Comparing European attitudes to immigration

“If we make the right decisions, we can advance even further and faster…with a British job on offer for every British worker.” Gordon Brown, September 2007.

People in Britain tend to have a meritocratic attitude to immigration, while across the continent, Eastern and Southern European countries have the least tolerant attitudes, according to an analysis of over 36,000 Europeans by Eva Green at Utrecht University.

Green identified three groups: ‘lenient gatekeepers’, who are happy for anyone to immigrate; ‘individualist gatekeepers’ who think people should be rejected because of characteristics like their skills or beliefs, which it is possible for them to change; and ‘strict gatekeepers’ who believe people should be rejected on the basis of immutable characteristics like their skin colour, as well as their skills and beliefs.

On an individual level, ‘strict gatekeepers’ tended to be less educated, more financially vulnerable and more prejudiced, whereas ‘lenient gatekeepers’ tended to be younger and had more immigrant friends.

Comparing between countries, Western European nations like Britain and France tended to have more intermediately tolerant ‘individualist gatekeepers’, which Green said was consistent with their long histories of importing labour as well as their colonial pasts. Northern European nations like Norway and Sweden had the most lenient attitudes to immigration, while the Eastern and Southern countries of Europe had the strictest attitudes.

Green said there were a number of likely reasons why people in Southern and European countries are the least tolerant of immigration, including the revival of nationalism in Eastern Europe in the post Cold War era, the fact many such countries were part of the former USSR, and because of a fear of becoming an immigration ‘buffer zone’ on behalf of the European Union, given their location on the edge of the continent.

“The patterns of gatekeeping attitudes reflected in this paper reflect crucial aspects of public opinion that need to be addressed in current political debates on immigration in Europe,” Green concluded.

Green, E.G.T. (2007). Guarding the gates of Europe: A typological analysis of immigration attitudes across 21 countries. International Journal of Psychology, 42, 365-379.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.