDPs, including: (a) loss of assets; (b) psychological trauma; (c) uncertainty; (d) reception at host communities; (e) institutional and administrative barriers; (f) loss of education; (g) gender-related considerations; and (h) selection into moving and selection into destinations. The empirical analysis reveals:

  • IDPs in nine post-socialist countries experience a significant long-term labor market disadvantage. People who fled conflict 10-15 years ago are more likely to be long-term unemployed, experience a recent job loss, and work informally. These long term impacts support the main insight of the cumulative disadvantage theory: an unfavorable relative position experienced by an individual at one point in life forms a basis for a relative disadvantage later on.
  • IDPs are more likely to experience a recent (crisis-related) job loss because they were more likely to work informally. Informal work represents an additional source of vulnerability for IDPs.
  • Conflict-affected ‘non-movers’ are not different from people not affected by conflict in terms of labor market inactivity/long-term unemployment, recent job loss, or informal work. This suggests that it is forced displacement, rather than the conflict per se, that leaves a long-lasting negative impact on labor market integration.
  • Displaced women consistently experience a greater labor market disadvantage than displaced men. The authors suggest that the gender difference could be due to the greater negative impact of forced displacement on the mental health of women than men, as well as a return to traditional gender norms, not least because of religious revivals in some post-socialist countries.
  • People affected by conflict (both displaced and non-displaced) are more willing to acquire further education and training. This result most likely reflects the desire of IDPs to make up for the conflict- and displacement-inflicted breaks in formal education, as well as the necessity to update or acquire skills that are relevant for the labor markets of host communities. The highest effect is observed in the younger age group (18-34), which could be explained by the destruction of educational infrastructure in conflict zones and the resulting breaks in formal education.
  • Displacement and conflict are insignificant predictors of job satisfaction. The authors suggest that even if IDPs need to take up less desirable jobs (which would generally reduce job satisfaction), having any job would increase job satisfaction for people who are extremely vulnerable to poverty. In the long term people adjust expectations and may adapt to whatever job they have.

Overall, the results highlight a long-lasting vulnerability of the forcibly displaced in developing and transition economies. The authors highlight a number of policy implications:

  • Special support should be provided to IDP women, who experience a greater labor market disadvantage than men in terms of both not working and working informally.

In the localities with large numbers of IDPs, as well as in the former conflict zones, decision makers could subsidize and improve the education/training offered to those affected by conflict in the past.

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