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POLITICAL STUDIES: 2009 VOL 57, 337–355 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.2008.00738.x Social Trust, Social Capital and Perceptions of Immigration© 2008 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2008 Political Studies Association " id="pdf-obj-0-3" src="pdf-obj-0-3.jpg">

POLITICAL STUDIES: 2009 VOL 57, 337–355

doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.2008.00738.x

Social Trust, Social Capital and Perceptions of Immigration

Francisco Herreros

Henar Criado

Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) Complutense University Madrid

Analyses of social capital and immigration have stressed the negative impact that culturally diverse societies have for the development of social trust. Ethnic heterogeneity, according to these studies, is associated with lower levels of social trust. However, social trust has not been studied as an independent variable in order to explain attitudes towards immigration. This article argues that societies with high levels of social capital facilitate the integration of immigrants because those members with high levels of social trust will tend to have more positive attitudes towards immigration. This hypothesis is empirically tested in a cross-country multi-level empirical analysis for sixteen European countries, drawing on the 2002–3 European Social Survey. This analysis shows that,regardless of the impact of other individual-level variables and contextual variables such as levels of unemployment or percentage of foreign population, those with high social capital do exhibit more positive attitudes towards immigration than the rest of the population.

The literature on social capital has assigned a crucial role to social trust. Social trust has been considered the glue for more integrated and cooperative commu- nities. According to Robert Putnam (2000, p. 137), social trusters are generally better citizens, more cooperative and more engaged in community life. Social trust is claimed to be associated, among other things, with better community governance (Bowles and Gintis, 2002), economic growth (Knack and Keefer, 1997) and, more generally, social cooperation (Hall, 1999, p. 418; Hayashi et al., 1999, p. 29; Kydd, 2000, p. 400, p. 413; Putnam, 1993, p. 167; Sztompka, 1999, p. 105).

If social trust generates more integrated societies, it should be relevant for the issue of immigration in the increasingly multiculturalWestern societies. There are good reasons to think that social trust will have a positive impact on attitudes towards immigration, especially given that societies rich in social capital have been portrayed as more cooperative and egalitarian. It has usually been argued that social trusters have altruistic preferences and positive attitudes on behalf of others and on behalf of the wider community (Mansbridge, 1999). Nevertheless, a more pessimistic possibility is that social trust is confined just to strangers close to the truster’s cultural background. In the American case, for example, the high levels of social capital characteristic of Putnam’s ‘civic generation’ in the 1940s and 1950s were clearly compatible with a high degree of racial inequality and racist attitudes (Hero, 2003).

The literature on attitudes towards immigration has not explored the role of social capital. In general terms, these studies have emphasized the effects of the

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‘perceived threat’ posed by immigrants on attitudes towards immigration. The idea is that people in a ‘threat context’, for example high unemployment or economic crisis, will tend to have negative attitudes towards immigrants, who are perceived as a threat to their economic or political privileges. In this article we will show, first, that social trust is not confined to people with the same cultural or ethnic background as the trusters:social trusters do have more positive attitudes towards immigrants. Second, we will also show that in threat contexts the saliency of negative attitudes towards immigration is higher for social distrusters than for social trusters. In this sense, social trust seems to be a variable that fosters more receptive attitudes to multicultural and ethnically diverse societies. We have empirically tested these hypotheses on the effects of social trust on attitudes towards immigration with a cross-country empirical analysis for sixteen European countries drawing on the 2002/3 European Social Survey.

The article will be structured as follows. In the second section we briefly discuss the existing literature on social capital and immigration, on the one hand, and on public opinion towards immigration issues, on the other, and analyze the possible effects of social trust on people’s attitudes towards immigration. In the third section we empirically test the relationship between social trust and people’s attitudes towards immigrants.

Social Trust and Immigration

The growing literature on the role of ethnic differences in the development of social capital generally assumes that increased diversity is associated with lower social capital and interpersonal trust or, in other words, that immigration and ethnic diversity challenge community cohesion (Alesina and La Ferrara, 2002; Costa and Kahn,2003;Delhey and Newton,2005;Knack and Keefer,1997).Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn (2003), for example, using both comparative data and data from the United States, conclude that social capital, measured as volunteer- ing, membership in associations and trust, is lower in heterogeneous communities in terms of income, race and ethnicity. Tom Rice and Brent Steele (2001) find that ethnic diversity across Iowa’s counties is associated with lower levels of community attachment and that citizens view their towns with more suspicion. Jan Delhey and Kenneth Newton (2005), in a comparative analysis of 60 coun- tries from the World Value Survey, conclude that ethnic fractionalization is negatively associated with social trust (a result that to a large extent confirms previous comparative analyses, for example, that of Alesina and La Ferrara [2000] among American states or Knack and Keefer’s [1997] analysis of social capital and economic performance in 29 countries). These lower levels of social capital and trust seem to be related to distrust among different ethnic groups. As Delhey and Newton (2005,p.312) put it,‘the greater the dissimilarity of other people,the more suspicion and distrust’. This distrust could be based on cultural stereotypes (Gambetta and Hamill, 2005) or on more rational mechanisms such as the

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difficulty in enforcing trust outside the subgroup boundaries: ties between sub- groups may not be sufficiently dense to sustain enforceable trust (Frank and Yasumoto, 1998, p. 673).

