Are Immigrants Scapegoats?  The Reciprocal Relationships Between Subjective Well-Being, Political Distrust, and Anti-Immigrant Attitudes in Young Adulthood

Authors

Liliia Korol, National University of Ostroh Academy, Ukraine
Alexander W. Fietzer, Hunter College of the City University of New York, USA
Pieter Bevelander, Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare, Malmö University, Sweden
Ihor Pasichnyk, National University of Ostroh Academy, Ukraine

Background

Prior research has largerly focused on explaining negative attitudes toward immigrants through the perspective of a ‘threat paradigm’— that is, antipathy and antagonism toward immigrants are primarily driven by natives’ perceptions of threat that immigrants represent to their econominc and cultural well-being. Less attention, however, has been paid to understanding the relationship between subjective well-being and anti-immigrant hostility. To address this gap in current knowledge, the present study aims to (1) investigate the longitudinal relationship between subjective well-being and anti-immigrant attitudes among native majority young adults, and (2) explore any relationship that might exist between subjective well-being, political distrust, and anti-immigrant attitudes.

Method

The data for the present study were extracted from a large longitudinal survey collected for the Political Socialization Program (Amnå et al., 2009) and conducted in a city of about 137,000 inhabitants in Sweden. The questionnaires were mailed to the target sample, together with a personalized link to an online version of the questionnaire. The final analytic sample comprised 1352 individuals (i.e., 475 20-year-olds, 416 22-year-olds, and 468 26-year-olds)  who were followed twice with a time lag of two years between data collections. Measures included evaluation of a youth’s current life situation, youths’ degree of confidence in the parliament and the government, and also attitudes toward immigrants. All data analyses were conducted using Stata 14.2 and Mplus.    

Results

We used cross-lagged panel modeling to examine the relationship between subjective well-being, anti-immigrant attitudes, and political distrust across time. There was no statistically significant effect of subjective well-being at T1 on anti-immigrant attitudes at T2, but there was a significant effect of anti-immigrant attitudes at T1 on subjective well-being at T2.  At the same time, there was a reciprocal, statistically significant effect between subjective well-being and political distrust.  Specifically, subjective well-being was more predictive of political distrust than political distrust was of subjective well-being.  Further, there was a reciprocal, statistically significant effect between anti-immigrant attitudes and political distrust.  Specifically, political distrust at T1 predicted anti-immigrant attitudes at T2, while anti-immigrant attitudes at T1 predicted political distrust at T2.  

Conclusion The present study indicates that the relationship between subjective well-being and political distrust, on the one hand, and political distrust and anti-immigrant attitudes, on the other, is bidirectional and mutually reinforcing. Moreover, the evidence obtained in the study suggests that adopting anti-immigrant attitudes among native youth might trigger negative perceptions of individual life situation. Our findings suggest that improving young adult’s personal well-being may represent a very important basis for breaking the potential link between low subjective well-being and political distrust, on the one hand, and political distrust and anti-immigrant attitudes, on the other. By applying policy recommendations as well as psychological interventions to enhance youth’s subjective well-being, we may be able to not only increase young adults’ personal well-being, but also prevent the development of negative perceptions of the broader society (and of the political domain in particular) among these youth. This in turn might potentially reduce their susceptibility to adopt exclusionary attitudes toward immigrant-origin individuals.

Contact: lilia.korol@oa.edu.ua

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