Could ethnic diversity undermine the welfare state?
Exploring the relationship between ethnic diversity and welfare state solidarity
Globalization and Social Risks
This literature review examines the relationship between ethnic diversity and welfare state solidarity. Seven articles relating to the topics of ethnic diversity and welfare solidarity were used to provide some insight into the question if ethnic diversity could weaken welfare state solidarity among people in welfare states. The results from this literature do not provide a straightforward answer. There seems to be some weak support indicating that there is a slight negative effect of ethnic diversity on welfare state solidarity, however there is some evidence of both positive and mixed results as well. In addition to this, when looking at these studies closely, it can be concluded that a variety of factors seem to be influential when it comes to the concepts of both welfare solidarity, ethnic diversity, and the relationship between the two.
Keywords: welfare state, solidarity, ethnic diversity, immigration
In relatively recent events, there has been an increasing number of people migrating to Western European states. Regardless of reasons for the increased number of incoming people – economic, political, and otherwise – the topic of having to find solutions to provide for a greater amount and variety of needs, along with other issues on topics of migration, has no doubt generated lots of media attention and political discussion. The arrival of new people with different backgrounds, cultures, religions, languages, and nationalities into these societies means that there is greater ethnic diversity once these people become a part of them.
One concern within this context of immigration and ethnic diversity is whether the states will still be able to sustain adequate welfare provision. To be able to address this, different aspects of what makes welfare states function as they do need to be examined, considering that there are many areas that welfare encompasses, such as providing healthcare, security, housing, and alike; meaning that all the gears of such a system can be hard to examine as one unit.
Mau and Burkhardt (2009) explain the welfare state to be ‘a social arrangement for coping with collective risks and reducing social inequality.’ An important component of a welfare system being able to be established and provide services adequately is cooperation and trust among those who are part of it, seeing as it concerns providing towards ensuring the well-being of everyone who participates in this social arrangement. Therefore, literature on ethnic diversity and solidarity within the welfare state will be looked at to answer the question of whether greater ethnic diversity could weaken solidarity among people in welfare states, and thus threaten the welfare states’ proper functioning, or existence.
First, the different questions that literature on this topic addresses, and how it does that, will be looked at and discussed. After this, the results and their possible implications will follow.
Mau and Burkhardt (2009) investigate if there is an association between migration and commitment to welfare state solidarity in 17 European countries. Indicators to assess attitudes towards welfare redistribution and inclusion of foreigners are used; further, utilizing multiple measures of migration allows for covering various aspects of ethnic diversity as well. They use items from the European Social Survey (ESS) to look at attitudes towards income redistribution responsibilities of the welfare state, as well as acceptance and inclusion of immigrants. They also include both individual-level variables, such as education, employment status, and political affiliation; and macro-level variables, such as measures of ethnic diversity (ethnic fractionalization, proportion of foreign population, foreign-born population, non-Western foreign born population, migration inflow), strength of left-wing parties in the government, degree of inequality in a country (Gini coefficient, unemployment rate), and differently classified welfare regimes.
A strength of this study is that it manages to incorporate a range of variables that relate well to the general topic of ethnic diversity and welfare, and their connection; this is useful in both inspecting the variables more closely, and potentially spotting the dynamics of what influences the issues at hand more precisely, as these variables serve to characterize a concept in greater detail. Another characteristic of the study is that it looks at aspects of the issues on an individual and macro-level, meaning that it reflects the complexities of studying such topics on both a bigger and smaller scale, providing an adequate view at the matter through its data.
Similarly, Senik, Stichnoth and Van der Straeten (2009) look at the link between immigration and support for the welfare state in 22 European states; more precisely, they investigate how the perceived presence of immigrants is related to welfare state support by the natives, and how this varies with attitudes towards immigrants across different countries. They utilize the ESS as well for their data. Additionally, they include two variables: perception of immigrants by natives, as well as their view of immigrants’ economic role and contributions to the welfare state. It is expected that natives who believe that immigrants who take advantage of the welfare state will have different attitudes towards immigrants in the population.
Compared to Mau and Burkhardt (2009), Senik et al. (2009) use a narrower amount of variables when it comes to breaking down the components of immigration and welfare support, however include a larger amount of countries in their analysis, providing a greater opportunity to examine how differences in data between countries could be important. Importantly, they distinguish between attitudes towards immigrants, attitudes towards the welfare state, and perceived presence of immigrants, which helps examine their role and influence of each variable in the process.
Van Oorschot (2008) examines informal solidarity, as people’s expressed concern with living conditions of groups, in terms of rank order between elderly people, disabled and sick people, unemployed people, and immigrants. Several questions are addressed: what the typical rank order is, and what differences there are between countries and social categories; the degree to which solidarity towards immigrants differs from solidarity towards other groups; if European welfare states differ in their national levels of informal solidarity towards immigrants, and if they do, what characteristics are important for such differences. It is hypothesized that immigrants will be last in the rank ordering (elderly, sick and disabled, unemployed, immigrants), and that this pattern will be the same in all countries. To evaluate this claim, data from the European Values Study (EVS) from 18 European countries is used to measure people’s informal solidarity towards each group. Further, welfare regime type, welfare effort (total social spending as percentage of GDP), cultural diversity (indexes of ethnicity, language, and religious fractionalization; immigration rates; number of foreign born citizens as a percentage of all citizens of a country), aspects of opinion regarding immigrants, trust, left-wing influence, political activity, country’s level of wealth, and poverty rates are measured.
