Magnus Bygren. Foto: Leila Zoubir/Stockholms universitet
Magnus Bygren. Photo: Leila Zoubir/Stockholm University


At the same time, he feels that it is important to reach out with his research. Every time he publishes a new study, he considers whether he should try to hold a press release or issue an interview text about it. 

“But the way we publish and communicate research is old fashioned. It’s absurd that we as researchers communicate our research findings to 100-year-old journals that aren’t open for the public to read. There should be a broader palette,” he said.

He points out that for researchers today it is important to publish in the “finer” journals, but that it is mostly important to the researchers themselves. 

“The question is if the people who fund our research, meaning the taxpayers, care about that,” he said and continues:

“I’m a warm proponent of turning today’s publication system on its head. And I’m for open access, meaning that we should publish in periodicals that are open for everyone to read without an expensive subscription. That’s the most important thing. At the same time, I am very much a part of the current system; I try to publish in leading journals that are of course often owned by publishers who like to lock the publications away.” 

Inequality and segregation

Much of his research is about inequality and segregation, which he believes is an important aspect of whichever society one is talking about. For example, he has done studies on what drives segregation between schools and workplaces, what happens with men’s and women’s careers when they become parents, experiment studies of who is turned down when they apply for a job – and the effect of a certain labour market programme that proved to be almost non-existent. 

The latter study was a quasi-experimental study that he did together with Ryszard Szulkin. There, they investigated if people who have been involved in a labour market programme in the years 2007-2013 financed by the Swedish ESF Council (ESF = European Social Fund, financed by the EU), had found jobs to a higher extent than those who had not been involved in the programme. 

The study being quasi-experimental meant that the researchers used matching technology to find a group that was similar to the one that was involved in the labour market programme, based on detailed information about, for example, earlier incomes, participation in the labour market, education level, country of birth, place of residence – but with the difference that that group had not participated in the labour market programme. In this way, they created a synthetic control group based on population data from Statistics Sweden and other authorities. 

At first glance, it appeared as if it had gone much better for the individuals who participated in the labour market programme. But when they compared with the control group, it turned out that it had gone roughly as well for them, meaning those who had not been involved in this programme. 

“Using this method, we could see in the study that these billions of kronor that were thrown into the project had virtually no effect. So there was a break-even result and that might not be the sexiest result, but it’s actually very interesting,” said Magnus Bygren. 

Interest, method and causal connection

His path into the research track has mostly been about interest and desire – Magnus Byrgren said that he does not have and has not had any particular goal with his research work; one question usually leads to another, which in turn leads to a third, and so on. But early on he became interested in method. 

“What I am most interested in is being able to say something about cause and effect. Getting closer to such answers is fundamental whatever issue you’re working with,” said Magnus Bygren. 

This is why he preferably uses analysis methods that have been created to get at causal connections. What he liked most when he studied sociology as an undergraduate at the Department of Sociology was conducting surveys and writing. This is how his interest in research grew forth. When he wrote his bachelor's thesis, he had a placement at the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI).

“There were quite a few who went that route. Then I also did my doctoral studies at SOFI with a doctoral thesis on career processes in the labour market in Sweden.” 

“Sociology is the most reasonable social science subject”

The first time he heard about sociology was at upper-secondary school. Once he began studying at university, he chose to study ethnology and social anthropology, which include some sociology. 

“Through these subjects, I became more interested in sociology. I liked sociology mainly because the subject has a clearer role for theory and is more open to different methodological approaches. The subject is also broader and more generalising. Sociology is a lot about relationships – groups, in-groups/out-groups and institutions. There is an incredible heterogeneity in what people study and how they do so, and problems often arise around all of the fractions, but I still think that I prefer this diversity over its opposite,” said Magnus Bygren.

He ended up in the former behavioural science programme with sociology as his major, which is a bit like the current Bachelor’s programme in applied social research. 

“At that time, sociology at Stockholm University was mostly focused on quantitative methods and empirical analysis. That suited me, it was absolutely not fluffy,” said Magnus Bygren.

Magnus Bygren said that he has always been interested in politics, how politics affect society, how democracies and dictatorships work – about politics as a way of solving conflicts in society. However, he does not think that political values should take too much space in research. 

“Political values may very well affect the choice of topics, but that’s where it ends; they cannot be permitted to influence analysis and results. Above all, I think it’s important to keep students away from political propaganda. This is why I hope that none of my students have figured out where I stand politically.” 

Why do you think it’s important to keep students away from where you as a researcher stand politically?

“The views I have aren’t what is interesting in a teaching context; that’s not why I’m standing there. Moreover, students are in a certain relationship of dependence towards a teacher. I think that the researcher’s role is to find things out and be clear about where the line runs for what we know and what we can only speculate about, and the line between fact and opinion. This is a value I hold regarding the view of the researcher’s role. Max Weber also had the view that values can come in at the first step, meaning in the choice of topic, but not in the conclusions the researcher draws,” said Magnus Bygren. 

Read more about Magnus Bygren's research here!