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Publications in Peer-Reviewed Journals

  • Returning from Greener Pastures? How Exposure to Returnees Affects Migration Plans (2023) World Development (with Max Schaub) Replication files

    Information and networks have long been hypothesized to be crucial elements of the formation of emigration intentions. Returnees are a prime source of information about life as a migrant. In this study, we contribute to an emerging literature on the influence of returnees on the formation of migration decisions using representa-tive geolocated data from 5,000 respondents and more than 47,000 family members and relatives from Sene-gal and The Gambia, two countries with high emigration rates in the past. We demonstrate that the presence of return migrants in a respondent’s vicinity is exogenously conditional on the current number of emigrants. This allows us to circumvent the endogeneity of personal networks and to estimate the effect of returnees on indi-vidual emigration intentions. Migration intentions are substantially lower when emigrants who returned from Europe are present in the area. This does not apply to returnees from another African country. Further anal-yses reveal that migrants who returned from another African country improve the economic situation of fami-lies, while non-family returnees from Europe have no lasting economic impact but instead salter people’s negative perceptions of migration. We infer that exposure to returnees depresses emigration plans because potential migrants become more aware of the risks of the migration journey and the stigma attached to return-ing unsuccessfully.

  • No sign of increased ethnic discrimination during a crisis: evidence from the Covid-19 pandemic (2023) Socio-Economic Review (with Didier Ruedin and Eva van Belle)

    When crises hit, social theory predicts increased hostility toward immigrants. We exploit the Covid-19 pandemic as a unique exogenous crisis and examine whether discrimination increased in its wake. Repeating a field experiment in the Swiss housing market in 2018 and 2020, we find no evidence of increased discrimination against the most important immigrant groups in Switzerland. Contrarily, when uncertainty dominates the market, proprietors appear to change their selection behavior by substituting signals of ethnicity for other markers of solvency and reliability and, consequently, invitation rates for immigrants increase relative to native house-hunters. We conclude that crises do not necessarily increase discriminatory behavior in market situations.

  • Rebel Recruitment and Migration: Theory and Evidence From Southern Senegal. (2022) Journal of Conflict Resolution (with Max Schaub) Replication files

    We investigate whether the threat of recruitment by rebel groups spurs domestic and international migration. The existing literature on wartime displacement has largely focused on potential victims of violence. We argue that alongside potential victims, we should expect to see the out-migration of individuals who are attractive to the rebels as potential recruits. To test this hypothesis, we draw on original survey data collected in the context of the MFDC insurgency in southern Senegal. Causal identification stems from instrumenting recruitment threat with the density of the local forest canopy cover. Analyzing data from 3,200 respondents and over 24,000 family members, we show that individuals who fit the recruitment profiles of rebel groups are more likely to leave and be sent away by their families. Our paper contributes micro-evidence for a mechanism linking violent conflict to migration, which so far has received scant attention, and provides a deeper understanding of the composition of refugee flows.

  • How one gesture curbed ethnic discrimination (2022). European Journal of Political Research (with Didier Ruedin)

    Members of ethnic and racial minorities across North America and Europe continue to face discrimination, for instance, when applying for jobs or seeking housing. Such unequal treatment can occur because societies categorize people into groups along social, cultural, or ethnic and racial lines that seemingly rationalize differential treatment. Research suggests that it may take generations for such differences to decline, if they change at all. Here, we show that a single gesture by international soccer players at the World Cup 2018 – followed by an extensive public debate – led to a measurable and lasting decline in discrimination. Immediately after the galvanizing event, invitation rates to view apartments increased by 6 percentage points for the migrant group represented by the players, while responses to the native population did not change noticeably. We demonstrate that anti-immigrant behavior can disband rapidly when the public receives messages challenging the nature of ethnic and racial categories while sharing a common cause.

