Project Project
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Ethnic Diversity and Attitudes towards Immigrants: Evidence for Threat or Contact Effects?

Research Fields
Migration, Integration, and Intercultural Conflicts
Project Management
Ulrich Wagner (Marburg University, Germany), Peer Scheepers (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands)

Theoretical background and objectives

This project comprises two studies that use two different data sets to examine the influence of ethnic diversity on interethnic contacts and attitudes towards immigrants by drawing on insights from group threat and inter-group contact theory. The project advances over earlier research by a) opening the black box of the mediating mechanisms via which ethnic diversity – operationalised as the population share of immigrants – affects citizens' immigration policy preferences and interethnic contacts as well as b) testing competing propositions derived from contact and group threat theory at different individual and contextual levels of analysis. In the first study, we examine which role the size of the immigrant population plays in explaining immigrant derogation within and between European regions and consider the following question: does a larger size of immigrant population increase perceived group threat and thereby lead to greater immigrant derogation? Or does it increase intergroup contact and thereby ameliorate immigrant derogation? In the second study we derive competing hypotheses on the role the size of the immigrant population plays for explaining the anti-immigrant attitudes of Dutch citizens.

Research design and methodology

The first study uses regionalised European Social Survey 2002 and official data, which were analysed by means of multilevel structural equation modelling. The second study uses structural equation modelling with robust standard errors on nationally representative Dutch survey data enriched with official municipality-level statistics.


Both studies converge in demonstrating that ethnic diversity exerts dual effects in promoting interethnic contact, but also to produce prejudice. Perceived group threat is associated with immigrant derogation. However, intergroup contact reduces perceived group threat and thereby amends such derogation of immigrants. Between regions, our findings show that a larger size of the immigrant population increases both greater perceived group threat and intergroup contact. At the same time, the effects of perceived group threat and intergroup contact on immigrant derogation resemble those found within regions. In sum, these results lend evidence to the generalisability of both group threat and contact effects.

  • Schlüter, Elmar/Scheepers, Peer (2010): "The Relationship between Outgroup Size and Anti-Outgroup Attitudes. A Theoretical Synthesis and Empirical Test of Group Threat and Intergroup Contact Theory". In: Social Science Research, Vol. 39, No. 2, S. 285-295.
  • Schlüter, Elmar/Wagner, Ulrich (2008): "Regional Differences Matter. Examining the Dual Influence of the Regional Size of the Immigrant Population on Derogation of Immigrants in Europe". In: International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Vol. 49, No. 2-3, S. 153-173.