Does immigration affect life satisfaction of people in host societies? The EU enlargement experience in England and Wales

Posted on

By Artjoms Ivlevs

On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) held a historic referendum in which citizens voted, 52% to 48%, to leave the European Union (EU). The outcome of this vote has sent shockwaves around the world and is likely to change the course of British and European politics for years to come. It is widely recognized that immigration played a major role in the decision of the UK to leave the EU: immigration was a dominant theme in the pre-referendum debate and remains a key issue as the UK prepares its exit from the bloc. Specifically, the proponents of Brexit argued that the levels of immigration to the UK from other EU countries have become too high; exiting the EU would enable the country to control immigration from the EU. Slogans such as ‘immigrants take our jobs’ and ‘take back control of our borders’ have resonated well with the UK general public, for whom immigration has indeed become one of the biggest worries.

However, for some time scholars have been pointing that immigration has few, if any, adverse effects on the labour markets of migrant-receiving countries (Constant, 2014; Peri, 2014). Such findings, coupled with mounting worries over immigration levels, raise a question: in what ways does immigration affect the well-being of people in migrant-receiving countries – beyond the realm of the labour markets? In a study “Local-level immigration and life satisfaction: The EU enlargement experience in England and Wales”, published in 2018 in Environment and Planning A (Ivlevs and Veliziotis, 2018), we explored the effects of immigration on the subjective well-being, and in particular life satisfaction, of local residents – a relationship that has so far received little attention in both the literature and public debate.

To answer our research question – whether immigration affects the life satisfaction of residents in a host country – we focused on a recent immigration wave to the UK. Following the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, the UK opened its labour market to citizens of the new EU member states (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – also known as the accession or A8 countries). As a result, 1.5 million East Europeans started working in the UK between 2004 and 2011. In 2015, Poles – the largest group among the A8 migrants – became the largest foreign-born group in the UK, overtaking Indians, the Irish, Pakistani and Bangladeshi.

Besides being fast and unexpectedly large, the A8 migration to the UK was also geographically unevenly distributed (see the map below). The demand for jobs in the geographically-concentrated, ‘migrant-intensive’ industries, such as agriculture, food processing and manufacturing, meant that that some UK communities were affected by the East European migration much more than others. We related the local-level intensity of A8 migration to the changes in people’s life satisfaction over time. To capture the local-level migration intensity, we used data from the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS), which documented, between 2004 and 2011, the number of A8 workers starting a job in the UK at the local authority level. To capture changes in individual life satisfaction, we used the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), which followed the same people over time.

Geographical distribution of A8 migration in England and Wales, 2004-2008, % of local population


Source: Worker Registration Scheme and authors’ calculations.

Our results showed that immigration from the A8 countries in the UK on average was not related to the life satisfaction of UK nationals. However, important sub-group differences emerged and are presented in the graphs below. More intense local-level immigration was associated with lower life satisfaction among older people, as well as the unemployed and the economically inactive, while the life satisfaction of younger people and those in employment went up with local-level immigration. We have also obtained somewhat weaker evidence that the life satisfaction of better educated UK nationals and those with higher incomes increased with immigration, while the life satisfaction of people with low incomes decreased with it. All these associations were pronounced in the ‘migration shock’ period – the first two years after the UK opened its labour market to the new Europeans – and became statistically insignificant in the longer term.

Predicted life satisfaction as a function of the local immigration rate for respondents of different age, employment status, income and education

How can one explain these results? A positive association between immigration and life satisfaction for the young could be because young people are in favor of diversity brought about by immigration. In contrast, older people might be particularly opposed to diversity and change, as well as be concerned with the (perceived) pressure immigrants put on local health services; this could explain why the elderly become less life-satisfied when larger immigrant inflows take place. The negative association between the local immigration rate and life satisfaction among the unemployed could mean that people in this group feel that their chances of getting back to work and their labour market bargaining power get weaker with higher levels of immigration – a form of labour market competition. At the same time, those in employment do not seem to be threatened by labour market competition, as their life satisfaction increases with the levels of local immigration.

The finding that life satisfaction increases with local-level immigration among those with high incomes and relatively high levels of education could indicate that these groups do not perceive Eastern European migrants as labour market competitors (which is consistent with the fact that the A8 migrants are concentrated in low-skilled sectors/occupations). Instead, the wealthier and better educated could be gaining in life satisfaction through, for example, enhanced social life (many A8 migrants are employed in the hospitality industry, keeping its product prices low) or satisfaction with house or family life (A8 migrants increased the supply of cheap household services).

