Parochialism, Social Norms, and Discrimination against Immigrant Minorities in Europe

Participating Members: Danny Choi (Penn), Mathias Poertner (UC Berkeley), and Nicholas Sambanis (Penn)

As cross-border immigration increases due to economic globalization, wars, and climate change, there is more interaction between host and immigrant populations and more potential for inter-group conflict due to ethnic and religious differences. To reduce inter-group conflict, policymakers have emphasized the need to better integrate immigrants in host societies, so as to forge a common set of rules and norms concerning the boundaries of appropriate behavior. However, there is a lack of empirical evidence to support the hypothesis that a shared understanding of social norms can reduce prejudice and discrimination. We provide real-word experimental evidence from Germany that religious differences cause bias and discrimination in everyday interactions between host and immigrant groups. We do not find evidence of deep-seated bias due to phenotypical ethnic differences. We also show that cultural integration signaled through immigrants’ enforcement of local norms reduces, but does not eliminate, bias. An implication of our findings is that, as long as public debates and policies heighten the importance of ethno-religious markers, cultural integration will not be able to eliminate inter-group conflict.

The Figure below presents our key findings on the effect of norm-adherence and good citizenship on discriminatory behavior by natives toward Muslim immigrants. We measure discrimination by the difference in average levels of assistance offered to strangers during everyday interactions. Norm enforcement consists of sanctioning strangers who violate the norm against littering in public spaces. We see that assistance levels by natives are lower for Muslim immigrants (column 4), but they go up if they enforce this norm that is deeply valued by the native community. Yet we also see that differences in assistance rates persist when we compare native norm enforcers (column 1) to immigrant norm enforcers (column 4).

This paper is published at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (July 29, 2019). Click here for a full version.  Click here for supplementary information.