SWB Virtual Talk: How Local Hostility Shapes the Integration of Refugees: Evidence From Germany

Scholars without Borders Seminar
Event Format

Current projections indicate that climate change may force more than 1 billion people to relocate within the next 30 years (United Nations, 2020). Concurrently, the number of individuals fleeing their home countries due to international and domestic conflicts has skyrocketed. As a result, the assimilation of refugees has become one of the most pressing issues of our times. Many countries have responded to this challenge by implementing integration policies, such as regulations on the dress codes of Muslim women, that often require migrants to forsake their cultural practices. Several studies have documented that these top-down policy interventions can increase or reduce the assimilation of refugees, depending on the circumstances. However, less attention has been paid to the influence of local populations' attitudes on refugee assimilation. Yet, natives' attitudes and behavior may be at least as important as government top-down policies to shape the integration of immigrants and refugees. 

Professor Marco Tabellini will present the results of a study on the effects of local threat on the assimilation of refugees arrived in Germany from 2013 to 2016. Using representative survey data and administrative records, the authors trace the evolution of cultural preferences and economic outcomes of refugees. The study finds that, on average, refugees converge both culturally and economically. However, although individuals assigned to more hostile regions converge to German culture more rapidly, they do not find a job more quickly and experience slower wage growth there. During the presentation, Prof. Tabellini will explain that, by heightening threat perceptions, local hostility prompts refugees to adopt German culture more quickly, but that higher discrimination in higher-threat regions slows down refugees’ economic integration.  

Findings in this study question the effectiveness of pressure and hostility as tools to promote integration. While minorities may exert more effort to learn and adopt local values, they may not successfully assimilate in host societies if locals take actions that hinder inter-group interactions. As the number of forcibly displaced individuals is projected to rise exponentially in the years to come, several important questions remain: Does cultural convergence generated by threat in the short run persist in the long run? Or does backlash among minorities arise? Can inter-group interactions induce locals to accept more diversity and reduce pressure exerted on migrants and refugees to assimilate? 


The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact us at 617-495-4037 or daviscenter@fas.harvard.edu in advance of your participation or visit. Requests for Sign Language interpreters and/or CART providers should be made at least two weeks in advance if possible. Please note that the Davis Center will make every effort to secure services but that services are subject to availability.