Overall, our results suggest that immigration does not affect the well-being of different groups of people in the same way and that labour market considerations are unlikely to be a dominant factor in explaining the links between immigration and natives’ well-being. In addition, the fact that the life satisfaction of particular groups, such as the elderly, decreases with immigration has implications for the formation of immigration policy in most developed immigration-receiving countries, where populations are aging and older people are generally more likely to vote. From this perspective, the recent decision of the UK to leave the EU could well be explained by the negative association between A8 immigration and the life satisfaction of older people in the UK. This contention, however, hinges on the assumptions that 1) the Brexit referendum vote was indeed largely about restricting immigration, and 2) life satisfaction affects people’s immigration policy preferences.

Reference to the full paper:

Ivlevs, A. and Veliziotis, M. (2018). “Local-level immigration and life satisfaction: The EU enlargement experience in England and Wales”, Environment and Planning A 50(1): 175-193.

The article is also available on the UWE Research Repository.


Integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum

Posted on

Dr Peter Bradley, leader of our Sustainability Research cluster, has recently published a new paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production. The full paper can be downloaded here.

Integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum: A case study analysis and sector wide survey of barriers.

Economics is a critical subject in bringing about sustainable development; by its definition it addresses questions of resource allocation. Fundamentally, economics addresses choices about what is produced and consumed in societies. It is these choices and incentives that are central to the root causes of global environmental and social impacts. This paper starts by identifying literature on educating for sustainable development in business and economics and highlights that the integration of sustainable development into mainstream economics curriculum is scant and largely missing based on current evidence.


• First department wide intervention study of integrating sustainability in economics.
• First sector wide survey of barriers to integrating sustainability into economics.
• Surveys identify key barriers to integration of sustainability into economics.
• The Research Excellence Framework is a major barrier to integrating sustainability.
• The approach and survey can be applied elsewhere for comparative analysis.


Economics is a critical subject for the integration of sustainable development into curriculum given the discipline’s influence in shaping social metabolism of societies, inequality, environmental impacts and wellbeing. There are very few empirical studies of the integration of sustainable development into economics curriculum. The purpose of the paper is to conduct analysis of a department wide intervention to integrate sustainable development into economics at a case study University, the first of its kind. The study makes use of surveys, interviews and key word searches to provide both qualitative and quantitative data and findings. Results indicate integration of sustainable development into curriculum on some modules but not the majority of the sample, evidence of resistance was also found. A range of barriers to integrating sustainable development into curriculum were identified in interviews. A sector wide survey on barriers to integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum was then conducted to provide empirical evidence on the subject. This is the first sector wide study of barriers to integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum. Results from the survey show that the Research Excellence Framework is a substantial barrier to integrating sustainable development into economics curriculum. The survey can be developed and applied elsewhere in the world to enable comparative analysis across countries, to get wider evidence on barriers.


Pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour conference

Join us at UWE Bristol for a one day conference on 29 April 2019 to discuss pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour. More information and registration online here. Get in touch at for more information or to submit an abstract for presentation.

Pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour conference with Dr Peter Bradley

Posted on

Current world population is just over seven billion and expected to reach nine billion before 2050. Increasing affluence in the developing and transition countries where population is growing most is now resulting in a wave of “new consumers”. This is important as in the developed world the main drivers for the level and growth of environmental pressures are said to be final consumption and affluence. Technology on its own will not adequately ensure that society stays within environmental limits. Therefore there is a need for serious consideration and research into consumer, employee and entrepreneur behaviours.

In this vain, the Bristol Centre for Economics and Finance (BCEF) is hosting a one day inter-disciplinary conference, organised by Dr Peter Bradley, leader of BCEF’s Sustainability Research Cluster and an expert in sustainability research. Peter’s research explores environmental and energy challenges and governance using empirical evidence based research as well as conceptual and theory based research. The “Pro-environmental employee and consumer behaviour conference” is taking place on 29 April 2019 and registration to attend is now open. Keynote speakers include Jes Rutter from JRP solutions and Dr Mark Everard (Associate Professor of Ecosystem Services, UWE Bristol). For more information and online registration, please see our event page.


Call for papers

We invite abstracts from PhD students, researchers and practitioners across the social and natural sciences to present on topics related to ‘pro-environmental consumer and employee behaviour’. Please send a 500 word abstract about your topic and contribution to by Wednesday 19 December 2018 to be considered for presentations.







UWE Bristol Economics at the 9th IIPPE Annual Conference in Political Economy

Posted on

By Sara Stevano, Susan Newman and Lotta Takala-Greenish.

