Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 545–566 | Cite as

Understanding Evaluations of Foreigners in Modern South Africa: The Relationship Between Subjective Wellbeing and Xenophobia

  • Steven Lawrence GordonEmail author
Research Paper


Recent and recurrent violence against immigrants in South Africa highlight the prevalence of xenophobia in the country. Is there a relationship between attitudes towards immigrant sentiment and life satisfaction at the individual level in that nation? Life satisfaction could be a proxy for anxiety, social alienation or insecurity which may be driving xenophobic sentiment. Using data from the 2013 South African Social Attitudes Survey, this paper examines the relationship between attitudes towards immigrants and life satisfaction (measured using the Personal Wellbeing Index). The study focuses exclusively on the attitudes of the country’s Black African majority. Bivariate and multivariate analysis found that life satisfaction did not have a strong relationship with pro-immigrant sentiments. Objective measures of socio-economic status (such as educational attainment) did not have a significant relationship with attitudes towards immigrants. Although improving subjective wellbeing among Black Africans is a worthwhile policy goal in of itself, the findings of this study suggest that addressing xenophobia among this group will require focus on other areas. Intergroup contact, interracial attitudes and perceptions about the consequences of immigration were found to be stronger predictors of pro-immigrant sentiment than life satisfaction. There was some evidence of `outsider solidarity ‘in the study—isiTsonga speakers and members of the ethnolinguistic Black African minority were more pro-immigrant in sentiment than other groups. The implications of this finding on the study of pro-immigration attitudes are discussed in the conclusion.


Life satisfaction Xenophobia South Africa Interracial relations Subjective wellbeing 



Support for this study was provided by the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) a programme within Democracy Governance and Service Delivery research programme, Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). For their support and encouragement, special thanks to Benjamin J. Roberts and Jarè Struwig Co-ordinators of SASAS.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Democracy Governance and Service Delivery Research ProgrammeHuman Sciences Research Council (HSRC)DurbanSouth Africa

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