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Educated Preferences: Explaining Attitudes Toward Immigration in Europe

  • Jens Hainmueller (a1) and Michael J. Hiscox (a2)


Recent studies of individual attitudes toward immigration emphasize concerns about labor-market competition as a potent source of anti-immigrant sentiment, in particular among less-educated or less-skilled citizens who fear being forced to compete for jobs with low-skilled immigrants willing to work for much lower wages. We examine new data on attitudes toward immigration available from the 2003 European Social Survey. In contrast to predictions based on conventional arguments about labor-market competition, which anticipate that individuals will oppose immigration of workers with similar skills to their own but support immigration of workers with different skill levels, we find that people with higher levels of education and occupational skills are more likely to favor immigration regardless of the skill attributes of the immigrants in question. Across Europe, higher education and higher skills mean more support for all types of immigrants. These relationships are almost identical among individuals in the labor force (that is, those competing for jobs) and those not in the labor force. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, then, the connection between the education or skill levels of individuals and views about immigration appears to have very little, if anything, to do with fears about labor-market competition. This finding is consistent with extensive economic research showing that the income and employment effects of immigration in European economies are actually very small. We find that a large component of the link between education and attitudes toward immigrants is driven by differences among individuals in cultural values and beliefs. More educated respondents are significantly less racist and place greater value on cultural diversity than do their counterparts; they are also more likely to believe that immigration generates benefits for the host economy as a whole.The authors would like to thank Beth Simmons, Shigeo Herano, Mike Tomz, James Alt, Jeffry Frieden, Ron Rogowski, Ken Scheve, Torben Iversen, Andy Baker, and Peter Gourevitch for helpful comments on earlier drafts.



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