English title: The influence of macro-sociological factors on attitudes toward immigration in Europe. A cross-cultural and contextual approach

Author(s): Bart Meuleman -

Language: English

Type: Thesis / dissertation

Year: 2009

Abstract

Since the 1990s, Europe is experiencing increasing immigration flows and electoral successes of anti-immigration parties. These tendencies have revived sociological attention for anti-immigration attitudes. Previous research has sought the roots of anti-immigration attitudes predominantly in individual characteristics. Yet, this exclusive focus on individual explanation models exhibits important shortcomings. Individual va riables alone cannot explain why anti-immigration attitudes are more widespread in certain countries, or why negative feelings toward immigration suddenly in- or decrease in the population. In an attempt to fill out this gap, this study focuses on contextual rather than on individual det erminants of anti-immigration attitudes. To investigate how the context shapes processes of attitude formation, a comparative design is used. A comparison of attitude patterns across European countries makes it possible to gauge the impact of differences in national context. The attitude measurements in this study come from the first three rounds of the European Social Survey (ESS), a large-scale international survey-project set up to monitor values, opinions and attitudes in Europe. Cross-national comparative research brings along additional methodological issues. In this study, extensive attention is paid to the cross-cultural comparability of measurements, the statistical consequences of the small number of units at the country-level and possible effects of differential non-response bias. Without any doubt, group conflict theory is the best-known theory regarding the effects of context on anti-immigration attitudes. This theoretical framework departs from the idea that anti-immigration attitudes are a defensive reaction on ethnic competition for scarce goods, such as jobs or affordable housing. Conflict theory predicts that context variables, such as economic conditions or ethnic diversity, influence attitudes to ward immigration. In times of economic downturn and when sizeable immigration groups are present, ethnic competition is expected to intensify and, as a result, anti-immigration feelings could become more vigorous. This study confirms several aspects of conflict theory. In European coun tries with low levels of prosperity and high unemployment rates, immigration is more frequently perceived as a threat and support for closing borders is more widespread. Also the presence of sizeable immigrant groups appears to reinforce anti-immigration sentiment. Yet, the results also make clear that certain aspects of conflict theory need to be put in perspective. The context effects that are found are relatively weak compared to alternative explanation models. Furthermore, evidence is found for processes that run counter to group conflict mechanisms. The presence of immigrant groups not only increases perceptions of ethnic threat, but at the same time offers opportunities for intergroup contact. The results show that such personal encounters contribute to a more immigration-friendly climate. Besides that, there appears to exist a relation between integration policies that are implemented in a country on the one hand, and public attitudes toward immigration on the other. In countries that have adopted so-called multicultural integration policies (i.e. policy that recognizes that immigrant groups form ethnic communities with distinct cultural and social practices), the population holds significantly more positive attitudes toward immigration. Integration policy aiming at assimilation or exclusion is found to coincide with stronger perceptions of ethnic threat.

Type/degree:

Awarding institution: Faculty of Social Sciences - K.U. Leuven

Number of pages: 276