The Majority-Minority Divide in Attitudes toward Internal Migration: Evidence from Mumbai

In the following blog post, the authors summarize the forthcoming American Journal of Political Science article titled “The Majority-Minority Divide in Attitudes toward Internal Migration: Evidence from Mumbai”: 

The freedom to move and settle anywhere within one’s country of citizenship is a right enshrined in numerous constitutions, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By efficiently allocating labor, rural-to-urban migration has served a key economic role historically. Across the world, at least 763 million people are estimated to be internal migrants. Yet migrants often encounter hostility upon entering urban areas. Cities’ long- term residents employ various strategies – including violence and intimidation – to discourage potential migrants from coming, and to withhold opportunities from outsiders on arrival.

Our paper asks: What causes discrimination against internal migrants in fast-urbanizing contexts? Economic arguments suggest that long-term city residents will resist in-migration by individuals who put pressure on public goods and services and who compete for natives’ jobs. Meanwhile, cultural theories imply that natives wanting to safeguard the ethnic status quo will oppose migrants belonging to ethnic “out groups.”

We explore the determinants of anti-migrant hostility in Mumbai: a magnet for migrants, and home to 20 million people – more than the combined populations of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The city has been a hotbed of nativist agitation instigated by political parties like the Shiv Sena.

We carried out a survey on a representative sample of the city’s long-term residents. It included a vignette experiment in which each respondent was presented with a fictitious migrant wanting to come to the city to live and work. We randomly varied the migrant’s skill level and religion. By seeing how favorable respondents felt on average toward migrants of different religions and skill types, we are able to put our theoretical expectations to the test.

What do we find? Overall, there is a strong preference for highly-skilled migrants. But this preference is concentrated entirely among lower-income respondents. It seems that low-income respondents worry that low-skilled migrants will generate competition both over jobs and over scarce public resources. High-income natives may worry about the fiscal threat, but they also anticipate benefiting from abundant cheap labor, without any attendant labor-market threats.

Our findings on religion are striking. Hindu respondents – those who belong to Mumbai’s majority ethnic group – are indifferent toward the religious background of the hypothetical migrant. Minority Muslim natives, on the other hand, strongly prefer co-ethnic migrants. In fact, Muslim respondents only discriminate on the basis of skills when migrants are Hindu; Muslim migrants get a free pass, regardless of their skill attributes. Testing a variety of possible explanations for this divergence in minority and majority attitudes, we show that politics are key. As a disadvantaged minority group, Muslims see in-migration by co-ethnics as a way to boost their electoral and social standing in the city, thereby achieving “safety in numbers.”

Mumbai is representative of a large set of cases in the global south – from São Paulo to Cape Town to Kuala Lumpur – where faced-paced urbanization is occurring within charged political and social environments. When it comes to native preferences, we show that economic concerns are crucial, but these are conditioned by ethnic-group dynamics, specifically, majority/minority group status. In a larger sense, our insights can help guide states endeavoring to mitigate social dislocation in the wake of rapid urban growth, and may help protect the rights and well-being of migrants, who count among the world’s most marginalized population groups.

About the Authors: This author summary was written by Nikhar Gaikwad of Columbia University and Gareth Nellis of Yale University. Their article “The Majority-Minority Divide in Attitudes toward Internal Migration: Evidence from Mumbai” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science and is currently available for Early View.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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