New York, NY — Immigration is emerging as a major policy concern as the United States prepares for the 2024 presidential election, according to a new Harvard CAPS-Harris poll. However, new data shows that views on immigration may be shaped by more than just political party affiliation. New research from Columbia Business School Professor Stephan Meier, the James P. Gorman Professor of Business, explores how financial upbringings can significantly impact beliefs about immigration and government reallocation.

Professor Meier's research, Does Growing Up in Economic Hard Times Increase Compassion? The Case of Attitudes Towards Immigration, reveals that people who experience a recession during their formative years (ages 18-25) are more likely to have anti-immigration attitudes, and these attitudes persist well into old age. Meier and co-authors, Erasmus University Rotterdam Professor Robert Dur and King’s College London Professor Maria Cotofan, found this impact to be exclusive to the people in one’s own country, as the possible strain on resources leads to decreased support for immigration and increased empathy within the group. Researchers examined over 13,000 respondents' answers from the General Social Survey between 1994 and 2016, focusing on Americans' perspectives on immigration. The team then matched respondents’ answers with data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis – which captures variation in income-per-capita across regions and over time since the 1920s – to create a measure of macroeconomic conditions during one's impressionable years. Researchers also examined global views on immigration, comparing survey responses on immigration from the World Value Survey with country-specific economic data from the Maddison database compiled by Angus Maddison. The research also reveals that individuals growing up in favorable economic conditions are more supportive of relaxed immigration policies, as their experience growing up in economic prosperity correlates with more compassionate policy views. 

Professor Meier’s research splits with previous literature’s assertion that experiencing economic hardship would make people more supportive of immigration. On the contrary, economic hardship appears to breed hostility toward immigration because an influx of people and the potential strain on government resources could reduce an individual’s own income. As the United States confronts the future challenge of immigration, American viewpoints on the issue appear to be closely tied to recessions of the past.

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About the Researcher

Stephan Meier

Stephan Meier

James P. Gorman Professor of Business; Chair of Management Division
Management Division