Skip to main content Accessibility help

Migration and welfare state spending

  • Stuart N. Soroka (a1), Richard Johnston (a2), Anthony Kevins (a3), Keith Banting (a4) and Will Kymlicka (a5)...


Is international migration a threat to the redistributive programmes of destination countries? Existing work is divided. This paper examines the manner and extent to which increases in immigration are related to welfare state retrenchment, drawing on data from 1970 to 2007. The paper makes three contributions: (1) it explores the impact of changes in immigration on social welfare policy over both the short and medium term; (2) it examines the possibility that immigration matters for spending not just directly, but indirectly, through changes in demographics and/or the labour force; and (3) by disaggregating data on social expenditure into subdomains (including unemployment, pensions, and the like), it tests the impact of immigration on different elements of the welfare state. Results suggest that increased immigration is indeed associated with smaller increases in spending. The major pathway is through impact on female labour force participation. The policy domains most affected are ones subject to moral hazard, or at least to rhetoric about moral hazard.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Alesina, A. and Glaeser, E.L. (2004), Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Alesina, A., Baqir, R. and Easterly, W. (1999), ‘Public goods and ethnic divisions’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics 114(4): 12431284.
Banting, K., Johnston, R., Kymlicka, W. and Soroka, S. (2006), ‘Do multicultural policies erode the welfare state? An empirical analysis’, in K. Banting and W. Kymlicka (eds), Multiculturalism and the Welfare State: Recognition and Redistribution in Contemporary Democracies, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 4991.
Borjas, G.J. (1994), ‘The economics of migration’, Journal of Economic Literature 32(2): 16671717.
Borjas, G.J. (1999), ‘Migration and welfare magnets’, Journal of Labor Economics 17(4): 607637.
Borjas, G.J. and Hilton, L. (1996), ‘Migration and the welfare state: immigrant participation in means-tested entitlement programs’, Quarterly Journal of Economics 11: 575604.
Brady, D. and Finnigan, R. (2013), ‘Does immigration undermine public support for social policy’? American Sociological Review, forthcoming.
Brücker, H. (2012), The Labor Market Impact of Immigration and its Policy Consequences, MPC Analytical and Synthetic Note 2012/04, Migration Policy Centre, Fiesole, Italy: European Union Institute.
Brücker, H., Epstein, G.S., McCormick, B., Saint-Paul, G., Venturini, A. and Zimmermann, K.F. (2002), ‘Managing migration in the European welfare state’, in T. Boeri, G.H. Hanson and B. McCormick (eds), Migration Policy and the Welfare System, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 1168.
Burgoon, B., Koster, F. and van Egmond, M. (2012), ‘Support for redistribution and the paradox of immigration’, Journal of European Social Policy 22(3): 288304.
Constant, A. and Schultz-Nielsen, M.L. (2004), ‘Labour force participation and unemployment: incentives and preferences’, in T. Tranaes and K.F. Zimmermann (eds), Migrants, Work, and the Welfare State, Odense, Denmark: University Press of Southern Denmark, pp. 147186.
Eger, M.A. (2010), ‘Even in Sweden: the effect of immigration on support for welfare state spending’, European Sociological Review 26(2): 203217.
Emmenegger, P. and Klemmensen, R. (2013), ‘What motivates you? The relationship between preferences for redistribution and attitudes toward immigration’, Comparative Politics 45(2): 227246.
Freeman, G.P. (1986), ‘Migration and the political economy of the welfare state’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 485: 5163.
Giulietti, C., Guzi, M., Kahanec, M. and Zimmermann, K.F. (2013), ‘Unemployment benefits and immigration: evidence from the EU’, International Journal of Manpower 34(1): 2438.
Hicks, A. (1999), Social Democracy and Welfare Capitalism: A Century of Income Security Politics, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Hogg, M.A. and Abrams, D. (1993), ‘Towards a single-process uncertainty-reduction model of social motivation in groups’, in M.A. Hogg, D. Abrams (eds), Group Motivation: Social Psychological Perspectives, Hempstead, UK: Hemel Harvester Wheatsheaf, pp. 173190.