  • Brexit, Uncertainty and Migration Decisions (2022) International Migration. (with Daniel Tetlow)

    We leverage the British Brexit referendum decision to leave the European Union, to demonstrate how changes in uncertainty about a country’s future socio-political condition can impact migratory behaviour. Using official bilateral migration statistics, we report an excess increase in migration from the UK to the EU of approximately 16% post-referendum, compared to movements between the remaining EU countries over the same period. In addition, we analyse in-depth interviews conducted with UK migrants in Germany to show that uncertainty about future bilateral relations, a negative economic outlook, and perceptions of negative social consequences in the UK have been by far the most dominant drivers of migration in the post-referendum period. We further corroborate the effect of changes in uncertainty on migration-related behaviour with exceptional spikes in naturalisations, indicating that UK citizens living in other EU member states are actively taking decisions to mitigate the negative impact that Brexit is having on their livelihoods.

  • Firing discrimination: Selective labor market responses of firms during the COVID-19 economic crisis. (2022) PLOS ONE

    The speed of the economic downturn in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has been exceptional, causing mass layoffs—in Germany up to 30% of the workforce in some industries. Economic rationale suggests that the decision on which workers are fired should depend on productivity-related individual factors. However, from hiring situations we know that discrimination—i.e., decisions driven by character-istics unrelated to productivity—is widespread in Western labor markets. Drawing on representative sur-vey data on forced layoffs and short-time work collected in Germany between April and December 2020, this study highlights that discrimination against immigrants is also present in firing situations. The analysis shows that employees with a migration background are significantly more likely to lose their job than native workers when otherwise healthy firms are unexpectedly forced to let go of part of their work-force, while firms make more efforts to substitute firing with short-time working schemes for their native workers. Adjusting for detailed job-related characteristics shows that the findings are unlikely to be driven by systematic differences in productivity between migrants and natives. Moreover, using industry-specific variation in the extent of the economic downturn, I demonstrate that layoff probabilities hardly differ across the less affected industries, but that the gap between migrants and natives increases with the magnitude of the shock. In the hardest-hit industries, job loss probability among migrants is three times higher than among natives. This confirms the hypothesis that firing discrimination puts additional pres-sure on the immigrant workforce in times of crisis.

  • Climate change literacy and migration potential: micro-level evidence from Africa (2021) Climatic Change, 9 (with Marc Helbling, Daniel Meierrieks, Malcolm Mistry, Max Schaub).

    While a growing literature studies the effects of climate change on international migration, still only relatively little is known about the individual mechanisms linking migration decisions to climate change. We argue that climate change literacy (i.e., knowledge about climate change) is a major determinant of why some individuals consider migrating to other countries in response to climate change effects. In particular, climate change literacy helps individuals translate their perceptions of temperature changes into an understanding of these changes’ irreversible long-term consequences. We test this hypothesis using highly accurate geo-coded data for 37,000 individuals across 30 African countries. We show that climate change indeed leads to stronger migration intentions among climate literates only. Furthermore, we show that climate change only increases migration intentions among climate literates when it is approximated by long-run increases in local temperatures, but not when operationalized as changing heat wave or precipitation patterns. Further analyses show that climate literates are more likely to live in urban areas, have a higher news consumption, are highly educated, and have demanding occupations. Consequently, climate change may further deprive affected countries of valuable talent.

  • Merchants of Death: Arms Imports and Terrorism. (2021) European Economic Review, 137 (with Daniel Meierrieks).

    Do arms imports fuel terrorism? Despite the high human, economic and political toll associated with terrorism, the effect of a country’s arms trade on the propensity to experience terrorist attacks has received scant attention so far. We argue that arms imports affect a country’s institutional landscape, increasing grievances due to corruption, exclusion and human rights violations; these grievances, in turn, incite terrorism. We leverage plausibly exogenous variation in global arms trade patterns as an instrument to provide causal evidence of a significant positive effect of arms imports on terrorist activity for 179 countries between 1992 and 2018. We also show that arms imports indeed increase corruption and political exclusion, which may explain why arms imports ultimately encourage terrorist activity. Finally, the adverse effect of arms imports on terrorism is strongest among countries characterized by low levels of fiscal capacity and high levels of political inequality and authoritarianism.

  • Corruption and the Desire to Leave: Quasi-Experimental Evidence on Corruption as a Driver of Emigration Intentions (2020) IZA Journal of Development and Migration, 11(1) (with Friederike Römer, Jasper Tjaden).

