Individual-Level Attitudes towards Immigrants over Time and across Contexts

What are the individual-level attitudes towards foreigners and how do they change over time towards immigration?

Project Summary

Countries across Western Europe attract large numbers of immigrants. While some regard immigration positively and underline benefits, others view it with suspicion. Scholars in many fields have studied why some individuals oppose immigration and foreigners more than others. Political scientists, sociologists, social psychologists, and economists have all refined the basic argument of unwanted competition in the labour market and increasingly underline the role of prejudice, ideology, context, and cultural values. However, scholars have not yet adequately addressed how attitudes towards immigration develop and change over time, and under what circumstances they are maintained. This creates the condition for ill-informed policy decisions and a perpetuation of resentment among parts of the population.

This research will remedy this gap in the literature by examining the dynamics of individual-level attitudes towards foreigners using panel data in a cross-national framework. The project will examine three related research areas – the role of neighbourhoods in shaping attitudes, socialisation, and the stability or persistence of attitudes. By so doing the study clarifies the relationship between individual background, context, and negative attitudes towards foreigners.

This research is expected to contribute to debates on immigration more widely, as it has direct bearings on how the social impact of immigration in receiving countries can be managed. By placing longitudinal data at the heart of the analysis, this project is able to overcome endogeneity biases due to omitted variables and the relatively small number of cases in most existing studies. A dissemination event will engage actively with stakeholders to explore how to alleviate negative feelings and increase social cohesion.

Academic Output

Executive Summary

The objective of the project was to examine the dynamics of attitudes towards immigrants in a series of inter-related analyses, combining expertise from different research traditions – economics, sociology, political science, and social psychology. To this end, we use longitudinal data to study an inherently dynamic phenomenon. The project demonstrates that contact with immigrants, particularly culturally distant immigrants, is a strong driver of positive attitudes to immigrants. At the same time, we demonstrate that recent contributions that negate individual-level economic competition as a source for negative attitudes have gone too far. Drawing on robust longitudinal analyses to describe an inherently dynamic social phenomenon, the project overall emphasizes that perceptions of competition indeed play a role when it comes to negative attitudes. Contrary to some recent contributions, we demonstrate that highly-educated individuals are not immune to negative attitudes. We conclude that both contact and perceived competition should be pursued in future work on attitudes and radical-right voting, and argue that claims that one factor may be more important than others may be inappropriate.

Working Paper

How Attitudes towards Immigrants Are Shaped by Residential Context: e Role of Neighbourhood Dynamics, Immigrant Visibility, and Areal Attachment

We examine how proportional changes in the residential context are associated with changes in attitudes towards immigrants. We specifically examine ethnic diversity dynamics and immigrant visibility at the level of the neighbourhood. Following the ‘defended neighbourhood’ hypothesis, we focus on proportional change, not absolute numbers. Data from the Dutch LISS panel are analysed using fixed-effect models, measuring the composition of neighbourhoods at the level of four-digit postcodes. Our findings show that a larger change in the proportion of immigrant residents is associated with more positive views on immigrants among natives. It is particularly a change in the proportion of visible non-Western immigrants that appears to be relevant for changes in attitudes. Contrary to theoretic expectations, we find little evidence for ‘defended neighbourhoods’ in the Netherlands in the years under consideration.

Research Team

Didier Ruedin
University of Neuchâtel

Gianni D’Amato
University of Neuchâtel

Eva G. T. Green
Principal Member
Université de Lausanne

Tobias Müller
Principal Member
Université de Genève

Sergi Pardos-Prado
Principal Member
University of Oxford

Marco Pecoraro
Principal Member
University of Neuchâtel

Veronica Preotu
Principal Member
University of Geneva

Sjoerje Charlotte van Heerden
Principal Member
University of Neuchâtel

Carla Xena
Principal Member
University of Oxford





Policy domains



Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom

Host Institution