Are immigrants more ambitious than their non-migrant compatriots?
- 1It is often argued that immigration leads to a draining of talent and entrepreneurship in countries of origin.
- 2This study analyses whether immigrants in different European countries are more oriented towards success than their compatriots who did not migrate by looking at three areas: orientation towards success, towards risk and towards money.
- 3There is no universal pattern in immigrant selection, which in some cases is positive and in other cases, negative.
On average, the migrants of the set of countries score higher than their non-migrant compatriots on scales of orientation towards success, towards risk and towards money. However, although in some origin/destination combinations positive selection in these motivational traits is maintained (for example, in Europeans resident in other countries of the eurozone that share a common language), in other combinations the opposite occurs, such as for example in the case of Europeans from Eastern Europe in other countries in the of the European Union, or Moroccans in the case of Spain or Turks in the wealthy European countries.
In specialised literature it is frequently assumed that people who emigrate to other countries are especially ambitious and success-oriented. In other words, that there is positive selection among emigrants on certain psychological orientations with respect to their compatriots who remain in their country of origin, and therefore, that emigration causes a draining of talent and enterprise in countries of origin. However, although different studies have confirmed this positive selection in educational terms (i.e., on average, emigrants have better qualifications than those who remain in their own countries), there has rarely been any empirical tackling of possible positive selection of migrants in relation to their psychological orientations.
The fundamental aim of this research is to establish whether the immigrants of different European countries are more success-oriented than their compatriots who didn’t emigrate. For this, a first comparative study has been conducted on the selection of immigrants on what we could call “achievement-related motivational orientations”. This is a series of internal orientations that guide people’s actions and behaviour, especially in hierarchical and competitive contexts. The study of selection on motivational orientations towards achievement has great relevance for understanding the impact of migration, both in the countries of origin and in destination countries, and specifically, for the study of the socioeconomic incorporation of immigrants.
The results of this study show that there is no universal pattern in immigrant selection, as in some cases it is positive and in others, negative. Therefore, both the country of origin and the origin-destination combination are relevant for understanding individuals’ selection dynamics in their migratory projects. In fact, this research confirms that, unlike other countries, Spain is not characterised by attracting immigrants more oriented towards success.
1. The measurement of motivational orientations of migrants and non-migrants
A first descriptive analysis shows that, on average, migrants across the set of countries considered score higher than their non-migrant compatriots on scales of orientation towards success, risk and money (figure 1).
To measure them, a scale has been created that encompasses three motivational traits that are closely related with achievement: orientation towards success, towards risk and towards money. The data come from surveys where people are asked to what degree they are like someone for whom it is important to be very successful and receive recognition from others (orientation towards success), to take risks (orientation towards risk and to have a lot of money and expensive possessions (orientation towards money). Based on these three elements, an indicator is created that includes information from the different dimensions.
These achievement-related motivational orientations that are analysed in this research are part of the personality traits or non-cognitive skills widely studied in so-called behavioural economics, and they are extremely relevant for individual career paths (Bowles et al.2001, Cunha and Heckman, 2007). These orientations are acquired very early on through processes of socialisation, probably in combination with certain personality traits, and are very stable over the course of people’s adult life.
What is interesting for our study is to compare migrants with their compatriots who have not migrated, which means that we need access to information from different countries. For example, if we only wanted to compare Brazilians that have migrated to Portugal with Brazilians that have not migrated, we would need not only information collected from Portugal (only on Brazilians, who are migrants), but also from Brazil (only on Brazilians, who have not migrated). In order to obtain information on different groups of migrants originating from countries with different economic levels and cultural distances, two sources of data were used: firstly, the European Social Survey, which collects information on migrants residing in Europe originating from very different countries both inside and outside of Europe; and secondly, the World Values Survey, which enables analysis of residents in non-European countries (for example Brazil, Morocco, etc.), comparing them with their compatriots that migrated. In this way it is possible to compare the motivational traits of, for example, Brazilians who have migrated to Portugal with those of Brazilians who are equivalent in other characteristics such as age or level of education and who continue to live in Brazil.
