A Cross-National Analysis of Variations in Majority Members’ Attitudes Towards Immigrants: Are They Structurally Determined or Adaptable? Evidence from 18 European Countries in 2002 and 2014.

Angela Paparusso, Institute of research on population and social policies CNR-IRPPS
Michaela Šedovič, London School of Economics and Political Science

With rising numbers of immigrants living in Europe, the opportunities for majority members to be in contact with them increase. This contact may influence both attitudes towards immigrants (ATI) and immigrants’ chances to be integrated. ATI research including only individual explanatory variables explains a modest part of the differences among ATI, therefore, it is important to consider also the moderating effect of the changing environment in receiving countries, such as economic development and population composition.

The aim of this paper is to observe and explain (i) variations in majority members’ ATI among 18 European countries and (ii) their variation in a cross-temporal perspective, analysing the key elements forming them in 2002 and 2014.

Our focus is on the effect of intergroup contact – because the share of population with immigrant background has changed during observed time – and the economic situation. The innovation of this paper is the simultaneous observation of the effects of direct and indirect contact on ATI and the examination of their interactive effect. The focus on effects of the economic change stems from its complementarity with intergroup theory hypothesis and the availability of data that could be reliably used in a cross-country research.

We hypothesise, that with a greater share of immigrants, ATI were more likely to adapt to the changing environment and ATI were more dependent on individual explanatory variables. Complementary, we expect more stable ATI in countries with a smaller share of immigrants.

Data come from the European Social Survey. Two dependent variables will be operationalized as composite indexes measuring two dimensions of attitudes: towards immigrants and towards immigration. We will perform multilevel regression analysis with individual (demographic and socioeconomic variables, migrant friends and heterogeneity of neighbourhood), regional (unemployment rare) and national (unemployment and foreign-born population rates and index of similarity of populations) factors.


With rising numbers of immigrants moving to and living in European countries (Eurostat 2015a, 2015b), the opportunities for majority members to be in contact with people with an immigrant background increase. This contact may influence both their attitudes towards immigrants (ATI) (Schuman 1985) and immigrants’ chances to be integrated into the host society (Pennix, 2004). In addition, an increase in anti-immigrant sentiments was observed in the last decade, as well as a rise in popularity of nationalistic or far-right political movements, especially because of economic changes (e.g. economic downturn) in host countries (Gang et al. 2013). Research on the ATI suggests that such changes may influence ATI in receiving countries (Meuleman et al. 2009).

Individual attitudes can be understood as “positive or negative responses towards some object, whether that object be another individual, a group, a policy, or whatever” (Schuman et al. 1985). Attitudes and their formation depend on different socioeconomic and individual characteristics, such as gender (François and Magni-Berton 2013), socioeconomic status (Malchow-Møller et al. 2009), race and ethnicity (Bridges and Mateut 2014) and education (Gang et al. 2013). In particular, when observing ATI, their influence only explains a modest part of the differences observed among majority members’ attitudes towards people with an immigrant background (Malchow-Møller et al. 2009). Therefore, it is important to take into account the moderating effect of the changing environment, such as the economic development of receiving countries or their population composition.

Given these considerations, the aim of this paper is to observe variations in majority members’ ATI in 18 European countries and variation in the cross-temporal change of ATI, analysing which key elements are forming them in 2002 and 2014. This cross-national and cross-temporal perspective allows one to understand whether the environmental changes (e.g. changes in economic structures and population composition) affect the attitudes of different host populations towards people with an immigrant background in the same way. In particular, our focus will be on (i) the effect of intergroup contact (Allport 1958; Wright et al. 1997; Pettigrew 1998), because the share of the population with immigrant background has changed over time, and on (ii) the effect of the economic situation.

Despite the fact that intergroup contact has been addressed by quantitative research, this does not fully employ theoretical concepts (Pettigrew and Troop 2011). Variations in attitudes are seldom examined simultaneously using the same research model and they are rarely examined in terms of the interactive effect between different types of contact, such as the effects of casual contact in diverse and homogenous societies (Berg 2015). This is partially due to the lack of sufficient and reliable data (Hewstone 2015). The focus on the effect of the economic situation stems from two grounds. Firstly, there are theories, which suggest that the changing economic environment brings distrust towards others (Ruist 2016). Secondly, out of all competing theories, which could complement Intergroup theory’s hypotheses, the data testing economic theories are the most reliably comparable in cross-country and cross-temporal research. Thus, we intend to address the missing knowledge pointed above by analysing the effect of all forms of contact: direct exposure, indirect exposure, close and casual contact on ATI in the changing economic situation of European countries.

In particular, our research questions are the following. (1) What is the relation between the different forms of intergroup contact and attitudes towards immigrants in the two examined points of time (2002 and 2014), and how does it change in time under the influence of different individual and contextual factors? (2) Can the change of ATI in time be interpreted in the light of different economic development trajectories of European countries?

We will answer our research questions using ESS data, wave 1 and 7, and apply a multilevel regression analysis, where several individual (e.g. demographic and socioeconomic variables, number of migrant friends and heterogeneity of one’s neighbourhood), regional (e.g. unemployment rare) and national factors (e.g. unemployment rate, foreign-born population rate and index of similarity of populations) will be included in the models.

According to our preliminary results, we make the hypothesis that in countries with a greater share of people with immigrant background ATI were more likely to change and ATI were more dependent on the individual socioeconomic and demographic factors. Complementary to this, we expect more stable ATI in countries with a smaller share of people with an immigrant background. Detailed results will be ready for EPC conference.

Presented in Session 1082: International Migration and Migrant Populations