The immigrant next door

Publish date 11-01-2024

by Pierluigi Conzo

When direct knowledge promotes integration, understanding and coexistence

It is not a film by Özpetek, but the title of a scientific article published in a prestigious American economic magazine. As often happens, economics tends to "invade" topics that, historically, belong to other disciplines. In this case we are dealing with social psychology and the theme of "contact" between natives and immigrants.

More specifically, in this case, the authors analyze the effects of prolonged exposure to immigrant groups on the generosity, attitudes and behaviors of natives, demonstrating that the presence of such groups induces more positive behaviors and attitudes towards the latter .

Those familiar with the vast psychological literature on the topic will look at this result as the discovery of hot water. The phenomenon of adverse reaction (backlash) to the presence of "non-natives" has attracted the attention of social psychologists since the 1950s, when Allport (1954) advanced the hypothesis that the effects of contact between groups depended on the nature of the interaction. More recent research has confirmed this hypothesis.

However, the authors' contribution is certainly relevant, if only for the fact that, finally, (also) economists are starting to explain socio-economic behaviors, such as donation, trust, attitudes towards immigrants and preferences for redistribution, placing emphasis on the nature of the relationship that the individual develops, over time, with those who are perceived as members of another group.

Researchers measure the presence of immigrant groups in the United States using the change in the number of residents of a county with a specific foreign origin. Additionally, they assess natives' generosity to specific foreign countries using individual data from two large charitable organizations that channel donations to numerous disaster-stricken countries in South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The results show that the long-term presence of immigrant groups increases the generosity of natives towards these groups, reduces prejudice and increases personal contact and direct knowledge. This suggests that daily exposure to people of foreign descent has a positive impact on the formation of natives' opinions and behaviors. These positive effects seem quite significant. For example, the absence of a Haitian diaspora in the United States would have resulted in a 51.3% decrease in donations from white Americans to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

In addition to these findings, the authors analyze in detail the mechanisms driving these changes through a large representative survey. The latter focuses on a specific group, the Arab Muslims, and aims to delve into the dynamics through which prolonged exposure to this group influences the attitudes and behaviors of natives. Again, the results demonstrate that greater exposure to residents of Arab-Muslim descent significantly increases donations to Arab countries.

The authors identified two possible channels: first, a greater Arab-Muslim presence increases direct interaction between natives and this group, favoring the creation of personal ties, such as friendships, neighborhood or work relationships; second, this exposure increases knowledge of Arab Muslims, reducing negative stereotypes and prejudices towards Islam.

In conclusion, this research is only the latest in a long series of scientific contributions that demonstrate how the presence of immigrant groups can have a positive impact on intercultural relations, improving generosity, reducing prejudice and increasing direct knowledge between natives and immigrants. . An important contribution to understanding how diversity can enrich societies, promoting harmonious coexistence based on mutual understanding.

Pierluigi Conzo

NP Dicembre 2023

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