Ethnic diversity and attitudes towards refugees

Liza G. Steele, Lamis Abdelaaty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The recent surge in refugee arrivals to Europe has underscored the importance of identity concerns, with politicians and ordinary citizens alike expressing fear that admitting foreigners may result in unacceptable demographic and cultural change. However, scholars have not systematically examined the impact of ethnic diversity on attitudes towards refugees. Group threat theory and the contact hypothesis offer competing predictions: The former would expect diversity to be associated with opposition to refugees, while the latter would expect diversity to generate support for them. We explore individual-level attitudes in nineteen countries using the 2014 wave of the European Social Survey, combined with country-level data from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, the Manifesto Project Dataset, and five different databases of ethnic diversity measures. Crucially, we employ multiple approaches to measuring diversity, including various measures of ethnic fractionalisation, linguistic heterogeneity, polarisation, and other relevant constructs. We find that greater ethnic diversity is associated with decreased support for refugees, but this relationship is not consistent across all measures of diversity. Since the relationship between ethnic diversity and support for refugees is highly dependent on the measure of diversity used, scholars should be wary of drawing strong conclusions about the effects of ethnic diversity without comparing different measures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1833-1856
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number11
StatePublished - Aug 18 2019


  • Refugees
  • ethnic diversity
  • public opinion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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