The literature on the relations between social trust and immigration has stressed, therefore, the role of ethnic diversity in the development of social trust. It finds that less diverse societies are more prone to the development of expectations of trust. Less attention has been devoted to another topic of pressing importance on the issue of immigration: the possible role of aggregated levels of social trust in a given society in the integration of its immigrants. A society characterized by high levels of social trust could achieve the integration of immigrants more easily than a society with lower levels of social trust.We should expect that, at the individual level, social trust could be a crucial factor in the explanation of positive attitudes towards immigrants. Analyses of social capital and immigration have disregarded the growing literature on the determinants of people’s attitudes towards immi- gration. As a result, the possible role of social trust as an independent variable in the formation of positive attitudes towards immigrants remains unexplored.

The literature on public opinion of immigration has analyzed various versions of two main hypotheses: the ‘threat hypothesis’ and the ‘contact hypothesis’. The threat hypothesis considers that racial prejudices are a response to a perceived threat to the economic and political privileges of the dominant ethnic group in a society (Oliver and Mendelberg, 2000, p. 574). These perceived threats can result from, among others, the relative size of the subordinate group (Blalock, 1967; Quillian, 1995), the country’s economic circumstances (Citrin et al., 1997; Oliver and Mendelberg, 2000, p. 575) or personal economic circumstances (Olzak, 1992). The ‘contact hypothesis’, on the other hand, considers that the presence of large populations of out-groups provides members of the dominant group with first-hand experience of different people, which can diminish racial prejudices (Oliver and Wong, 2003, p. 569; Powers and Ellison, 1995, p. 205). According to some studies, for the ‘contact’ to be effective in diminishing racial prejudices it has to fulfill certain requirements: for example, being sustained in character rather than episodic (Jackman and Crane, 1986, p. 461) or being based on friendship (McLaren, 2003).

What can the social capital literature add to these analyses of the determinants of public opinion towards immigration? Specifically, how can social trust promote positive attitudes towards immigration?

Social trust is defined as trust in strangers; trust in people with whom we are not previously acquainted. More specifically, social trust implies an expectation that strangers are trustworthy and it is implied that this expectation should be extended to all people,including immigrants from different cultural backgrounds. As Putnam (2000, p. 137) claims, social trusters are more likely to respect the rights of others. However, others are more skeptical about the relation between social capital and tolerance. Some authors have pointed out that Putnam’s ‘civic

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America’ was coexistent with high levels of racism against blacks (Hero, 2003). There are many examples where dense social relations have been a source of mobilization to attack or even exterminate other people, as in the case of Hutu or Serb nationalists in recent years, or the expansion of Nazi ideology in the Weimar Republic across dense networks of social capital in rural areas.

Therefore, it is not clear whether social trust is extended only to people of a similar cultural background or to people in general.We will argue here that social trusters indeed extend their trust to people from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds, and thus that they extend their trust to immigrants. We will empirically test this idea in our article, but first we will justify theoretically why we think that people can develop expectations of trust about other people from quite different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

