Europeans say immigrants contribute more to the region’s culture than its economy

Immigrants formed a majority in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, the three largest cities of The Netherlands, in 2017.
Immigrants formed a majority in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, the three largest cities of The Netherlands, in 2017.
Image: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
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The global immigration debate often centers around two questions: Do immigrants enrich the country’s culture? And do they improve the country’s economy? Data shows that Europeans are more likely to say yes to the former than the latter.

A cross-national social attitude survey, which has run every two years in many European countries since 2002, has always asked the same set of questions about attitudes toward immigrants. One question asks respondents to rate from 0-10 whether immigration is good (10) or bad (0) for the economy. In the other, respondents rate from 1-10 whether immigrants enrich (10) or undermine (0) the country’s cultural life. The results from the latest round of the survey, which ran from late 2018 until early 2019, revealed that most countries across Europe view the cultural contributions of immigrants more positively than their economic contributions.

Across the 19 countries included in the initial data release, respondents gave an average score of 5.1 when answering whether immigrants are good for the economy, and 5.3 on whether immigrants enrich the country’s cultural life. European Social Survey organizers plan to add data for 11 more countries in mid-2020.

The results indicate that people from countries that scored high on both questions were more likely to associate their support of immigration with cultural factors. And those that scored low on both questions were more likely to oppose immigration as they perceive that immigrants have a negative effect on the economy.

The self-reported concerns of the effects immigration can have on the economy, while revealing, aren’t accurate. The belief that immigrants create extra fiscal burden or take jobs from the labor market is rarely supported by real-world evidence. Immigration, in fact, has proven to bring economic benefits to host countries by paying taxes, bringing innovations, and improving productivity. Regardless of what people believe or say, prior research has repeatedly shown that opposition to immigration is mainly rooted in cultural factors. Put simply: Immigrants are perceived as threats to existing social groups.