Racial diversity, immigrants and the well-being of residents: evidence from US counties


This paper presents empirical evidence that racial diversity and immigrant population at the local level tend to be associated with lower life satisfaction for Whites by matching individual data with the county-level population data during the period 2005–2010. The magnitudes I find suggest that a ten-percentage-point increase in the share of the non-White population (approximately one half of a standard deviation) is associated with 0.006 and 0.007 points reduction in life satisfaction on a four-point scale for White men and White women, respectively. For White men, this effect appears to be driven by the percentage of the population that is Black. I also find that a ten-percentage-point increase in the percentage of the immigrant population (approximately 2 standard deviations) is associated with 0.009 and 0.021 points reduction in life satisfaction for White men and White women, respectively. The percentage of the non-White population seems to reduce older Whites’ life satisfaction more than that of younger Whites. Though the scale of the findings relating to the impact of local racial compositions and immigrant population is relatively modest, the findings may pose a challenge in the coming years as the percentage of the population that is non-White rises in the USA.

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  1. 1.

    He was also supported by white nationalists, including members of the Ku Klux Klan (Milligan 2016).

  2. 2.

    A referee pointed out that there are also two recent books on financially struggling Whites’ despair and anxiety: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by Vance (2016) and White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Isenberg (2016).

  3. 3.

    The upward trend in the mortality of Whites was documented by Case and Deaton (2015).

  4. 4.

    Though not an academic paper, Cohen (2016) finds a strong positive relationship between Donald Trump, whose supporters are overwhelmingly White, vote share and the share of Black population in the recent South Carolina Republican primary results, despite few Black Republican voters in these areas.

  5. 5.

    However, the Economist (2016) points out that people in areas that experienced a larger increase in immigration tended to favor “Brexit.”

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    Economists have extensively examined the effects on immigration on the labor market. The overall consensus is that increased number of low-skill immigrants over the past several decades has negatively affected the wages of low-skilled natives and has benefitted high-skilled natives in the USA (e.g., Borjas and Katz 2007), thought the negative effect is rather small. Borjas (2003) finds that the wages of competing workers were lowered by 3 to 4% for every 10% increase in immigrant supply. Beyond their effects on the local economy, immigrants may contribute to create communities with more vibrant culture. Caplan (2012) points out that California and New York, which have the largest foreign-born population in the country, are America’s top two cultural centers, and immigrants improve local cuisine. He also states that most Americans probably “care more about food than literature and museums.”

  7. 7.

    They use data from these 26 countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the UK.

  8. 8.

    Also, during the period 2013–2015, fewer than 50,000 people were asked about their life satisfaction. Furthermore, county of residence is not available in the BRFSS 2013–2015, and this makes it impossible for me to match county-level variables with respondents.

  9. 9.

    While psychologists tend to make a distinction between happiness and life satisfaction, economists tend to use the terms interchangeably (Graham et al. 2004). I also adopt the convention of most scholars in economics in treating life satisfaction and happiness as synonymous.

    Not surprisingly, answers to happiness and life satisfaction questions are closely correlated (Graham 2009).

  10. 10.

    Stevenson and Wolfers (2009) use the American General Social Surveys, Sacks et al. (2010) use the Gallup World Poll, and Oswald and Wu (2010) use the BRFSS.

  11. 11.

    “Intercensal Estimates of the Resident Population for Counties: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2010”.


  12. 12.

    ACS 5-year estimates are based on data collected between January 2005 and December 2009 (during calendar years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009). USA Counties Data File Downloads “Population—Total and Selected Characteristics”: https://www.census.gov/support/USACdataDownloads.html#POP

    Data file link: http://www2.census.gov/prod2/statcomp/usac/excel/POP02.xls

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    The average number of respondents per county is 673.

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    Readers may wonder why there are several counties with large non-White population in Montana, South Dakota, and North Dakota. This is due to their large shares of Native American population. For example, more than 60% of the residents in Big Horn County, Glacier County, and Roosevelt County in Montana consist of Native Americans. In South Dakota, Oglala Lakota County’s Native American population is more than 90%, and Bennett County, Corson County, Dewey County, Todd County, and Ziebach County, all have a large Native American population that exceeds 60%.

  17. 17.

    One notable exception is Fort Bend County in Texas, which has the highest percentage of Asians in the Southern United States—the 2005–2010 average is 14.6%.

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    I also ran the regressions with age squared. This made very little difference to the results.

  19. 19.

    A ten-percentage-point increase in Asian population is highly unlikely, as shown in Table 1, as on average they were about 1% of a county population during 2005–2010.

  20. 20.

    The magnitude of the coefficient on immigrants for White women is twice as large as that for White men, but the difference is not statistically significant.

  21. 21.

    According to Attitudes Toward Immigration: In Black and White by Pew Research Center in 2006, Blacks are also more likely than Whites to feel that immigrants take jobs away from American citizens (34 vs. 25%), rather than take jobs that Americans do not want (Doherty 2006).

  22. 22.

    The finding that White college graduates are no more tolerant toward immigrants than less educated Whites may be counter-intuitive to some readers, but after the US presidential election in 2016, national exit poll revealed that Trump had won Whites with a college degree 49 to 45% (Tyson and Maniam 2016).

  23. 23.

    United States Census Bureau. “U.S. Census Bureau Projections Show a Slower Growing, Older, More Diverse Nation a Half Century from Now”. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-243.html


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The author thanks three anonymous referees for their constructive comments and useful suggestions.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Masanori Kuroki.

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Responsible editor: Klaus F. Zimmermann



Table 8 Summary statistics for countries
Table 9 Coefficients of control variables from ordinary least squares life satisfaction equation: men
Table 10 Coefficients of control variables from ordinary least squares life satisfaction equation: women

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Kuroki, M. Racial diversity, immigrants and the well-being of residents: evidence from US counties. J Popul Econ 31, 107–133 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-017-0657-9

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JEL classifications

  • J15
  • I31


  • Life satisfaction
  • Happiness
  • Well-being
  • Racial
  • Immigration