One possible foundation for this expectation can be moralistic (Uslaner, 2002). This moral outlook can be based, for instance, on an imperative to treat all people as if they were trustworthy, where ‘all people’ includes immigrants. However, this non-consequentialist view of trust is perhaps too demanding. Instead, we will consider how, from a rationalist point of view, trust can be extended to people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. When confronted with people from other cultures, such as immigrants from other continents with different religions, an individual can form his or her expectations based on various informational short cuts, including cultural stereotypes. For instance, taxi drivers in New York City often use skin color to screen their passengers, which often leads to discrimination towards Hispanics and African Americans (Gambetta and Hamill, 2005, pp. 164–5). In general terms, if we have developed relations of trust with the members of a group, or if we know some characteristics of the culture, traditions or values of that group, then we can generalize that trust to people who display an external signal of belonging to that group (for example, an ethnic community), and distrust people without that external signal (Bacharach and Gambetta, 2001; Blackburn, 1998; Hardin, 1995; Offe, 1999, p. 63). By contrast, a social truster in this context can simply give the ‘benefit of the doubt’ to someone from another cultural background. Instead of simply behaving as if everybody is trustworthy from an imperative moral rule, the social truster could think that it is in his or her interest to begin offering cooperation to a stranger and then reconsider his or her behavior if the stranger decides to cheat on him or her. This implies that the social truster is more exposed than the distruster to being cheated, but he or she can also obtain higher pay-offs if his or her cooperative moves are reciprocated by the stranger. Besides, as ToshioYamagishi (2001) points out, trusters can obtain ‘social intelligence’ as a consequence of their cooperative moves. Trust leads them to be more cooperative and their experiences (negative and positive) with strangers can provide them with some cues to distinguish who is trustworthy and who is not. Being open to cooperation with strangers can give the social truster, at minimum, some information about which cues are associated with what Michael Bacharach and Diego Gambetta (2001) call ‘trust-warranting

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properties’, something that can be useful in future exchanges. A social truster, therefore, is someone with ‘social intelligence’, an individual who has learned to discern better which people are trustworthy. This can lead him or her to trust strangers precisely because when forming his or her beliefs, the social truster excludes the use of cues and heuristics based on racist or cultural stereotypes, because his or her ‘social intelligence’ teaches him or her that these cues and heuristics are systematically biased. 1

Therefore, we maintain that social trusters can rationally extend their trust not just to people with similar characteristics to themselves, but also to people from different backgrounds. Social trusters learn that cues and short cuts based on cultural or racial stereotypes are not a sound basis for forming expectations about other people’s trustworthiness. From this idea, we derive a first theoretical hypothesis:

H1: Social trusters have more positive attitudes towards immigrants than social distrusters.

Social trust can also have an indirect effect on attitudes towards immigration through the variables associated with the ‘threat hypothesis’ in the literature on public opinion towards immigration. The threat hypothesis claims that the perception of a threat derived from a risk context, for example a bad economic situation, leads to more negative attitudes towards immigration.We have claimed that social trusters are especially immune to prejudices, because they are more ‘socially intelligent’, and therefore they consider that beliefs based upon stereo- types are not well founded.One of the micro-foundations of the threat hypothesis is that in periods of economic crisis, for example, stereotypes for judging people from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds become more salient. This will not be the case for social trusters, who tend to disregard this type of informational short cut. Therefore, even in contexts in which, according to the threat hypoth- esis, people would feel threatened and cultural or racial prejudices would be more salient, social trusters will be more immune to the saliency of such prejudices. From this idea, we derive the following hypothesis:

H2: Social trust will soften the negative effects of ‘perceived threat’ on attitudes towards immigrants.

To test our two hypotheses empirically – whether being a social truster rather than a social distruster has a positive impact (direct or indirect) on people’s attitudes towards immigration or whether, on the contrary, social trust is just confined to strangers with similar characteristics to the truster – we used cross- national individual data from sixteen countries from the 2002–3 first round of the European Social Survey. The European Social Survey is a cross-country survey funded by the European Commission that includes questions about attitudes, beliefs and behavioral patterns.It is directed by the Centre for Comparative Social Surveys of City University (London). From the European Social Survey Dataset we have included in our analysis the following countries: Austria, Belgium,

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Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. These data provide variation at the country level and at the individual level. These two levels of variation are needed to test how social trust affects people’s attitudes towards immigration, given that certain aggregate variables at the country level – such as the percentage of immigrants or the rate of unemployment – could also have an impact on people’s attitudes towards immigration.

The Model

The empirical model combines two levels of data: contextual aggregate data and individual-level data. The most appropriate way of analyzing both levels simul- taneously is through a multi-level model (Goldstein, 1999, pp. 5–36; Jones and Bullen, 1994, pp. 252–5). Populations exhibit complex structures with many levels. This complexity in the data has usually been overlooked in traditional analyses. By using multi-level models we are able to model the different levels of the data simultaneously, gaining the potential for improving estimation, valid inference and a better substantive understanding of the social phenomenon. In order to test the impact of the institutional context on individual behavior directly, we need to analyze micro and macro-level data simultaneously through a multi-level model. A hierarchical or multi-level model is the most appropriate model for estimating effects of macro and micro variables with nested data. The multi-level model is able to measure how interpersonal trust is affected by the citizens’ characteristics, such as education or membership in associations, as well as by the efficacy of the institutional context. Moreover, the multi-level model allows analysis of how these two levels interact (Goldstein, 1999; Jones and Bullen, 1994).