Huber, E. and Stephens, J.D. (2001), Development and Crisis of the Welfare State: Parties and Policies in Global Markets, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Jacobs, A. (2011), Governing for the Long Term: Democracy and the Politics of Investment, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Korpi, W. and Palme, J. (2003), ‘New politics and class politics in the context of austerity and globalization: welfare state regress in 18 countries, 1975–95’, American Political Science Review 97(3): 425446.
Kustec, S. (2012), The Role of Migrant Labour Supply in the Canadian Labour Market, Ottawa, ON,Canada: Research and Evaluation, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Ref. No.: RR2012070.
Lipsmeyer, C.S. and Zhu, L. (2011), ‘Migration, globalization, and unemployment benefits in developed EU states’, American Journal of Political Scienc e 55: 647664.
Mau, S. and Burkhardt, C. (2009), ‘Migration and welfare state solidarity in Western Europe’, Journal of European Social Policy 19(3): 213229.
Nannestad, P. (2007), ‘Migration and welfare states: a survey of 15 years of research’, European Journal of Political Economy 23(2): 512532.
OECD. (2007), The Social Expenditure Dataset: An Interpretive Guide, SOCX 1980–2003. Retrieved March 2010 from
Ove Moene, K. and Wallerstein, M. (2001), ‘Targeting and political support for welfare spending’, Economics of Governance 2(1): 324.
Pedersen, P.J., Pytlikova, M. and Smith, N. (2004), Selection or network effects? Migration Flows into 27 OECD Countries, 1990–2000. No. 1104, IZA, Berlin, Germany.
Peridy, N.J. (2006), ‘Welfare magnets, border effects or policy regulations: what determinants drive migration flows into the EU?Global Economy Journal 6(4): 1439.
Portes, A. and Vickstrom, E. (2011), ‘Diversity, social capital, and cohesion’, Annual Review of Sociology 37: 461479.
Razin, A. and Sadka, E. (2000), ‘Unskilled migration: a burden or a boon for the welfare state?Scandinavian Journal of Economics 102(3): 463479.
Rothstein, B. (1998), Just Institutions Matter: The Moral and Political Logic of the Universal Welfare State, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Sniderman, P.M. and Hagendoorn, L. (2007), When Ways of Life Collide, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sniderman, P.M., Hagendoorn, L. and Prior, M. (2004), ‘Predisposing factors and situational triggers: exclusionary reactions to immigrant minorities’, American Political Science Review 98(1): 3549.
Sniderman, P.M., Peri, P., Figuerido, R.D. and Piazza, T. (2000), The Outsider: Prejudice and Politics in Italy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Soroka, S., Johnston, R. and Banting, K. (2006), ‘Migration and redistribution in a global era’, in S. Bowles, P. Bardhan and M. Wallerstein (eds), Globalization and Egalitarian Redistribution, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press and Russell Sage Foundation, pp. 261268.
Stichnoth, H. and Straeten, K.V.D (2013), ‘Ethnic diversity, public spending and individual support for the welfare state: a review of the empirical literature’, Journal of Economic Surveys 27(2): 364389.
Swank, D. (2002), Global Capital, Political Institutions, and Policy Change in Developed Welfare States, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Tajfel, H. (1981), Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1979), ‘An integrative theory of intergroup conflict’ W.G. Austin and S. Worchel (eds), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, pp. 3347.
Taylor-Gooby, P. (2005), ‘Is the future American? Or, can left politics preserve European welfare states from erosion through growing “racial” diversity?’, Journal of Social Policy 34(4): 661672.
van Oorschot, W. (2000), ‘Who should get what, and why?’, Policy and Politics. 28(1): 3349.
Zavodny, M. (1999), ‘Determinants of recent migrants’ locational choices’, International Migration Review 33(4): 10141030.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Migration and welfare state spending

  • Stuart N. Soroka (a1), Richard Johnston (a2), Anthony Kevins (a3), Keith Banting (a4) and Will Kymlicka (a5)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.