Immigrants’ Subjective Integration: Life Satisfaction Among Immigrants in Italy

Angela Paparusso, Institute of research on population and social policies CNR-IRPPS
Elena Ambrosetti, Sapienza Università di Roma

Research has recently pointed out that to understand immigrant integration is not sufficient to investigate only its ‘objective’ forms. Instead, one must also study ‘subjective’ integration, using immigrants’ self-reported life satisfaction in order to take into account immigrants’ perceptions and opinions. Life satisfaction has been defined as “a global assessment of a person’s quality of life according to his chosen criteria”. Due to its common use in estimating the “apparent quality of life within a country or a specific social group”, immigrants’ self-reported life satisfaction can be used to evaluate the integration process into the residence country. This paper aims to add to this research strand, measuring the effect of demographic, human capital and ‘immigration’ variables on the self-reported life satisfaction of young and adult immigrants residing in Italy, performing a stepwise ordered logistic regression. Data stem from the Survey on Social Condition and Integration of Migrants in Italy (Condizione e Integrazione Sociale dei Cittadini Stranieri) carried out by Italian Statistical Institute (ISTAT) in 2011-2012. The total sample is 25,326 individuals including first and second generation immigrants. The survey addresses the following topics: employment; languages; civic and political participation; family reunion; long-term residence and citizenship, health, education, discrimination, social network, relation with the country of origin. To pursue our research aim, we subset our sample to individuals aged 14 years and over, foreign born and foreign born naturalized Italian. The total new sample is 15,709. We perform a stepwise ordered logistic regression. We will use the following variables in the analysis.

The academic literature unanimously recognizes immigrants’ integration process as dynamic, multi-dimensional and two-way that involves, at the same time and by the same measure, the receiving society and the newcomers (Penninx, 2003; Piché, 2004). The complexity and the multi-dimensionality of these processes has led analysts and researchers to take into account a multiplicity of factors, such as the demographic characteristics of immigrants, the human capital variables and the so-called ‘immigration variables’ (Amit, 2010), which are variables pertaining the migration process as a whole. Moreover, as far as the assessment of integration outcomes, several scholars have tried to examine the effect of different integration paradigms on immigrants’ socioeconomic, sociocultural and political integration using ad hoc indicators (e.g. Ersanilli and Koopmans, 2010; Maxwell, 2012; Wright and Bloemraad, 2012; Koopmans, 2013). Despite the remarkable contribution of these works to integration studies, it has been concluded that to understand integration is not sufficient to investigate only its ‘objective’ forms. Instead, one must also study ‘subjective’ integration (Amit, 2010; Neto, 1995; 2011), using immigrants’ self-reported life satisfaction, in order to take into account their perceptions and opinions about their experience into the residence country. Life satisfaction has been defined as “a global assessment of a person’s quality of life according to his chosen criteria” (Shin and Johnson, 1978, cit. in Dieder et al., 1985: 71). Due to its common use in estimating the “apparent quality of life within a country or a specific social group” (Veenhoven, 1996: 3), immigrants’ self-reported life satisfaction can be used to evaluate the integration process into the residence country. For example, Angelini et al. (2015) studied the association between immigrants’ self-reported life satisfaction and cultural assimilation in Germany. Safi (2010) demonstrated that perceived discrimination negatively affects immigrants’ self-reported life satisfaction. A higher self-reported life satisfaction underlies a successful and long-term residence abroad. The analysis of Massey and Redstone Akresh (2006) revealed, indeed, that more satisfied immigrants are more likely to intend to naturalize and permanently settled in the U.S. compared to less satisfied immigrants. Finally, in their analysis of Somali women in Melbourne, McMicheal and Manderson (2004) concluded that weak social capital and social networks negatively affect women’s self-reported life satisfaction. Within these considerations, this paper aims to contribute to this strand of research, using self-reported life satisfaction to assess immigrants’ integration into the residence country. In particular, we intend to measure the effect of demographic, human capital and ‘immigration’ variables on the self-reported life satisfaction of young and adult immigrants residing in Italy.

Our study draws on the Survey on Social Condition and Integration of Migrants in Italy carried out by ISTAT in 2011-2012. We subset our sample to individuals aged 14 years and over, foreign born and foreign born naturalized Italian. The total sample is 15,709. We perform a stepwise ordered logistic regression.

As dependent variable, we will analyze immigrants’ self-reported life satisfaction. Respondents were asked the following question: could you please tell me on a scale of 0 to 10 how satisfied you are with your life as a whole? 0 means you are very dissatisfied and 10 means you are very satisfied.

We will operationalize several independent variables. Among the demographic variables, we will select (a) respondents’ age; (b) age squared; (c) gender, (d) marital status. Then, (e) area of origin, (f) cultural similarity. For what concerns the human capital variables, we will select (g) current economic situation; (h) perceived financial well-being, (i) educational attainment. For the so-called ‘immigration’ variables, we will select three variables. First, (l) years since migration, (m) years since migration squared. Third, (n) immigrants’ period of arrival. Forth, (o) legal status.

The results of the preliminary multivariate analysis show that self-reported life satisfaction strongly depends on immigrants’ demographic characteristics and human capital factors, such as age, marital status, current economic situation and perceived financial well-being. Nevertheless, when controlling for ‘immigration’ variables, the association between life satisfaction and demographic and human capital variables changes, thus proving that not only factors at origin (immigrants’ background characteristics), but also conditions at destination are important in determining immigrants’ self-reported life satisfaction. In particular, legal status plays a significant role in defining immigrants’ life satisfaction, thus demonstrating that the ensemble of rights, resources and restrictions immigrants find into the country of residence shapes their satisfaction with life and, therefore, their subjective integration (e.g. Morris, 2001; Vertovec, 2007). Therefore, our preliminary results provide support for the importance of the individual determinants in explaining immigrants’ satisfaction with life into the residence country. The concurrent role played by demographic, human capital and ‘immigration’ variables in explaining immigrants’ self-reported life satisfaction and, therefore, their integration into the residence country provides evidence for the dynamic, multidimensional and bidirectional character of the integration process in immigrants’ receiving countries.

Presented in Session 1121: International Migration and Migrant Populations