The Dependent Variable: Attitudes towards Immigration

Our dependent variable is the attitudes of nationals of each country towards immigration. We have constructed an index from six questions asking about attitudes and opinions towards immigration. For each question, respondents were read the statement:‘Please say how much you agree or disagree with each of the following statements’. For each of the questions, the answers go from 1 (‘agree strongly’) to 5 (’disagree strongly’). The six questions used to construct the index are:

(1)

Average wages and salaries are generally brought down by people coming to

(2)

live and work here. People who come to live and work here generally harm the economic

(3)

prospects of the poor more than the rich. If people who have come to live and work here are unemployed for a long period, they should be made to leave.

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(4)

People who have come to live here should be given the same rights as

(5)

everyone else. If people who have come to live here commit a serious crime, they should

(6)

be made to leave. If people who have come to live here commit any crime, they should be made to leave.

We have rearranged the answers to question 4 (‘people who have come to live here should be given the same rights as everyone else’) so as to give those who agree with this statement a value 5, and those who disagree a value 1. As a result, all the answers to the six questions are arranged in the same direction.

A correlation matrix for the six questions shows that they are reasonably corre- lated (a KMO index of 0.823). A factor analysis of the six questions reveals that all of them load quite similarly on a single principal component (from 0.659 of ‘average wages and salaries are generally brought down by people coming to live and work here’ to 0.748 of ‘if people who have come to live and work here are unemployed for a long period, they should be made to leave’). This principal component has an eigenvalue of 2.733, whereas the other components have an eigenvalue of less than one. As a result of this, we consider that these questions constitute a unidimensional measure of attitudes towards immigration. Therefore, we have used as a dependent variable an index summing the scores for each of the questions. This leads to an index from 6 (totally negative attitudes towards immigration) to 30 (totally positive attitudes towards immigration). If we calcu- late the average score of this index across countries, the result is a relevant variation between countries like Greece, which scores an average of 12.96 and Sweden, with an average score in the index of 19.79. Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal and the United Kingdom have an average score below 17, whereas the other countries score above that figure.

The Independent Variables

There are two types of independent variable in the model: at the country level and at the individual level. The variables at the country level are: economic growth; country’s level of unemployment; percentage of immigrants in each country; trends in migration; and nationality of the main group of immigrants in each country. The five variables are potentially associated with people’s attitudes towards immigration. Most of them are related to the ‘power threat hypothesis’, a hypothesis originally developed to explain relations between whites and blacks in the United States. As we have seen before, it states that white racist stereotypes arise as a consequence of the perceived threat that living among many blacks poses to their economic and political privileges (Oliver and Mendelberg, 2000, p. 574). Lower economic growth could be associated with lower levels of accep- tance of immigrants. Simply put, in periods of bad economic performance, immigrants could be seen as an economic liability or as competitors for scarce

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resources. Something similar can be said of the variable related to unemployment rates.With high levels of unemployment, immigrants can be seen as competitors for scarce jobs or, more positively, people can think that those immigrants will most likely not find employment if they come. The variable of unemployment is the average unemployment rate in 2001–2. These are economic aggregate vari- ables that have usually been included as indicators of perceived threats from the subordinate to the dominant ethnic group (Quillian, 1995, p. 590).

The percentage of immigrants is also a traditional variable of the ‘threat hypoth- esis’. It is assumed that the higher the share of immigrant population in a given area,the higher the probability that members of the dominant group will perceive these newcomers as a threat to their economic and political privileges (McLaren, 2003, p. 920; Oliver and Mendelberg, 2000). For some people there can be a threshold beyond which they do not think favorably towards new immigrants.We could expect less positive attitudes towards immigrants, therefore, in those coun- tries with a higher percentage of immigrant people among their population.

The trends in migration measure the differences in net migration flows among countries. Regardless of the total number of immigrants in the country, it is possible that recent trends in immigration could also have an impact on people’s attitudes towards immigration. In countries like France, where the percentage of immigrants is high but the flow of new immigrants has been low in recent years, attitudes towards immigrants could be different from those countries where, although the percentage of immigrants is lower, there has been a significant increase in immigration in the last few years, for example, in Spain or Ireland.

Finally, the nationality of the immigrants should affect people’s attitudes towards integration, in the sense that people with a similar cultural background will probably integrate more easily than people from different cultures (Quillian, 1995, p. 594). To operationalize this variable, we have distinguished between immigrants from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and non-European countries. Given that the countries of our sample are all from Western Europe, we assume that ‘similar cultural background’ would include those immigrants who come from otherWest European countries and, therefore, that in those countries where the main immigrant group is from Western Europe, we should expect more positive attitudes towards immigration than in countries where the main immi- grant group is from Eastern Europe or is non-European. Nationality of the main immigrant group is a categorical variable with value 0 for those countries whose main immigrant group comes from a non-European country, value 1 for those countries whose main immigrant group comes from a West European country, and value 2 for those countries whose main immigrant group comes from an East European Country. In Table 1 we have included the descriptors of the indepen- dent variables at the country level.

