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Study examines economic roots of anti-immigrant sentiments

Results drawn from sample of 35,000 European workers


Both the situation of the national economy and the jobs occupied by European citizens influence their attitudes towards immigration. This is one of the main conclusions of a study published in Socio-Economic Review by sociologist Javier Polavieja, professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Banco Santander Chair of UC3M.  The study is based on individual and aggregated data from the European Social Survey, Eurostat and the OECD.

Actitudes frente a la inmigración

At the macroeconomic level, the research analyzes the impact of economic contraction on European attitudes towards immigration.  For this purpose, the study estimates the relationship between the drop in GDP during recession and the change in attitudes towards immigration in 20 European countries.

According to the data, it can be observed, first, that the intensity of recession significantly correlates with anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe. “In places where recession was most severe, anti-immigration attitudes increased markedly, while in countries where the fall in the GDP was moderate, there was little or no increase in anti-immigrant sentiments,” said Polavieja. Secondly, the research shows that “the countries which had the largest increases in immigration before the crisis are the countries where anti-immigration attitudes have increased most dramatically during recession,” according to Polavieja.

The impact of job characteristics on attitudes towards immigration

At the microeconomic level, the study analyzes the attitudinal correlates of  three job characteristics that determine the degree of workers’ exposure to competition in the labor market. These characteristics are: the average degree of job-specific training required in each occupation, the costs of monitoring workers’ productivity, and, lastly, the relative weight of communication-intensive versus manual-intensive tasks.

Using a representative sample of approximately 35,000 European workers, the study finds that these three job dimensions are associated with opinions about immigration. Workers who are more protected from competition hold more favorable views towards immigration while those more exposed to competition have more unfavorable attitudes, and this regardless of their educational level, political ideology, religiosity levels and many other attitudinal, psychological and sociodemographic controls.

This is a very important discovery because it suggests that attitudes about immigration have objective microeconomic foundations that are related to the degree of exposure to labor-market competition. “There are many studies of attitudes towards immigration, but very few have managed to identify the microeconomic basis of anti-immigrant sentiments in a precise and consistent manner,” Polavieja concluded.

The study was carried out within the framework of two research projects: The CALMA project, Competition, Adaptation and Labor Market Achievement of International Migrants in Europe, funded by the 6th National Plan for Scientific Research from the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CSO2012-38521); and the GEMM project, Growth, Equal Opportunities, Migration and Markets, funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program (GA-649255).


Bibliographical reference:

Polavieja, J. G. (2016). Labour-market competition, recession and anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe: occupational and environmental drivers of competitive threat. Socio-Economic Review, 14(3):395-417.

调查对移民态度的经济基础 (Chinese version)