Photo of a protester holding a sign that says, “we are all immigrants.” Photo by Alisdare Hickson, Flickr CC

Politicians, pundits, and critics in Germany, England, and the Netherlands have recently advocated for harsher restrictions on migrants’ access to social assistance in their countries. This has led scholars to evaluate whether increased immigration is eroding historically strong support for welfare in Europe.

Earlier in the decade, the answer seemed clear. Drawing on basic public opinion data from various European countries, scholars found that rising immigration levels preceded a spike in favorability for restrictive welfare laws. More recent and sophisticated analyses, however, suggest that a rise in restrictive welfare attitudes is not directly connected to increasing immigration. Rather, this relationship appears to be better explained by a combination of factors such as national economic conditions, political ideology, individuals’ self-interest, and prejudice towards racial and ethnic minorities.

This work shows that social attitudes about welfare are complex and linked to a variety of factors. Though critics of immigration in Europe have been vocal, it is unclear exactly whether and how attitudes about immigration and migrants relate to beliefs about welfare.