The independent variables at the individual level are: unemployment; satisfaction with the economic situation; the presence of immigrants in the individual’s

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Table 1: Descriptors of Variables at Country Level

Trends in

 

Foreign

immigration per

GDP Growth

nationals

1,000 population

(average

Unemployment

(%) (2003)

(average 2001–2)

2002–3)

(%) (2003)

Austria

9.4

3.2

1.1

4

Belgium

8.3

1.4

0.7

7

Denmark

5

2

1.3

4.9

Finland

2

1.1

1.7

9.1

France

10

1.3

1.6

8.7

Germany

8.9

3

0.9

8.3

Greece

6.9

3.5

4

10.2

Ireland

5.6

9.2

6

4.3

Italy

3.8

4.2

1.1

9.2

Netherlands

4.3

3.8

1

2.2

Norway

4.5

2.7

2

3.7

Portugal

4.2

6.5

1

4.5

Spain

3.9

12.9

2.5

10.9

Sweden

5.1

3.4

1.5

4

Switzerland

20

6.2

0.6

2.1

United Kingdom

4.8

2.5

2.5

5.1

Sources: OECD Country Statistical Profiles, 2006. Population and Migration Data; IMF World Economic Outlook database.

neighborhood; income; friendship with a member of a minority ethnic group; education; ideology; gender; membership of a majoritarian or minority ethnic group in society; and social trust. The first four are individual-level variables related to the ‘threat hypothesis’. Unemployment is a dummy variable with value 0 for people in employment and value 1 for unemployed people.Satisfaction with the economic situation is an ordinal variable with a range from 0 (completely unsatisfied with the current state of the economy) to 10 (completely satisfied). The presence of immigrants is an ordinal variable with a range from 1 (almost no immigrants in the neighborhood) to 3 (many members of minority ethnic groups in the neighborhood). The usual expectation in the literature is that unemployed people will tend to see immigrants as competitors for scarce jobs and, therefore, will display more negative attitudes towards immigration (Burns and Gimpel, 2000, p. 202; McLaren, 2003, p. 915). People with a pessimistic view of the state of the economy will also display less open attitudes towards immigration issues, and the same is expected with respect to people living in neighborhoods with a high percentage of immigrant population (Giles and Hertz, 1994; Oliver and Mendelberg, 2000). The fourth individual-level variable related to the threat hypothesis is income. It is an ordinal variable with a range from 1 (low income)

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to 12 (high income). It is assumed that people with low income levels will have a higher probability of perceiving immigrants as possible threats (McLaren, 2003, p. 918). In general terms, the literature considers that one’s personal economic well-being is related to attitudes towards immigration (Burns and Gimpel, 2000, p. 205).

The fifth individual-level variable, friendship with immigrants, is a categorical variable with values 0 (none at all), 1 (a few) and 2 (several). This variable is related to the‘contact hypothesis’. As we know,this hypothesis claims that contact with other ethnic groups, especially in the form of friendship with members of those ethnic groups, has the effect of diminishing racial prejudices. Therefore, we should expect that the higher the number of friends among ethnic minorities, the more positive the attitudes towards immigration.We have included this variable related to the ‘contact hypothesis’ as a control variable. Our hypothesis 2 claims that the ‘threat hypothesis’ does not work equally for trusters and distrusters. However, as the ‘threat hypothesis’ is just one of the two main hypotheses in the literature on public opinion towards immigration, we should include a variable to control for the effect of the contact hypothesis on attitudes towards immigration.

Education is an ordinal variable that measures years of education completed and is a variable traditionally included in public opinion analysis about immigration (Powers and Ellison, 1995, p. 208; Quillian, 1995, p. 587). It is usually assumed that higher levels of formal education are associated with more positive attitudes towards immigration,or tolerance in general (Bobo and Licari,1989).One reason for this could be that the influx of immigrants is unlikely to have a major impact on the labor market position of the well educated and, therefore, they probably will not feel greatly threatened (Burns and Gimpel, 2000, p. 205). Ideology is the classical variable measured as self-placement on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being extreme left and 10 extreme right.We assume that ideology can have an impact on attitudes towards immigration in the sense that left-wing people will likely have more positive attitudes towards immigrants in general than conservative people. Membership of a majoritarian or minority group in society has been included in the model as a control variable. It is a dummy variable with value 0 for members of the majoritarian ethnic group in the society and value 1 for membership of minority ethnic groups. Gender is a dummy variable with value 0 for males and value 1 for females. Finally, the last variable at the individual level is social trust. The indicator for interpersonal trust is the standard survey question:

‘generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?’The answer to this question is on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being no trust at all and 10 complete trust. 2 Average levels of social trust vary widely across the countries of the sample. Scandinavian countries have the highest average levels of social trust, with a score between 6 and 7, whereas the countries of the sample with the lowest levels of social trust are Italy, France, Portugal and Greece.

