Covert discrimination is unaffected by immigrants' socioeconomic status
Discrimination against immigrants and ethnic minorities remains widespread across Western societies. Such discrimination is especially pernicious as it often takes "subtle'' or covert forms, but nonetheless constitutes a major impediment to immigrants' social and cultural integration. Against this backdrop, several prominent lines of research have suggested that improvements in immigrants’ socioeconomic status may contribute to reduced prejudice and discrimination. However, empirical tests of this proposition have been limited by a reliance upon attitudinal and self-reported measures which do not adequately account for differences in individuals' sensitivity or potential exposure to discrimination. To address these issues, we present findings from a randomized field experiment examining subtle interactions involving high- and low-status immigrants in Milan, Italy. Our experiment captures natives' physical avoidance of immigrants as an unobtrusive measure of covert discrimination. Contrary to the hypothesis that discrimination decreases with immigrants' socioeconomic status, we find that natives are equally averse to contact with high- and low-status immigrants. Further exploratory analysis reveals this effect to be driven by native women avoiding immigrant men. We link these results to an understanding of contemporary discrimination rooted in theories of intergroup anxiety. We further discuss the implications of these findings for improving interethnic relations in multicultural societies.