Immigration, Social Cohesion, and the Welfare State Studies on Ethnic Diversity in Germany and Sweden

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Sociology, Stockholm University

Abstract: Can social cohesion and solidarity persist in the face of large-scale migration? One particularly contentious hypothesis states that native majorities will be unwilling to support the provision of government-funded welfare to those whom they do not consider to be part of their own sociocultural ingroup, especially when sociocultural or ethnic otherness and socioeconomic disadvantage overlap. Consequently, majorities’ willingness to accept disadvantaged immigrant groups as legitimate and trusted members of the welfare community is central to the social cohesion of societies diversifying through migration.The dissertation consists of a comprehensive summary, followed by four original studies addressing the interplay between migration-induced diversity and social cohesion through the lens of majority attitudes and the micro and macro contexts within which they are embedded. The studies focus on Sweden and Germany, two European societies that host strong welfare states and large immigrant populations. Together, they seek to answer two central questions:First, does social distance between native-born citizens and immigrants lead the former to withdraw support from all redistributive policies, or are some types of welfare more affected than others? Second, how does the migration-induced diversification of societies come to matter for majority attitudes toward the welfare state and, as they are closely related, for majority attitudes toward the trustworthiness of others?Looking at the case of Germany, Study 1 shows that the conflict between diversity and welfare solidarity is not expressed in a general majority opposition to welfare, but rather in an opposition to government assistance benefiting immigrants – a phenomenon sometimes referred to as welfare chauvinism.Study 2 turns to the case of Sweden and investigates three pathways into welfare chauvinism: via the first-hand experience of immigrant unemployment and putative welfare receipt in the neighborhood context; via exposure to immigrant competition at the workplace; and via negative prejudice against immigrants. We find that the direct observation of immigrant unemployment in the neighborhood increases natives’ preference for spending on other Swedes over spending on immigrants, while competition with immigrants at the workplace does not.Using the same Swedish data, Study 3 hypothesizes that ethnically diverse workplaces imply trust-fostering inter-group contact. Yet, like in Study 2, we find a negative relationship between majority Swedes’ exposure to certain immigrant groups in the neighborhood and their trust in neighbors, while diverse workplaces neither seem to increase trust nor to affect the negative neighborhood-level association.Both Studies 2 and 3 show that negative attitudes toward immigrants increase welfare chauvinism and lower trust, even disregarding majority Swedes’ actual experience of immigrant presence or unemployment. Study 4 thus turns to a social force outside the realm of first-hand experience and explores German online news media debates on the welfare deservingness of various sociodemographic groups – among them, immigrants (as refugees in particular). However, rather than observing the persistent and particular stigmatization of immigrants as undeserving recipients or untrustworthy abusers of welfare, we find much more nuanced descriptions in our vast corpus of news stories.