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Results

The results of the multi-level models are shown in Table 2. The first model of Table 2 is a null model, without independent variables. The null model shows that the variation between countries in attitudes towards immigration is signifi- cant. Therefore, a multi-level model is the appropriate technique to account for this variation.

Model 2 is an additive model, without interactions. This model tests our first hypothesis.We expected that social trust would have a positive impact on people’s attitudes towards immigration. That is, social trusters, all other variables consid- ered, should have a more positive attitude towards immigration than distrusters. As we can see, the coefficient related to social trust is significant and in the expected direction. Social trusters do tend to have more positive attitudes towards immigration than distrusters. The effect of social trust is independent of other individual variables such as education, gender and ideology, and is consistent for all the countries of the sample independent of their level of immigrant popula- tion, economic growth, unemployment, recent trends in immigration or nation- ality of the main immigrant group. In the theoretical section we claimed that social trusters systematically exclude heuristics and cues based on racial or cultural stereotypes when forming their beliefs about other people’s trustworthiness. This could be the mechanism that links social trust and positive attitudes towards immigrants.

The positive effect of social trust on attitudes towards immigrants is sustained even when we include variables related in the literature to the ‘threat hypothesis’ and the ‘contact hypothesis’. Among the ‘threat hypothesis’ variables, unemploy- ment is significant at the individual level: unemployed people tend to have more negative attitudes towards immigration than people in paid jobs. However, the aggregate levels of unemployment do not significantly affect the index of attitudes towards immigration. The percentage of immigrants living in the respondent’s own area is also significant and with the expected result: people living in areas with a high percentage of immigrants tend to have less positive opinions about immigration than people living in areas with a low presence of immigrants. This result at the individual level is coherent with the aggregate-level variable that measures the presence of immigrants in each country as a percentage of the population. This variable is significant and negative: the more immigrants in the country, the lower the average score in the index of attitudes towards immigra- tion. By contrast, the variable related to recent trends in immigration flows is significant, but the sign of the coefficient is not as expected. It seems that in those countries where recent flows of immigration have been higher, the probability of expressing a positive opinion about immigration is also higher. This conclusion goes against the expected effect of recent trends in immigration on people’s attitudes towards immigration. The results of the models, by contrast, point in the opposite direction. Part of the explanation for this result could lie in the high

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Table 2: Determinants of People’s Opinions towards Immigration

 

Model 1

Model 2

Model 3

Fixed effects

Constant

17.19***

16.29***

15.28***

(0.39)

(0.71)

(0.80)

Individual-level variables Social trust

0.28***

0.32***

(0.01)

(0.05)

Unemployed

-0.25**

-0.05

(0.12)

(0.28)

Immigrants living in own area

-0.09**

0.02

(0.04)

(0.09)

Satisfaction with the economy

0.19***

0.28***

(0.01)

(0.02)

Immigrant friends

1.06***

1.07***

(0.03)

(0.03)

Income

0.05***

-0.009

(0.01)

(0.03)

Ideology

-0.33***

-0.33***

(0.01)

(0.01)

Minority

0.74***

0.74***

(0.15)

(0.15)

Education

0.64***

0.64***

(0.02)

(0.02)

Gender

0.004

0.001

(0.05)

(0.05)

Country-level variables Immigrants

-0.21***

-0.22***

(0.04)

(0.05)

Trends in immigration

0.15***

0.23***

(0.06)

(0.06)

Main immigrant group West European

0.96**

0.96**

(0.46)

(0.47)

Main immigrant group East European

0.001

0.001

(0.002)

(0.002)

Economic growth

-0.17

-0.17

(0.15)

(0.15)

Unemployment

-0.08

-0.08

(0.06)

(0.06)

Interactions

Trust*Income

0.01**

(0.005)

Trust*Satisfaction with the economy

-0.065***

(0.005)

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Table 2: Continued

 

Model 1

Model 2

Model 3

Trust*Trends in immigration

-0.01**

(0.004)

Trust*Unemployed

-0.04

(0.05)

Trust*Immigrants

-0.002

(0.003)

Trust*Immigrants living in own area

-0.01

(0.005)

Random effects

Individual-level

17.46***

14.12***

14.10***

(0.17)

(0.13)

(0.13)

Contextual-level

2.45***

0.41***

0.41***

(0.87)

(0.15)

(0.15)

Log likelihood

117,728.80

113,319.50

113,293.60

Number of cases (countries)

25,464

25,462

25,464

(16)

(16)

(16)

***Significant at 99%; **significant at 95%.

percentage of positive attitudes towards immigration in the country of the sample with the strongest trend in immigration in the last few years: Spain.

