22 April 2020

Why do well-integrated people of immigrant origin feel more discriminated?


Sociologist Merlin Schaeffer has received DKK 6 million from the German Research Council for a research project that is going to shed light on why better-integrated persons of immigrant origin tend to feel more discriminated.

Rejection Colourbox
Photo: Colourbox

One of the prominent puzzles in research on xenophobia and immigration is the re-appearing finding that better-integrated persons of immigrant origin tend to feel particularly discriminated and rejected despite otherwise having good relationships with the surrounding community.

But is this group indeed exposed to more discrimination, or does their acculturation allow them to better grasp the full extent of the discrimination they face? The latter is only one of several suggestions to explain the apparent paradox.

Now a new research project led by Associate Professor Merlin Schaeffer from the Department of Sociology at UCPH will shed light on the question thanks to a grant of DKK 6 million from the German Research Council. The overarching goal is to uncover and clarify the obscure interlinkage of actual and perceived discrimination.

“Discrimination is very harmful and is for those reasons unlawful. But even mere perceived discrimination is a menace to immigrants and their descendants. It may result in anxiety problems and thereby even limit career or educational aspirations. It is thus important to understand how perceived discrimination comes about,” says Merlin Schaeffer.

Methodically, the project will gather data about the perceived and actual discrimination by pairing people of immigrant origin with native majority members in a number of so-called ‘online trust games’. A trust game is a type of economic investment game, in which two people can make a profit if they can trust each other with a certain amount of money.

Involving 2,000 persons of immigrant origin and persons with native born parents living in Germany’s five largest cities, the project hopes to obtain much more precise data on how much the participants of immigrant origin are actually trusted/mistrusted compared to how they perceive to be trusted themselves. 

The project is located at WZB Berlin Social Science Center and runs for two years starting in November 2020. A postdoc based in Berlin will be connected to the project.

Read the project abstract (in German) or the English summary (pdf): The interlinkage of perceived and actual discrimination.