Schrödinger’s Immigrant

Wanted Schrödinger's CatCurrently the notion of Schrödinger’s immigrant is going around the internet (again). Referring to Schrödinger’s cat, a Schrödinger immigrant is one lazing around on (undeserved) social benefits, while simultaneously stealing your job. So far, so funny: It’s a good laugh at the UKIP and other parties politicizing against immigration.

The joke — Schrödinger’s immigrant — only works, however, because of outgroup homogeneity: the tendency to regard out-groups as homogeneous (while drawing fine distinction within the in-group). It only works, because it refers to a single immigrant, collapsing all immigrants into a single type. Obviously with two or more immigrants the ‘paradox’ is readily resolved. Put differently, the joke is only funny if we fall into the same trap as those we are laughing at.

With such simplified thinking, however, we miss the opportunity to use proper evidence to counter the overblown fears some members of society seem to have, but also the opportunity to take these fears seriously, and acknowledging that there are different means of competing with immigrants so that some individuals may be affected by the arrival of immigrants more than others.

Image credit: Modified from CC-by-sa by Joe Szilagyi

Labour Competition = Negative Attitudes towards Foreigners

A basic premise in the work on attitudes towards foreigners/immigrants is that negative attitudes are a reflection of unwanted labour force competition. Often this is simplified to individuals with lower levels of education showing negative attitudes towards foreigners/immigrants. Things aren’t that simple, though: a plumber will not directly compete with a bricklayer.

Marco Pecoraro and I have had a closer look and examined the occupational concentration of foreigners: the share of foreigners in a particular occupation. This way we give full consideration to the segmented nature of the labour market, and capture the share of foreigners/immigrants relevant for labour force competition.

There is a negative association between the share of foreigners in one’s occupation and positive attitudes to equal opportunities for foreigners. At the same time, there is a positive association between the share of recently arrived foreigners and positives attitudes to equal opportunities. This suggests that workers are at the same time wary of competition with foreigners and welcome their contribution to overcome labour shortages. Labour force competition does appear to affect attitudes, but in a nuanced way.