    Whether and to what extent corruption drives emigration has received growing attention in the literature in recent years, yet the nature of the relationship remains unclear. To test causal claims, we rely on representative global survey data of more than 280,000 respondents across 67 countries from 2010 to 2014. We use two different measures of emigration intentions and individual, as well as country-level measures of corruption, and propose to instrument the endogenous presence of corruption in a country with the prevalence of cashless transactions in the economy to correct for potential estimation bias. We find robust support for the hypothesis that corruption increases emigration intentions across countries. The effect, however, is likely to be underestimated in conventional models that do not account for endogeneity. The results highlight the need to look beyond purely economic, social, security-related, and environmental drivers when assessing the root causes of migration.

  • Can signaling assimilation mitigate hiring discrimination? Evidence from a survey experiment (2019) Research in Social Stratification and Mobility (with Flavia Fossati, Fabienne Liechti).

    Using a survey experiment, we test whether discrimination against job candidates with a second-generation migration background varies by signaling either assimilation into the host society or attachment to the country of origin. In our study, Swiss HR managers evaluate descriptions of fictitious CVs in which we vary the origin, language proficiency, and extracurricular activity of the jobseekers with and without a cultural context. The findings reveal that candidates with Polish- or Turkish-sounding names are evaluated worse than candidates with Swiss- or Spanish-sounding names. The effect of signaling attachment to the native and host country culture depends on the perceived distance of the cultural background. A candidate with a Spanish-sounding name who speaks the native language and acts as a chairperson in a Spanish cultural association is granted a better evaluation by employers. Regarding the Polish applicants, neither signaling attachment to the country of origin nor assimilation to the Swiss background makes a significant difference. In contrast, regarding applicants with Turkish-sounding names, signaling assimilation improves employers’ evaluation of their profile, whereas signaling attachment to the Turkish culture either by an extra curricula activity or indicating proficiency in both the Swiss and Turkish languages leads to significantly worse evaluations. We conclude that especially for individuals stemming from origins that are perceived as culturally distant, signaling attachment to the culture of origin may result in a higher occurrence of discrimination, even when the signal indicates higher human- or social-capital of the jobseeker.

  • Compensation or Competition: Bias in Immigrants’ Access to Active Labour Market Measures (2019) Social Policy & Administration (with Flavia Fossati).

    Whether participation in active labour market programmes (ALMPs) pushes individuals back into employment depends on the programme’s characteristics. On the basis of encompassing registry data that allow us to control for usually unobserved employability, we find evidence of a systematic access bias whereby jobcentre caseworkers in Switzerland assign unemployed persons to activation measures based on a competition logic that is mainly driven by an economic rationale and the jobcentre’s performance evaluation. This practice seems problematic because it results in an overrepresentation of immigrants in measures with little efficacy rather than in measures that could compensate for employability disadvantages. Conversely, Swiss citizens are more likely to enter beneficial human-capital-intensive measures. It is plausible that this discrepancy in programme participation amplifies the general labour market disadvantages of immigrants.

  • Language Roulette – The Effect of Random Placement on Refugees’ Labour Market Integration (2018) Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44(3):341-362.

    Placement of refugees and subsequent labour market integration within a host country represents a key challenge for policymakers and has emerged as one of the most divisive topics in the public debate. Immigration policy in Switzerland adopts random placement of asylum seekers across its different language regions. Hence, this policy allows to estimate the causal effect of language skills on employment chances, as refugees are exogenously placed across regions where the spoken language could either match or deviate from individual language skills. The results of this ‘natural experiment’ indicate substantially higher probabilities of finding employment when asylum seekers are placed in regions with a lingua franca that matches their individual language skills. Additionally, the findings suggest that language course participation can offset the reduced likelihood of employment in cases of a language mismatch. While random placement of refugees may be desirable for political reasons, it is detrimental to the economic integration process. Thereby, the study draws relevant conclusions for a larger European immigration policy.

  • The Absent Rewards of Assimilation: How Ethnic Penalties Persist in the Swiss Labour Market (2018) The Journal of Economic Inequality (with Flavia Fossati).