This article delves more into factors influencing solidarity on a more individual level, and seeing effects of multiple variables on the measurements, which could provide insights into possible mechanisms in the formulation of attitudes of welfare solidarity and its relation to particular groups that are part of the welfare state.
Unlike the European-focused articles so far, Johnston, Banting, Kymlicka, and Soroka (2010), look at the situation in Canada. Their paper addresses two statements. First, that national identity lessens opposition to the welfare state and redistribution among high-income Canadians; and second, that national identity lessens any corrosive effects that ethnic diversity, coming from new patterns of immigration, has on support for redistribution. It uses data from the Equality, Security and Community survey, in order to examine indicators for support of the welfare state (public pensions, access to health care, redistribution to the poor and economically vulnerable), national identity (feelings of belonging to Canadian community, pride in being Canadian, importance of being Canadian), trust in persons and government, and economic position. Attitudes toward immigrants and immigration is also measured.
The importance of this study for this paper lies in two characteristics. It introduces yet another aspect of looking at welfare state solidarity and ethnic diversity through its focus on national identity in a context where being accepting of, and open to multiculturalism is seen to be an important part of being Canadian, while national identity in general tends to be viewed as contributing to being less accepting of a diverse community, as the concept itself is about distinguishing one group from another. This allows for an interesting perspective on what contributes towards welfare solidarity with ethnic minorities. Secondly, it provides another context when it comes to the countries being studied, nation-wise. This is important when it comes to looking at patterns under different circumstances and different parts of the world, as the key factors of the functioning of the matter could be distinguished across different societies when being compared.
Like Johnston et al. (2010), Holm and Geys (2018) pay attention to identity in terms of regions and nationalities, and its role in support for redistribution in Germany and Belgium. They predict that the extended ingroup of federal identifiers can shift redistributive support depending on the aggregate wealth of a region. With this they hypothesize that support for redistributive policies is decreasing in federal identification for individuals in regions poorer than the federal average, and vice versa; as well as, in poor regions, the (negative) effect of federal identification on redistributive support becomes more strongly negative as individual income decreases, and vice versa. Data for Germany is obtained through the German General Social Survey, while data for Belgium is collected through a survey among municipal-level politicians. Important for the topic of research, both surveys contain data on both jurisdictional identification and redistribution preferences, as well as other aspects that are useful as control variables.
As mentioned, like Johnston et al. (2010), a national identity is taken into account when looking at solidarity in a welfare state, and it provides two different European contexts, namely those of Germany and Belgium. What distinguishes this study is the different levels of identity being examined; regional identity is paid attention to, and the wealth of each region is taken as an important predictor of solidarity. It does not address ethnic diversity specifically, however examining what influences support for redistribution in greater detail is important for the overall topic of welfare solidarity and ethnic diversity, seeing as it gives a more nuanced view of an aspect of welfare compared to the rest of the literature in this paper.
Dahlberg, Edmark, and Lundqvist (2012) look for a causal link between ethnic diversity preferences for redistribution of inhabitants. They use the setup of a refugee placement program throughout different areas in Sweden, and data from panel surveys with information on political preferences and voting habits, as well as on some background characteristics.
What is a strength of this study is the amount of detail that can be included, as some local characteristics concerning housing, unemployment, refugee placement, potential relocations, and alike, are looked into as potential influencers of the data.
Lastly, Stichnoth and Van der Straeten (2013) review literature on the topic of effects of ethnic diversity on public spending and individual support for the welfare state, and provide an overview of several issues relevant in looking at the issue of ethnic diversity and welfare state solidarity. First, ethnic diversity and public spending is examined as a topic, both at a cross-country, and subnational level. Next, individual attitudes and behavior are looked at in two broad categories: observational studies and experiments. Observational studies are further categorized into two topics: social capital, where literature on trust, as an important component, is looked at in connection to welfare; attitudes towards the welfare state, in which studies from different countries on attitudes are examined.
Relevant literature on the topics encompassing welfare state solidarity and ethnic diversity is looked at, providing a view of the bigger picture through piecing together many aspects that make up the issue in terms of attitudes towards ethnic diversity and immigration, welfare solidarity, and welfare spending. This contributes greatly to providing a clearer perspective of how the matter is constructed, since things can be looked at from an individual level up to an international level.
Results and discussion
Looking through the literature and the different approaches in it, possible answers to the question of whether greater ethnic diversity contributes to weakening of welfare state solidarity could be established based on the results provided.
