Friday, November 18, 2005

Why America Beats Europe at Integrating Immigrants

The Economist hits the nail on the head (subscription only article):
Work is the archetypal social activity. It provides friends and contacts beyond your family or ethnic group. If you start your own company, it pulls you further into the society around you. And here is a striking difference between Europe and America. Unemployment in France is almost 10%. Among immigrants or the children of immigrants, it is at least twice and sometimes four times as high. In contrast, unemployment among legal immigrants in America is negligible, and business ownership is off the scale compared with Europe.

The second big motor of integration is home-ownership, especially important in the second and third generations. This gives people a stake in society, something they can lose. Thanks to cheap mortgages and an advanced banking system, half of Latinos in America own their own homes. Britain, after its council-house sales and property booms, also encourages house ownership. In contrast, most of the blocks in the French banlieues are publicly owned.

Between them, a job and a house help to create not only more integration but also greater social mobility. Latinos supported America's turn towards assimilation because they feared the trap of Spanish-language ghettos. But the banlieues are full of people who have grown up without jobs, or any hope of getting a better income or a better place to live. For them, integration is a deceit, not a promise.

A job and a house will not solve everything. The father of one of the July 7th London bombers owned two shops, two houses and a Mercedes. But if you want to know why second- and third-generation immigrants integrate more in some countries than others, jobs and houses are a good place to start.
Having lived half my life in Europe and the other half in America has led me to the same conclusion. I have never met an immigrant to Europe who speaks of his new home with as much respect, gratitude and admiration as many first and second generation Americans do.

2 comments:

Waldek said...

Well I think that a lot depends on what one understands by "integration". Integration to what? Society, if so in what context - local or global? To common culture - what is American culture? When is integration complete - when one speaks same language, feels associated in some sense to his/her neigbours or maybe plainly "feels like at home"?
I personally being quite fresh immigrant [only 7 years in US] find living here quite challenging [I appreciate financial aspects of it though:-)]. I have not found yet anything here I could integrate with. Maybe it comes with time or maybe is a matter of individual mindset.
On other hand some people may find integration easier in US since they do not need or do not have time [since they work so hard] to adapt to one common culture [language, common thinking patterns and values, history, sense of coming from the same place, etc] as maybe this common culture does not exist in that sense? At the same time in most European and other non-immigrant-founded countries there seems to be quite sharp barrier in that sense - most people are similar in many cultural aspects so immigrants there naturally may find any assimilation much harder and have a constant sense of being alienated.

Mads said...

You raise some good points, living in the US is not necessarily a walk in the park. Culturally it is perhaps more difficult to integrate since there is, as you say, really nothing to integrate to (other than consumer culture, hamburgers and Hollywood/TV).

Also, the notion of what makes people "happy" is a complex one. On some level I believe that Europeans are, on average, happier than Americans precisely because they have societal "roots" in a way that many Americans don't.

However, in light of the recent riots in France it seems clear to me that even though immigrants to America may not always be "happy", they do tend to engage in less destructive activities. And I do believe this is in large part due to the ease with which immigrants find work and buy homes.

Thanks for your comment, hope to see more of them!