Thesis Spotlights – All Welcome Here? Studies on Anti-Immigration Attitudes and Discriminatory Behaviour towards Ethnic Minorities in Irish and European Contexts

Issue 44: Opening Up Sociology Wed 5 Feb 2020 0

Egle Gusciute, PhD, Ireland

Email: gusciute [at] tcd.ie
Institution: Department of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, Ireland
Time: September 2015 – September 2019
Supervisors: Dr. Peter Mühlau and Prof. Richard Layte
Funding: Programme: Grattan PhD Scholarship, Trinity College Dublin

Immigration has become a salient issue in recent years with anti-immigration attitudes prevalent in many European countries. This thesis examines prejudice, via anti-immigration sentiment and discriminatory behaviour, through four distinct studies.

Study 1 examines if individuals in occupations and sectors which i) are exposed to economic decline as measured by job losses, and ii) which have a greater share of migrants, are more likely to express anti-immigrant sentiment in the Irish context. Two rich datasets, the European Social Survey (ESS) and the Labour Force Survey, covering the period from 2008 to 2016, are used to empirically test the economic threat hypothesis. The study finds that, consistent with the threat hypothesis, job losses and a greater share of migrants within occupational and sectoral levels are negatively associated with attitudes towards immigration and acceptance of migrants.

Study 2 uses the ESS to examine the role of the threat hypothesis as a determinant of anti-asylum sentiment, cross-nationally. It considers i) if threat related to economic resources and the size of the ethnic group is associated with more negative sentiment and ii) if asylum seekers are perceived as a distinct sub-group of migrants in need of help and thus is there greater willingness to help and tolerance towards this group. The study finds that greater levels of generalised trust and trust in national institutions are associated with greater support towards asylum seekers. However, in contrast to the threat hypothesis, unemployed individuals and countries with higher rates of unemployment show greater support for asylum seekers rather than more resistance. The study also points to divided attitudes across Europe and the need to examine attitudes towards asylum seekers and migrants separately.

Study 3 uses the seventh round of the ESS and linking it to other data sources, examines i) if there is greater opposition towards Muslim migrants than towards migrants in general, and ii) if the threat hypothesis in relation to security, the size of ethnic group and integration can account for anti-Muslim sentiment. The analysis shows that in most European countries there is significantly greater opposition to Muslim immigration than immigration in general, particularly in Eastern Europe. On the country level, objective measures of threat do not explain the pattern of cross-country variation. Countries with a higher share of Muslims and higher incidence of terrorist attacks are more welcoming towards further Muslim immigration.

Study 4 consists of the first field experiment in the Irish housing market. The study finds evidence of ethnic discrimination as ethnic minority applicants are less likely to be invited to view an apartment than Irish applicants. Findings suggest that Nigerian applicants are the most disadvantaged when looking for rental property.

The research presented in this thesis demonstrates that determinants of anti-immigration sentiment are complex and inter-tangled. Furthermore, they vary significantly cross-nationally and towards different sub-groups of migrants. In the current climate of political and social change, and increasing diversity in many European societies, examination of attitudes and discrimination will continue to be a difficult but necessary task.

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