How Settlement Locations and Local Networks Influence Immigrant Political Integration

The forthcoming article “How Settlement Locations and Local Networks Influence Immigrant Political Integration” by Bernt Bratsberg, Jeremy Ferwerda, Henning Finseraas and Andreas Kotsadam is summarized by the author(s) below. 


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Weak political engagement among immigrants might bias public policy against immigrant preferences and stymie immigrants’ social and cultural integration more broadly. Yet, our knowledge of the factors that shape immigrant political participation remains incomplete. We argue that the initial neighborhoods immigrants settle in establish patterns of behavior that influence subsequent political participation. 
We identify the causal effect of available neighborhood and peer networks by leveraging the quasi-exogenous placement policy of the Norwegian refugee resettlement program, which directly places UNHCR refugees within Norwegian neighborhoods. Linking administrative data on refugee placement with validated individual-level turnout records, we assess the long-term consequences of the initial placement location on electoral participation. We use administrative registers to identify the individuals who lived within refugee neighborhoods at the time of arrival. By examining different clusters of these individuals, as well as their socio-demographic and behavioral characteristics, we proxy the influence of local peer networks available upon arrival, as delineated by age, gender and minority status. The data also permit the inclusion of family fixed effects, which allow us to assess the impact of peer networks by comparing siblings. 
 The results suggest that the initial placement neighborhood explains a significant proportion of the variation in refugees’ future electoral participation. We find that the difference in electoral turnout between refugees initially placed in 20th and 80th percentile neighborhoods is 12.6 percentage points, which represents 47 percent of the participation gap between refugees and residents. 
 Investigating the mechanism, we find that while neighborhood socio-demographic characteristics weakly predict outcomes, the political engagement of peers within the arrival location is strongly linked to refugees’ future electoral participation. Refugees placed in neighborhoods where turnout was one standard deviation above the mean were three percentage points more likely to participate in subsequent elections. This estimate increases to five percentage points — roughly one quarter of the gap between refugee and non-refugee turnout — when examining turnout among same-sex and same-age cohorts, suggesting that the downstream influence of networks can be primarily attributed to peer effects rather than to generalized social capital in the arrival location. Finally, the results indicate that the effect of the initial neighborhood persists over the long run, with residual effects observed for refugees who were placed two decades prior to the election we examine. 
 These findings provide, to our knowledge, the first causal evidence that settlement neighborhoods exert path dependent effects on immigrant political integration. The results underscore the importance of initial experiences in shaping the integration trajectories of refugees and immigrants, and highlights specific pathways through which patterns of political participation are formed after arriving in the host country. In particular, our results suggest that the influence of neighbors and peers plays a central role in establishing modes of behavior within the host society. From a policy perspective, these results suggest that policymakers seeking to promote immigrant integration may observe elevated returns when targeting interventions towards improving immigrants’ initial arrival experience and facilitating positive interactions with existing residents.” 

About the Author(s): Bernt Bratsberg is a Senior Research Fellow at Frisch Centre for Economic Research, Jeremy Ferwerda is an Assistant Professor at Dartmouth College, Henning Finseraas is a Research Professor at Institute for Social Research and Andreas Kotsadam is a Senior Research Fellow at Frisch Centre for Economic Research. Their research “How Settlement Locations and Local Networks Influence Immigrant Political Integrationis now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

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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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