The other four variables associated with the threat hypothesis are income, evaluation of the economic situation, economic growth and nationality of the main immigrant group. The first two are significant and with the expected result:

people with low income levels have less positive attitudes towards immigration than people with high income levels, and people tend to have more negative opinions about immigrants when they think that there is a negative economic situation. By contrast, the country-level variable associated with the effect of the economy on the perception of immigrants as being a threat – aggregate levels of economic growth – is not significant. Finally, nationality of the main immigrant group has been included in the model as three dummy variables for West Europeans as the main immigrant group and East Europeans as the main immi- grant group, with non-Europeans as the category of reference. As we can see, the coefficient for West European is significant and with the expected result: people tend to have more positive attitudes towards immigration when the main immi- grant group in their countries is West European and therefore from a similar cultural background, as compared to non-European immigrants. By contrast, the coefficient for East Europeans is not significant. It seems, therefore, that with respect to attitudes towards immigration, the people in our sample do not distinguish between East Europeans and non-Europeans.

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The variable associated in our models with the ‘contact hypothesis’ is friendship with immigrants. As we can see, this variable is significant and has the expected result. This means that people with several immigrant friends have more positive attitudes towards immigration than people with fewer friends among immigrants.

Finally, as regards the other variables of the model, higher levels of formal education tend to be associated with higher scores on the index of attitudes towards immigration. That is, as other studies consistently show, people with a higher level of education tend to have more positive attitudes towards immigra- tion. Ideology, as expected, tends also to be associated with people’s opinions towards immigration. Left-wing people score higher than conservative people on the index on attitudes towards immigration. Also as expected, membership of a majoritarian vs.minority ethnic group in the society has an impact on the average levels of the index. Members of the majority ethnic group tend to express more negative attitudes towards immigration than members of the minority ethnic group.

Now we turn to our second hypothesis. Are negative attitudes towards immi- grants less salient in threat contexts for social trusters than for social distrusters? We have tested this hypothesis by examining the interactions between social trust and those variables related to the threat hypothesis that are significant in the additive model: income; satisfaction with the economy; immigrants living in the area; percentage of immigrants in each country; trends in immigration; and employment status. We have excluded interactions with variables of the threat hypothesis that are not significant in the additive model such as, for example, aggregate levels of unemployment. The results of these interactions are shown in model 3 of Table 2.

The interactions between trust and employment status, trust and the percentage of immigrants in each country and trust and immigrants living in the area are not significant, although their coefficients have the right direction. The other three interactions are significant. The coefficient of the interaction between trust and income is not in the expected direction, but in any case is very small. The coefficient of the interaction between trust and trends in immigration has the expected direction. This means that for social trusters trends in immigration have a slightly lower impact on attitudes towards immigration than for distrusters. Finally, the interaction between trust and satisfaction with the economy is also significant and the coefficient has the expected direction. This means that for social trusters their evaluation of the economic situation has a lower impact on their attitudes towards immigration issues than for distrusters. To grasp this result better, we have calculated the expected mean of the index of attitudes towards immigration for various values of assessment of the economic situation, and for two profiles of respondent: high trusters and low trusters. The results are shown in Figure 1.

As

we

can

see, as

the assessment

of

the economic situation becomes more

optimistic, the average scores of the index of attitudes towards immigration

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Figure 1: Social Trust, Evaluation of the Economy and Attitudes towards Immigration

30 28,5 27 25,5 24 22,5 21 19,5 18 16,5 15 13,5 12 10,5 9 7,5
30
28,5
27
25,5
24
22,5
21
19,5
18
16,5
15
13,5
12
10,5
9
7,5
6
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Attitudes towards immigration

Satisfaction with the economy

Low trusters High trusters
Low trusters
High trusters

increase for both profiles of citizens. However, we can also see that the slope is steeper for distrusters than for social trusters. Distrusters with a fairly pessimistic assessment of the economic situation score 17.15 on the index, whereas distrust- ers who are very optimistic about the economic situation score 19.75 on the index (an increase of 2.6 points). By contrast, social trusters with a pessimistic outlook towards the economic situation score 21.05 on the index, whereas social trusters with an optimistic view of the economy score 23 on the index (an increase of 1.95 points). Therefore it seems that evaluation of the economic situation is less important for social trusters than for distrusters when forming their opinions about immigration.Whether they think that the economic situa- tion is gloomy or that the economy is booming, social trusters do not vary their opinions of immigrants as much as do distrusters. This result confirms our second hypothesis. The variation of the perceived threat, in this case the variation of the perception of the economy, has a larger effect on attitudes towards immigrants in distrusters than in trusters.