When it comes to ethnic diversity, Mau and Burkhardt (2009) find a negative effect on support for welfare state redistribution and welfare solidarity towards foreigners; however, the relationship between migration and welfare state solidarity does not seem to be too strong. Having examined a variety of factors, as mentioned previously, allows this study to show that many variables have to be taken into account when looking at this issue, as their effects seem to point to an influence over the main concepts being measured, especially when it comes to ethnic diversity and immigrants. Senik et al. (2009) find results that seem to point in the same direction as Mau and Burkhardt (2009): there is a negative association between natives’ perceptions of immigration and support of the welfare state, but it is quite small. However, they observe that negative attitudes towards immigrants are associated with less welfare state support regardless of the perceived presence of immigrants. Continuing in this direction are the results of Dahlberg et al. (2012), as they find that an increasing share of immigrants has a negative effect on preferences for redistribution. However they could not establish a conclusion that this result is due to ethnic differences alone, as they had not ruled out that native Swedes could have perceived the refugees as poorer, meaning placing a bigger burden on the redistribution system.
Stichnoth and Van der Straeten (2013), having a broader scope of literature on the topic, while acknowledging that many studies do show some evidence of a negative association between ethnic diversity and welfare state support, state that the evidence is mixed due to many studies finding results of no relationship between ethnic diversity with neither attitudes nor public spending.
From a slightly different perspective than Mau and Burkhardt (2009), and Senik et al. (2009), looking at informal solidarity towards different groups, Van Oorschot (2008) finds that people show least solidarity towards immigrants, seeing as there seems to be a stable rank order of the different groups (elderly people, disabled and sick people, unemployed people, and immigrants) across all 18 countries. This finding shows another aspect of complexity of looking at welfare state solidarity. With there being variation in attitudes towards different groups that make up the welfare state, an attitude of support for a welfare state in general and support for a certain group’s welfare within that welfare state could likely be quite different things. Most importantly for this paper, the finding that immigrants are consistently ranked as last adds more to a negative view of ethnic diversity and welfare, as this group’s welfare is least likely to be supported out of the four general categories of those who are in greater need of welfare provision, and not supporting welfare for a certain group of a state could possibly indicate a lower welfare solidarity in general since not everyone would be included in its functioning.
Further, based on the results of Johnston et al. (2010), those who believe that immigrants do not want to fit in indicate lower support for redistribution within the welfare state, and viewing immigrants positively sustains support for redistribution. This study also shows that identity and national attitudes matter when it comes to holding these views, seeing as those identifying strongly as being Canadian embrace the country’s values of ethnic diversity, resulting in strong national identity not being a divisive factor.
To add another perspective, the results of Holm and Geys (2018) provide considerable evidence that federal identification is associated with decreasing support for redistribution in poorer regions among poorer individuals, and increased support in richer regions among richer individuals. The other studies in this paper do not take what seem to be important aspects covered in this one into account, despite the relevance these factors seem to have for welfare state support and group identification, with national and regional identification in terms of wealth influencing views on welfare distribution.
Seven different studies relevant to the topic of ethnic diversity and welfare state solidarity were covered in order to provide insight into the question of whether greater ethnic diversity could weaken solidarity among people in welfare states.
Three of the studies seem to indicate some weak negative effect of ethnic diversity on welfare state solidarity. One seems to indicate a positive effect, however it likely has to do with the cultural values of Canada; another adds more weight towards there being a small negative effect, though it is generally concluded that results on the topic seem to be quite mixed. Two studies add more depth to the topic and provide some view of the complexity of the task of accounting for many variables playing a role in attitudes both towards welfare and ethnic diversity.
Taking these results and conclusions into account, it seems that the question on the topic of ethnic diversity influencing welfare state solidarity cannot be answered neither clearly nor simply. This means that, when it comes to its practical implications of potentially threatening the adequate functioning of the welfare state through weakening solidarity, ethnic diversity does not seem to be a large factor of concern for the well-being of welfare.
Dahlberg, M., Edmark, K., ; Lundqvist, H. (2012). Ethnic diversity and preferences for redistribution. Journal of Political Economy, 120(1), 41-76. doi:10.1086/665800
Holm, J., ; Geys, B. (2018). Social identification and redistribution in heterogeneous federations: Evidence from Germany and Belgium. Comparative Political Studies, 51(9), 1177-1207. doi:10.1177/0010414017730081
Johnston, R., Banting, K., Kymlicka, W., ; Soroka, S. (2010). National identity and support for the welfare state. Canadian Journal of Political Science-Revue Canadienne De Science Politique, 43(2), 349-377. doi:10.1017/S0008423910000089
Mau, S., ; Burkhardt, C. (2009). Migration and welfare state solidarity in Western Europe. Journal of European Social Policy, 19(3), 213-229. doi:10.1177/0958928709104737
Senik, C., Stichnoth, H., ; Van der Straeten, K. (2009). Immigration and natives’ attitudes towards the welfare state: Evidence from the European Social Survey. Social Indicators Research, 91(3), 345-370. doi:10.1007/s11205-008-9342-4
Stichnoth, H., & Van der Straeten, K. (2013). Ethnic diversity, public spending, and individual support for the welfare state: A review of the empirical literature. Journal of Economic Surveys, 27(2), 364-389. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6419.2011.00711.x
Van Oorschot, W. (2008). Solidarity towards immigrants in European welfare states. International Journal of Social Welfare, 17(1), 3-14. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2397.2007.00487.x