Dr Annalisa Marini

Northern European migrants more willing to integrate than newcomers from Asia and Southern Europe

Immigrants from Northern Europe are more willing to integrate when they make their home in the USA than other newcomers from Asia or Southern Europe, new research shows.

Surveys show people from countries like Sweden, Germany or the Netherlands mix more when they move and they are more willing to trust others.

The research shows the way immigrants behave in their new community is heavily dependent on how much they already trust others. Immigrants who have lived in places where people do not trust each other experience more difficulty mixing with others in the USA than immigrants that were used to higher levels of trust in their country of origin.

Dr Annalisa Marini, from the University of Exeter Business School, used data from the General Social Survey in the USA and the World Value Survey, carried out around the world – to analyse what determines the trust shown by immigrants from different parts of the world towards others when they settle in the United States. She analysed data from the questions about trust to carry out her analysis, using data from the years between 1989 until 2014, and comparing results for ethnicity.

Dr Marini found if the average trust and trustworthiness in their own country was low, because of political or socio-cultural reasons, immigrants often continued to have the same attitudes towards others when they moved to the USA. This was particularly true for people from Southern Europe, Asia or Africa. People originally from Southern Europe conform more to the average level of trust of other immigrants. People originally from Asia sometimes become sceptical about what they see as high levels of trust between people in their new home in the USA, and may end up trusting other people less when they move there. This can lead to cultural segregation and barriers and suggests that trust is difficult to build.

Other immigrants adjust their behaviour to act with the same levels of trust as the communities in their new country, and mixed well. These communities are more likely to be originally from Eastern and Northern Europe - countries such as Poland, UK, Germany, Sweden, and Belgium – and showed higher trust in others and integrated well when they moved to the US.

The study did show that many immigrants did start to be influenced by their new communities and act in a similar way to their neighbours.

Dr Marini said: “For different communities to mix people have to trust each other. Trust creates society’s social structures and a lack of trust may facilitate segregation. This has an impact on their socio-economic prospects and it may contribute to the creation of phenomena such as social and poverty traps.”

“If you rely on a small, and segregated, network of people you may get a different, biased view of the world, and then that may also decrease the level of trust you have in others, so it can be a viscous cycle.”

The findings show practical measures could help immigrants trust others and promote integration and cultural assimilation. This could be involving immigrants in social and civic activities, ensuring more stay on in education for longer or making sure immigrants whose native language is a foreign language can take language courses so they can communicate in the language of their new nation.

Date: 24 July 2017

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