Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy



Collaborative Specialization

Migration and Ethnic Relations


Esses, Victoria M.


The present work attempts to distinguish people’s economic concerns about immigration from their (anti-)diversity attitudes, and examines how these economic concerns influence attitudes towards immigrants. To do this, we develop a scale to assess economic thinking and cultural enrichment beliefs about immigration (ETI/CBI). Economic thinking was associated with personality and ideological traits related to viewing the world as competitive and anti-diversity attitudes. Cultural enrichment beliefs on the other hand, were associated with traits associated with a preference for equity and pro-diversity orientations. Furthermore, economic thinking was associated with greater preferences to reduce immigration for all migrant groups except economic migrants, and preferences towards ethnic groups viewed as “model minorities”. Cultural enrichment beliefs on the other hand was associated with less restrictive immigration attitudes and preferences towards ethnic minority groups. A follow-up conjoint survey found that regardless of people’s economic thinking and cultural enrichment beliefs, people tended to prefer the same characteristics in newcomer migrants (i.e., highly educated, working in “useful” industries, etc.). Finally, economic thinking and cultural enrichment beliefs shaped how people perceive the humanity of various immigrant groups. Economic thinking about immigration was associated with greater animalistic dehumanization of family class migrants, temporary foreign workers, international students, and refugees relative to economic migrants and Canadians in general, as well as greater mechanistic dehumanization of all migrants. Cultural enrichment beliefs, on the other hand was associated with greater humanization (vs animalistic and mechanistic dehumanization) overall. These findings suggest that while there is some overlap in attitudes between those who dislike immigration for economic reasons and those who dislike immigration for cultural reasons, the two concerns are distinguishable from each other, and lead to different perceptions of immigrants.

Summary for Lay Audience

Attitudes refer to a collection of beliefs, feelings, and behaviors that add up to one’s overall evaluation of a particular object or person. In immigration research, for example, your attitudes towards immigrants can be based on a collection of your beliefs about how immigrants affect the economy and whether you enjoy the different cultural practices and foods that they bring. In this dissertation, we focus on these two components of people’s attitudes towards immigrants, which we term “economic thinking” and “cultural enrichment beliefs”. We developed a survey to assess the extent to which people consider the economy in their attitudes towards immigrants and the extent to which they believe that different beliefs and practices of immigrants improve Canadian culture. We found that these two beliefs were moderately, but inversely, associated with each other—that is, the more you engaged in economic thinking, the less likely you were to think that immigrant cultural contributions were good. Not surprisingly then, we also found that those who endorsed economic thinking tended to have opposing ideological beliefs and personality traits compared to those who believed immigration enriched Canadian culture. Despite these differences however, we found that Canadians agreed on the traits that they valued among new immigrants—that they were educated and can positively contribute to the economy. Though Canadians valued the same traits among immigrants regardless of their attitudes, we also found that these attitudes shaped how people perceived immigrants more broadly. Those who engaged in economic thinking were more likely to view all immigrants, except for economic class migrants, as more similar to animals than humans, and were also more likely to view all migrants as more similar to machines, compared to Canadians in general. Those who endorse cultural enrichment beliefs, however, were more likely to humanize everyone overall.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.