On 12-14th September 2018, the 9th IIPPE Annual Conference in Political Economy took place at Juraj Dobrila University of Pula, Croatia. Keeping up with recent years’ record, UWE Economics was very well represented at the conference! The conference was organised around the overarching theme of ‘The State of Capitalism and the State of Political Economy’ and over 300 scholars and activists from across the world discussed their political economy research, touching upon various facets of capitalist transformations and pushing the frontiers of political economy. The conference organisers reported that many participants thought that this was the best IIPPE conference so far!

Among the keynote speeches were a panel shared by Professor Lena Lavinas, Professor of Welfare Economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and Professor Fiona Tregenna, University of Johannesburg South African Research Chair in Industrialisation stood out for their original content. Professor Lavinas highlighted the shifts in social programmes to increase financial inclusion. She commented on the contribution of social service programmes to GDP, 1.5% for developing and 2.7% of GDP for OECD countries, and connected these to the accumulation of debt among low-income households (see the excellent twitter feed by Ingrid H. Kvangraven). Professor Spread of income transfer programs across Global South have facilitated mass ‘financial inclusion’. The state and international financial institutions also play important role here. Result: Low-income households have accumulated huge amounts of debtSpread of income transfer programs across Global South have facilitated mass ‘financial inclusion’. The state and international financial institutions also play important role here. Result: Low-income households have accumulated huge amounts of debtTregenna focused on the need to unpack different forms of de-industrialisation and to explore the perspective that Marx’s analysis can offer to understanding industrialisation. In particular, her insights included an expanded focus on the heterogeneity within sectors and the inseparability of production and consumption (see also this blog post for further insights on the IIPPE2018 conference).

Spread of income transfer programs across Global South have facilitated mass ‘financial inclusion’. The state and international financial institutions also play important role here. Result: Low-income households have accumulated huge amounts of debtSpread of income transfer programs across Global South have facilitated mass ‘financial inclusion’. The state and international financial institutions also play important role here. Result: Low-income households have accumulated huge amounts of debtReflections on the state of capitalism are very relevant and timely in the context of shifting geographies of production, global relations of power and political discourse. Thus, it is all the more important to discuss how political economy research can help us understand and shape the economic, social and political transformations that mark our time. Critical political economy has an important role to play in transforming and revitalising economics, making it an inclusive and relevant area of study.

The three UWE Economics researchers who were in attendance this year intervened in panels on neoliberalism, the political economy of work, social reproduction and commodity studies. Dr Lotta Takala-Greenish presented her research on Exploring formal/informal work structures in South African waste collection (slides available here) in a panel that was described by the audience as one of the most interesting of the conference. This panel shared with Professor Stephanie Allais of the University of Witwatersrand, put forward important questions about the role of training and learning (both on and off the job) and the connections between education and labour markets. It also provided a forum to discuss and develop future collaborations with the South African Research Chair for Skills Development at the Centre for Researching Education and Labour. Dr Susan Newman presented her joint paper with Sam Ashman on New Patterns in Capital Flight from South Africa and discussed the preliminary findings of her joint paper with Dr Sara Stevano on The neoliberal restructuring of UK Overseas Development Assistance (slides available here), both papers were very appreciated by the audience who thought them revealing and timely. Sara Stevano presented her paper on Women’s work in Mozambique: Gender, social differentiation and social reproduction (slides available here) in a great all-women panel on social reproduction and the political economy of work.

Across several sessions, there was much discussion of the future of pluralist economics and education where UWE economics was highlighted as a leading institution. UWE Economics is now considered as an established centre for critical political economy, with possibly the largest concentration of critical political economists in a UK university. UWE’s recent recruitment of pluralist economists has been noted widely and was reflected in questions about future recruitment plans. Participation of UWE Economics in IIPPE continues to reaffirm the presence of our group in current political economy debates and generates opportunities for collaboration with colleagues in the UK and beyond. UWE Economics academics are involved with IIPPE in various capacities. Susan Newman oversees the content published on the IIPPE website and coordinates the working group on commodities studies; Sara Stevano coordinates the social reproduction working group with Hannah Bargawi (SOAS); Lotta Takala-Greenish set up and previously coordinated the working group on Minerals Energy Complex and Comparative Industrialisation.

One of the key aims of IIPPE is to provide a platform for early career researchers to interact with more established and senior scholars in political economy. The conference provided an opportunity benchmark and share information about postgraduate training in political economy. The UWE MSc in Global Political Economy was mentioned as one of only a handful degrees providing an interdisciplinary political economy approach housed within an economics department. The first intake of UWE’s MSc Global Political Economy students will be submitting their dissertations end of September and are being encouraged to submit their research to present at the next IIPPE conference in July 2019. We are also welcoming our new 2018-2019 MSc students who will no doubt contribute to the active research environment that we have here at UWE Bristol.