New study: Life satisfaction influences concerns about immigration

16 Oct 2023

People who are satisfied with their lives are less concerned about immigration than dissatisfied people. An LMU study shows that, independently of objective criteria, subjective dissatisfaction is sufficient for concerns about immigration to increase.

Blue sign for passport control at the German border

Attitudes towards immigration change, also depending on subjective life satisfaction, the LMU study shows. | © IMAGO / Manngold

How satisfied are you with your income, or your housing situation, or your life overall? Answers to these questions allow inferences to be drawn about your attitude toward immigration. “People who are generally satisfied with their lives tend to be less concerned about immigration. However, this is not necessarily attributable to objective factors. As soon as a person becomes unhappier or happier, it affects how they think about immigration, independently of whether their situation objectively changes,” says Fabian Kratz from the Chair of Quantitative Research on Inequality and Families at LMU.

Drawing on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), the sociologist has studied the influence of objective and subjective well-being on attitudes to immigration, looking at the same people over a period of 20 years. “Using an innovative statistical approach, we have shown for the first time how changes in satisfaction with people’s own lives affects their attitudes toward immigration,” says Kratz.

In the SOEP data, life satisfaction is measured on an 11-point scale. The LMU study reveals that deviations of just one point are enough to affect attitudes toward immigration.

Subjective perception determines life satisfaction

“There’s a debate in the social sciences about whether people’s attitudes are formed in childhood and then remain largely constant, or whether they are variable in later life. Our study provides evidence that attitudes can change across lifetimes,” says Fabian Kratz. The sociologist conjectures that a scapegoat mechanism kicks in as soon as people’s satisfaction with their own lives falls, prompting concerns about immigration to increase. Conversely, people’s concerns abate once their life satisfaction increases again.

This change in attitude was attested for all groups of people studied in the SOEP data, which comprises over 60,000 respondents aged between 17 and 65, with one exception: Individuals with higher levels of education do not change their views on immigration when their life satisfaction decreases. “The happier people with higher education become, the fewer concerns they have. However, their concerns do not increase when their life satisfaction falls. Clearly, high levels of educational attainment can prevent people from blaming others for their own dissatisfaction,” concludes Kratz. His results show that when it comes to attitudes toward immigration, how well citizens are actually doing is less important than how they subjectively perceive their situation. “As such, assuaging the subjective dissatisfaction of citizens could be an effective way of dealing with concerns about immigration.”


Fabian Kratz: A liberalizing effect of happiness? The impact of improvements and deteriorations in different dimensions of subjective well-being on concerns about immigration. In: European Sociological Review 2023

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