    We analyse whether the origin of immigrants and/or their level of assimilation to the host country (birth and naturalisation) can explain labour market trajectories. Among the manifold domains in which individuals with a migration background may face disadvantages, we focus on labour market re-integration because it has been proven to be a key factor in fostering long-term social integration into the host country. Although empirical evidence for discriminatory practices by employers is generally difficult to provide with registry data, our design minimises potential alternative explanations. Our study benefits from a unique dataset combining registry and survey data, which were collected in the Swiss Canton of Vaud among all newly unemployed individuals between February and April 2012. The findings are based on real labour market behaviour and show that when controlling for encompassing information on human and social capital and other employability criteria, individuals whose provenance is from outside the European Union face periods of unemployment that are up to 50% (or 3 months) longer than those of Swiss natives. Surprisingly, observable assimilation proofs in the form of naturalisation or birth in the host country do not improve labour market re-integration. We explain this finding by employers’ discriminatory hiring behaviour.

  • Linking Migration Intentions with Flows: Evidence and Potential Use (2018) International Migration (with Jasper Tjaden, Frank Laczko).

    In the absence of reliable, internationally available migration flow data necessary for statistical forecasting, policymakers increasingly turn to survey data on emigration intentions to evaluate future migration trends. The important assumption – i.e. that there is a measurable and systematic relationship between the intention to migrate and actual migration – has not been firmly established at the international level. We examine the association between estimated population averages of emigration intentions and official migration flow data based on data for more than 160 countries. The results show a strong association between emigration intentions and recorded bilateral flows to industrialized countries, as well as between intentions and aggregated out-migration. The results provide policymakers with a reliability assessment of survey data on emigration intentions and encourage future attempts to incorporate survey data in formal statistical migration forecasting models.

  • The Matching Hierarchies Model: Evidence from a Survey Experiment on Employers’ Hiring Intent of Immigrant Applicants (2018) International Migration Review (with Giuliano Bonoli, Flavia Fossati, Fabienne Liechti).

    We seek to understand why immigrants encounter labor market integration difficulties and thus propose a model that combines ethnic and occupational rankings to predict which candidates employers will favor for particular occupations (a matching hierarchies model). In a Swiss survey experiment, we found that employers’ evaluations of non-natives follow sociocultural distance perceptions and that a non-native background is a disadvantage mainly in high-skilled occupations. In low-skilled occupations, having an immigrant background is less detrimental. In elucidating disadvantage patterns, we conclude that it is important to consider contextual factors (occupational hierarchies) that may change the nature of nationality-based discrimination.

  • The Signalling Value of Labor Market Programs (2017) European Sociological Review, 33(2): 257-274 (with Fabienne Liechti, Flavia Fossati, Giuliano Bonoli).

    This article investigates how employers interpret participation in labour market programmes when assessing job candidates. We hypothesize that employers use programme participation to sort applicants. On the basis of a factorial survey experiment, we simulated the recruitment process for two positions requiring different skills in the hotel sector. Recruiters were asked to evaluate fictitious candidates who differ in their participation in active labour market programmes. Our results show that employers take programme participation into account when assessing a candidate. Its impact can be positive or negative depending on the candidate’s distance from the labour market. Candidates more distant from the labour market are evaluated better if they have participated in a programme. For stronger candidates, instead, participation can act as a stigma and worsen the assessment made by the recruiter.

  • Why do immigrants have longer periods of unemployment? Swiss evidence (2017) International Migration, 55(1): 157-174 (with Giuliano Bonoli, Flavia Fossati).

    Immigrant groups, especially those originating from non-European countries, tend to experience disadvantages in the labour market and to be overrepresented among the recipients of welfare benefits in many European countries. In the public debate, this outcome is sometimes explained with reference to migration-related factors such as weaker work values than natives (i.e., acceptability of remaining on benefits), smaller and lower quality of informal networks and lower levels of psychological well-being. Indeed, we find that these factors significantly influence unemployment duration in the expected direction. However, they explain only a small share of the overall disadvantage that some immigrant groups experience. We conclude that at least some of the large differences we observed in unemployment durations are likely to be due to other factors including discrimination by employers.

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