How Your Career May Influence Your Thoughts On Immigration


Ryan Holeywell | September 2, 2015It’s all related to the competitiveness of your occupation.

Doctors getting ready to go into surgery

It’s all related to the competitiveness of your occupation.

If you ask someone what they think of immigration, their response, it turns out, might reveal something about their own job.

Research based on Kinder Houston Area Survey data reveals that people who work in low-status jobs tend to be more likely to favor restrictions on immigration.

The study also reveals another interesting dynamic to the ongoing immigration debate facing the country: your occupation may influence your thoughts on immigration.

One might assume that, generally speaking, people who work in fields that include large numbers of foreign-born workers would be more likely to prefer reducing immigration. After all, a bigger labor pool makes it harder for individual workers to be competitive. But the research revealed a more nuanced situation.

People who work in fields that contained high numbers of workers from Latin American countries are more likely to support reduced immigration. On the other hand, people in jobs with lots of workers from China and India are less likely to want curbs on immigration. Bob Kunovich, an associate professor of sociology at University of Texas-Arlington, performed the analysis.

The difference doesn’t appear to be due to prejudice towards people from certain parts of the world. Instead, it seems tied to the types of fields in which different immigrants work.

U.S. natives working in occupations with high job insecurity and requiring fewer skills support reduced immigration. Those are the same jobs that draw Latin American immigrants.

On the other hand, U.S. natives in jobs requiring more skills and with lower unemployment rates probably aren’t worried about immigrants affecting their job prospects. Those are the same careers that draw Chinese and Indian immigrants.

Kunovich also found:

  • Those with a high school education or less have higher odds of preferring to reduce current immigration.
  • Those working in occupations with higher unemployment rates have a higher likelihood of preferring to reduce current and future immigration.
  • Those who view job prospects in Houston as ‘poor’ or ‘fair,’ however, have higher odds of preferring to reduce current and future immigration.

Essentially, what may be happening is that U.S. natives working in careers with greater job insecurity, fewer skill requirements, and lower prestige are more likely to favor steps that limit an already large pool of labor competing for their jobs.

The findings were made possible thanks to extensive survey data on Houstonians. The surveys asked respondents their opinions of immigration while also collecting data about their jobs. The study was based on thousands of responses obtained over five years from people working in more than 50 occupational fields.

“Using this data gave me a clear representation of what’s going on,” Kunovich said. “What’s gratifying is the results are clear too.”

The findings are are especially important in Houston, where nearly a quarter of the population is foreign-born. About two-thirds of Houston’s immigrant population is from Latin America, and those residents are overrepresented in “low-status” jobs like construction.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the foreign-born residents are from Asia. Those people are split between been high- and low-status jobs: China and India natives cluster to high-status jobs, while those from the Philippines and Vietnam are clustered in lower status positions.

Understanding that dynamics of the immigration debate is important, Kunovich said. Negative attitudes towards immigrants can lead to restrictive policies and prevent immigrants from fully integrating into their communities.

Ryan Holeywell


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