Migrants’ Welfare State Attitudes

This research proposal is among the first to focus on migrants’ attitudes towards the welfare state. In Europe, the field of research on welfare state attitudes has ignored the perspective of migrants almost completely. Due to migrants’ socialization in different welfare regimes, and their often disadvantaged socio-economic positions, the migrant perspective provides a unique opportunity to test the central theories in the field on the role of self-interest, group-loyalty and of socialization in different welfare regimes. We aim to study migrants’ welfare state attitudes, and to explain differences across migrant groups, as well as differences compared to the overall public opinion in the country of origin and the host country. With this innovative focus we answer questions that cut across the call’s themes of “People and the welfare state”, “Inequalities and diversity” and “Future politics”. We rely on existing cross-national datasets such as the ISSP. However, we also propose a harmonized and unique data collection among migrants in the destination countries Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. We composed a team with expertise on data collection among migrants, on public opinion research, and expertise on welfare state attitudes in particular. The project offers five young researchers (3 postdocs and 2 PhDs) the opportunity to continue or start their academic career including the opportunity to spend some time in another country involved in the project. The investment in this project will result in two dissertations, five research articles by each of the postdocs and a book compiled by the seniors involved. The unique focus on migrants provides both the academic community and policy makers with insights on new groups in society.

Project Summary

The MIFARE project (Migrants’ Welfare State Attitudes) provides insights on migrants’ attitudes to welfare state provisions and contributions, their knowledge of the use of services and benefits and their actual usage. Since migrants have lived within different welfare state regimes, the project shows to what extent migrants resemble the population from the country of origin or from the country of destination. The MIFARE project has resulted in a survey among 10 migrant groups in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands and among natives from the respective countries. It has resulted in a dataset among both Western and non-Western migrant groups and among both EU and non-EU migrant groups. The data have created the opportunity to test differences between migrant groups in their welfare state attitudes, based on personal self-interest, group loyalty and welfare state socialization.

Results from the project show that migrants have limited knowledge on when, after migration, their migrant group has access to social benefits. Although migrants have a better knowledge about access to health care (right after registration) and unemployment benefits (once migrants have formally worked in the residence country), they have hardly knowledge about entitlements to state pensions or social assistance schemes. This means that migrants could be much better informed about their social rights. Migrants vary strongly in the extent to which they perceive immediate access to welfare after immigration, but among none of the immigrant groups, more than a third perceives immediate access to all welfare domains. Instead, among immigrants groups from the US and Russia, more restricted access to welfare is perceived than factually is.

We know from earlier research that citizens with more self-interest support government spending on welfare benefits more so than those without self-interest. Moreover, ideological differences between people explain to a large extent who is in favour of more spending on social benefits. This also holds among the immigrant groups. Origin country does however remain to play a large role in understanding welfare state attitudes. Here we find that migrants from Japan and China prefer less government spending than natives. On the other hand, Spanish and Turkish migrants do prefer more spending. On some domains all migrant groups prefer less spending than natives do, e.g. in the domain of elderly care. We do find that actual arrangements, as compared to country of origin arrangements, also affect people’s attitudes on government spending. For example, we find large differences on attitudes to child care spending preferences between Dutch natives and migrants. Migrants, in particular those in higher status groups, prefer more government spending on child care in the Netherlands than Dutch native do. The MIFARE study challenges the idea that all immigrants are supportive of extended welfare state arrangements.