Public Release: 

The perception of discrimination is greater among younger immigrants

A study of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country highlights the fact that actively coping with discrimination enables immigrants to adapt better to the new context in which they live

University of the Basque Country


IMAGE: This shows a group of young immigrants in Bilbao. view more

Credit: UPV/EHU

This news release is available in Spanish.

According to Magdalena Bobowik, member of the UPV/EHU's Social Psychology Research Team and who has produced this report, "there are also differences in the perception Basque society has of immigrants. For example, the immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa are perceived as more positive than those from the Maghreb and Latin America, on the whole, better than the rest. As regards those from Romania, they are often associated with the Roma people, with those to suffer considerable discrimination."

The young people of Latin American origin have a more optimistic view of immigration (speaking the same language, practising the same religion, etc. help to break down some of the barriers). By contrast, young Moroccans and Sub-Saharans are more exposed to discrimination and suffer more from the hardships of the crisis (difficulties in finding jobs, etc.). Members of this group, like the one from Romania, have a less favourable view of their personal situation and of that of their compatriots than the group of young people from Latin America. As regards gender, "in this study we have included criteria for studying whether there are differences between men and women when it comes to perceiving more or less discrimination, but these have yet to be explored," said the researcher.

The study is part of the research conducted for Magdalena Bobowik's PhD thesis, and the procedure followed was as follows: a large quantity of data were gathered by means of a random sample in collaboration with Ikuspegi (the Immigration Observatory) in 2004, 2007 and 2010 (the study in question dates back to 2010), via personal interviews: "A lot of care was taken with the procedure," pointed out the researcher, "and we selected the immigrants to be interviewed by means of quota-sampling, with specific routes, using qualified interviewers, etc. The households of the candidates to be interviewed were chosen randomly and the interviews were individual, anonymous, and with people having varying types of status (legally registered, unregistered).

The importance of "social comparison"

232 youngsters between the ages of 18 and 24 took part in the study; they were from Bolivia, Colombia, Morocco, Romania and Sub-Saharan African countries from among a total of 1,250 people surveyed. What stands out among her conclusions, apart from the above-mentioned greater subjective perception of discrimination by immigrant youth, is another more optimistic one: the effort made to combat the situation of discrimination may help to protect the wellbeing of immigrants and to improve their adaptation to the new social context.

The study looks at this integrating effort from the perspective of the Social Identity Theory, one of the hubs of which is the analysis of the processes of "social comparison", also known as cognitive creativity. The favourable social comparisons, as the study indicated, are the best tool for a young immigrant to cope with his/her new situation: if he/she perceives immigration not just as hardship, but also as an opportunity for personal growth and to acquire new skills, he/she can reach greater levels of personal wellbeing and happiness.

As regards the future, "we plan to go on working, but from a different perspective: we want to intervene more in the autochthonous population, to improve relations between the autochthonous and immigrant population," stressed M. Bobowik. The researcher pointed out that they will be working with various organisation (like "SOS Racismo") to encourage a multicultural vision of Basque society. "I am participating in experimental studies into facial expression in immigrants and how this expression affects relations with the host society. Unlike in previous studies, it is no longer just a question of how the immigrant, the stigmatised one, feels, but of the person who may stigmatize him or her," explained the researcher. Facial expression, affirmed Bobowik, is crucial when it comes to showing or building empathy with immigrants, or for the exact opposite.

The research team

Magdalena Bobowik, Nekane Basabe and Darío Páez belong to the UPV/EHU's Social Psychology Research team (its full name is: Consolidated Research Group in Social Psychology: Culture, Cognition and Emotion) which has produced the chapter "Identity Management Strategies, Perceived Discrimination, and Wellbeing among Young Immigrants in Spain" in the said report. The main aim of the study, conducted in collaboration with Ikuspegi, was to look at how immigrants who have just become adults cope with discrimination and what consequences standing up to the said discrimination has for the wellbeing of this group. The work highlights the positive aspects of immigration as opposed to the traditional approach that emphasises the negative symptoms. The study was carried out in many localities in the Basque Autonomous Community, including the capitals of the three provinces.


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