Conclusion

The literature on social capital and immigration has mainly focused on the effects of heterogeneous societies on the general levels of social capital. Scant attention has been paid to the possible role that social trust can have in achieving more social cohesion in culturally diverse societies. In this article we have tried to help

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close that gap in the social capital literature. Instead of studying how the presence of immigrants affects social trust, we have studied how social trust affects people’s attitudes towards immigration.

The article shows two effects of social trust on attitudes towards immigration. On the one hand,there is a direct effect:social trusters do have more positive attitudes towards immigration than distrusters, once we have controlled for all the relevant variables from the literature on public opinion about immigration. On the other hand, social trust also has an indirect effect, reducing the negative effects of ‘perceived threat’ on people’s opinions about immigrants. As we have seen, the literature on the determinants of public opinion towards immigration issues has consistently shown that certain variables connected to the perception of threat are systematically associated with people’s attitudes towards immigration. People’s economic situation, their assessment of the country’s economic performance or the presence of increasing numbers of immigrants in the country are considered in the literature as variables that should have an effect on people’s opinions towards immigrants.We have shown that social trust tends to moderate the effects of perceived threats on people’s attitudes towards immigration. People located in, say, ‘risk’ positions towards immigration (especially people with low levels of satisfaction with the economy) will nonetheless exhibit generally positive atti- tudes towards immigration if they are social trusters.

Therefore, social capital, measured as social trust, does have an impact on positive attitudes towards immigration. This could be important for our increasingly multicultural societies to the extent that general positive attitudes towards immi- gration help the integration of immigrants. These results support the notion that, when considering public policies to reduce social tensions between ethnic groups, investment in social capital could be a very good idea.

Appendix

Attitudes towards immigration:‘Using this card, please say how much you agree or disagree with each of the following statements’:

Average wages and salaries are generally brought down by people coming to live and work here. People who come to live and work here generally harm the economic prospects of the poor more than the rich. If people who have come to live and work here are unemployed for a long period, they should be made to leave. People who have come to live here should be given the same rights as everyone else. If people who have come to live here commit a serious crime, they should be made to leave. • If people who have come to live here commit any crime,they should be made to leave.

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Unemployment:‘Which of these descriptions best describes your situation (in the last seven days): unemployed and actively looking for a job; unemployed, wanting a job but not actively looking for a job’.

Satisfaction with the economy: ‘On the whole how satisfied are you with the present state of the economy in your country?’

Immigrants living in area:‘How would you describe the area where you currently live? An area where almost nobody is of a different race or ethnic group from most [country] people; some people are of a different race or ethnic group from most [country] people; many people are of a different race or ethnic group’.

Friendship: ‘Do you have any friends who have come to live in [country] from another country. Yes, several; yes, a few; no, none at all’.

Education:‘How many years of full-time education have you completed?’

Ideology:‘In politics people sometimes talk of “left” and “right”. Using this card, where would you place yourself on this scale, where 0 means the left and 10 means the right?’

Social trust:‘Using this card, generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people? Please tell me on a score of 0 to 10, where 0 means you can’t be too careful and 10 means that most people can be trusted’.

(Accepted: 10 October 2007)

About the Authors

Francisco Herreros, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), C/Albasanz 26-28, 3 a planta Módulo D, 28037 Madrid, Spain; email: francisco.herreros@cchs.csic.es

Henar Criado, Complutense University Madrid, Faculty of Sociology and Political Science, Political Science I, Campus de Somosaguas, 28223 Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid, Spain; email: henar@ceacs.march.es

Notes

  • 1 In a certain sense,the‘social trust’we are thinking about is also a type of ‘bridging’social capital,as opposed to forms of ‘bonding’ trust confined to known people. This distinction between ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital was drawn by Putnam (2000, pp. 22–4). Bonding social capital, according to Putnam, tends to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups, whereas bridging social capital is much more inclusive. If social trusters do indeed have more positive attitudes towards immigrants,then social trust can be considered a form of bridging social capital, a type of social capital that encompasses people across different cultural backgrounds.

  • 2 See Appendix for details on the question wording.

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