Finally, to avoid confusing selection with possible effects of acculturation or assimilation in the destination country, the analyses are restricted to migrants who have spent no longer than five years in their destination country. Furthermore, various additional tests have been carried out to be able to ensure that all the results are maintained if experiences are taken into account that could possibly affect orientations, such as unemployment or social isolation. In total, eleven combinations of origin and destination countries have been taken into consideration. The origin and destination groups considered are British people in Ireland, Germans in Switzerland and Austria, French people in Belgium, Luxembourg or Switzerland, Polish people in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Polish people in the Scandinavian countries, Romanians in Spain, Romanians in wealthy European countries, Turkish people in wealthy European countries, Brazilians in Portugal, Andean people (Colombians, Ecuadorians and Peruvians) in Spain and Moroccans in Spain.
Beyond what is shown in figure 1, what is most interesting is not so much the overall analysis of all the countries of origin and destination, but rather the specific cases of certain combinations of origins and destinations.
2. It is not always the “most ambitious” people who emigrate
All the destination countries considered in the analysis are European, with different levels of economic development and cultural proximity to the countries of origin analysed. Of all the combinations of source countries and recipient countries considered, we could identify three main groups: European migrants resident in other countries in the eurozone where a common language is shared, migrants from Eastern Europe and, finally, migrants from outside the European Union.
With respect to the first group, that of Europeans resident in other countries where a common language is shared (figure 2), we might think that the fact of sharing a language and facing no legal restrictions to mobility would mean less positive selection among migrants. In other words, the prediction from the literature would be precisely that the absence of linguistic and physical barriers reduces migratory costs and would explain less selection among migrants, because the economic and psychological costs of emigrating are lower. However, the empirical results contradict the theoretical expectations: what is observed is that among both British people in Ireland and Germans in Switzerland and Austria or French people in Belgium and Switzerland there is positive selection on the motivational traits considered. In other words, these Europeans who migrate to other nearby countries with which they share a language have a greater orientation towards success, risk and money than their compatriots with similar characteristics to them but who did not migrate.
The second group, that of migrants from the east of the European Union resident in other countries of the Union (figure 2B), offers a very interesting case for analysis because, given the number of observations contained in the European Social Survey, it enables us to consider the same origin at different destinations. Specifically studied are the Polish in the United Kingdom and Ireland, on the one hand, and Polish people in the Scandinavian countries, on the other. Similarly analysed are Romanians in Spain, on the one hand, and Romanians in other European countries with a high income level on the other. The results highlight the relevance of the destination country: once their sociodemographic characteristics are taken into account, there is negative selection among Romanians in Spain, while the differences are much smaller (and not statistically significant) in the case of Romanian migrants in wealthy European countries. The degree of linguistic similarity, the level of access to services and social benefits and, above all, the structure of the labour market are probably behind the fact that we observe a negative selection in Spain, but do not do so in other European countries with higher levels of income and more dynamic economies than the Spanish economy.
Finally, the third group, that of migrants from outside of the European Union (figure 2C), reflects notable negative selection among Moroccans in Spain and among Turks in wealthy European countries; whereas selection is clearly positive in the case of Brazilians in Portugal and Latin American migrants originating from Andean countries resident in Spain. In other words, a single destination, Spain, registers negative selection in one group of immigrants (Moroccans, especially women), and positive selection in another group (Latin Americans, above all in the case of males). This differentiating effect of gender according to country of origin is largely explained by different migratory motivations for each group, particularly in the case of Moroccan women, whose migratory projects are often subordinated to those of their partners.
Taken overall, these results suggest a complex and non-universal pattern of selection in the motivations of migrants. Not all are based on positive selection, as is assumed by the vast part of the literature. In fact, nor is there any clear evidence that it is poor countries that are systematically more affected by the flight of people who are more oriented towards success. Rather, to the contrary, what we observe are clear signals of positive selection among individuals proceeding from wealthy European countries that migrate to other countries that are also wealthy and close in cultural terms. This is probably explained by the opportunities for job improvement and professional growth offered by mobility within the European Union for Community workers, but not so much for those who come from outside the Union.
BOWLES, S. H, GINTIS and M. OSBORNE (2001): "The determinants of earnings: A behavioral approach", Journal of Economic Literature, 39(4).
CUNHA, F., and J. HECKMAN (2007): "The technology of skill formation", American Economic Review, 97(2).
POLAVIEJA, J., M. FERNÁNDEZ-REINO and M. RAMOS (2018): "Are migrants selected on motivational orientations? Selectivity patterns amongst international migrants in Europe", European Sociological Review, 34(5).
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