Frank van Tubergen

Why do we often choose friends and partners with the same ethnic background? What is the impact of this segregation on social opportunities? Why is America's income inequality much greater than that in Europe? These are the very topical questions that fascinate Frank van Tubergen and for which he seeks scientific and not ideological answers.

About the laureate

Frank van Tubergen (1976) studied Sociology and Philosophy in Nijmegen and was awarded his PhD in Sociology by Utrecht University. He has been the Theoretical and Empirical Sociology Professor there since 2009. In addition to an Ammodo KNAW Award he has received both a NWO Veni and a Vidi grant from the European Research Framework Programme. Since 2011 he has been a fellow of the European Academy of Sociology and alumnus of the Young KNAW.

Sociology to separate fact from fable

Whether it is migration, religion, discrimination or social inequality – society today is full of pressing issues, and there is no shortage of opinions about causes and solutions.
As a sociologist, Van Tubergen is trying to slice through hastily formed opinions using science. He looks for bare facts, causes, consequences and possible universal mechanisms underlying the biggest issues of our time.
He systematizes, measures, analyses, forms and tests theories to identify such mechanisms. He collects and compares data from different countries, conducting laboratory experiments and population studies and using existing administrative records. Moreover, he tests his observations using a model he himself developed. He often finds that superficial observations rarely survive thorough scientific analysis.
As a sociologist, he sees no instance of 'multicultural drama'; children from migrant families are on average making social-economic progress and young Moroccan men are indeed overrepresented in crime, but that can be explained scientifically based on socio-economic factors, family size and peer pressure more satisfactorily than because of their ethnic background.

Van Tubergen: 'Within every society groups form along racial, ethnic or religious lines, or lines associated with social class. This group identity increases if people experience more positive connections within the group than outside the group. The human tendency to form groups has been studied in many different situations: school children choosing friends, adolescents and adults choosing partners, immigrants searching for a social network. But most of what we know about the causes of group formation is to do with people who come into physical contact with each other. Our modern society means there is an increasing amount of interaction with people we have never met. People get to know each other online, via dating sites, social networks, blogs and discussion groups. In the digital society new boundaries are set between new groups. The Ammodo KNAW Award has allowed me to research the development of group boundaries in a digital world, in particular along ethnic-religious lines. It is quite possible that online group formation will become even more important that group formation with people we actually meet.'