skip to content

Did you know that our values shape what we think about immigration?

March 2020

ISS researchers Eldad Davidov and Daniel Seddig addressed this topic together with a team of international researchers. The term “values” is used in public and political discourses in many different contexts. Thus, it was first important to define what is meant by values. According to the Theory of Basic Human Values by Shalom H. Schwartz, values are defined as desirable goals that serve as guiding principles in the life of a person or a social group. These values are shared by people around the world. However, people differ in the priorities they give to these values. According to a broad segmentation four higher-order value types can be distinguished, with two value types being on opposite ends of one dimension: self-transcendence (universalism, benevolence) versus self-enhancement (achievement, power) and conservation (conformity, tradition, security) versus openness to change (self-direction, stimulation, hedonism).

The aim of the study was to examine and compare the relationship of the values conformity/tradition and universalism with perceptions of threat and attitudes toward immigration. Furthermore, it was examined whether the cultural context in which individuals function has an effect on the assessment of immigration. The data were taken from the European Social Survey, a comparative European study that asks for opinions on social and political issues. Data from more than 35,000 respondents (15 years and older) from 19 European countries from 2014 and 2015 were used for the study.

The results showed that people with more universalistic values express a lower perception of threat from immigration and more positive attitudes toward immigration. In contrast, people who tend to prioritize conformity and tradition show the opposite pattern. Perceived threat operates “in between” values and attitudes, i.e. values do not directly or inevitably lead to a particular attitude. Rather, values determine whether people see the cultural homogeneity of their country threatened by immigration or not. This perception then leads to attitudes toward immigration. This pattern could be found in all countries in a similar way.

The study also showed that the cultural context changes the peoples’ perception of threat and attitude toward immigration. Accordingly, individual values are of particular importance in autonomous societies. In such societies, people tend to follow their own motivations and worldviews. In less autonomous societies, where people are deeply embedded in the collective of society, individual values are less dominant.