Immigrant sentiment and labour market vulnerability: economic perceptions of immigration in dualized labour markets

Abstract

Recent years have seen an increase in concerns that labour market vulnerability and national economic performance might be interacting to foment more polarized opinions about immigration. This article uses European Social Survey and EU-SILC data from 23 countries to explore this potential relationship, examining attitudes about the economic impact of immigration. In doing so, it seeks to investigate how the link between labour market vulnerability and anti-immigrant sentiment may be shaped by both resource scarcity (in the economy as a whole) and job scarcity (on the labour market). Findings from the analysis are twofold. First, labour market vulnerability is indeed correlated with more negative beliefs about the economic contribution of immigrants, even controlling for related factors such as education and contract type. Second, this effect is moderated by GDP per capita (though not unemployment rates), with labour market insiders and outsiders holding more distinct attitudes in higher GDP countries; thus, although attitudes towards the economic contribution of immigrants are generally more negative in poorer countries, labour market vulnerability contributes to greater opinion polarization in stronger economies. It is therefore resource availability in the economy, rather than on the labour market, that appears to be crucial.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    While the 2012 and 2014 waves employed the ISCO-08 coding in lieu of ISCO-88, we convert the categorizations to align across waves. This results in a modest loss of data: namely, we lose six occupational classifications (out of 670), which together amount to 0.3% of respondents in the two affected waves.

  2. 2.

    All figures are drawn using “plotplain” (Bischof 2017).

  3. 3.

    Although survey weights cannot be included in this model for technical reasons, we ran an alternative model (using country binary variables) to confirm that weighting has no substantial impact on the main findings.

  4. 4.

    Note that this does not mean that outsiderness does not affect attitudes toward immigrants in these models. Centring the GDP variable, for instance, results in a statistically significant coefficient.

  5. 5.

    Namely, we confirmed: that our findings are not dependent on our specific construction of the outsiderness scores (i.e. changing the age cut-offs to 35 or 30, adding a foreign/native-born division); that countries with particularly low sample sizes (i.e. Italy and Iceland) are not driving our key findings; that the results remain even if we exclude the 2014 survey wave, for which the EU-SILC ISCO data (used to construct outsiderness scores) are not entirely backwards compatible; and that the findings are robust to including a post-communist dichotomous variable. Finally, we also re-ran all of our analysis with general attitudes toward immigration as the dependent variable (using an IRT index based on the economic, cultural, and overall impact of immigration). Results suggest a similar relationship, though the (proportionally adjusted) size of the effect is notably smaller—arguably due to the additional (non-economy related) noise introduced by the additional survey items.

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Acknowledgements

Anthony Kevins received financial support from a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (Grant no. 750556). Naomi Lightman received financial support from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Development Grant (File no: 430-2018-00062).

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 3 Countries included in regression analysis, with number of observations per wave
Table 4 Weighted descriptive statistics of main variables
Table 5 Robustness checks

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Kevins, A., Lightman, N. Immigrant sentiment and labour market vulnerability: economic perceptions of immigration in dualized labour markets. Comp Eur Polit 18, 460–484 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-019-00194-1

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Keywords

  • Labour market vulnerability
  • Anti-immigrant sentiment
  • Public opinion
  • GDP
  • Unemployment