Does the education level of refugees affect natives’ attitudes?

Philipp Lergetporer, Marc Piopiunik, and Lisa Simon

European Economic Review, Volume 134 (2021), Article Number 103710


This paper examines whether attitudes toward refugees in Germany are affected by beliefs about refugees’ educational attainment.

The analysis is based on an online survey experiment conducted with more than 4,000 respondents representative of the adult population in Germany. A randomly selected ‘treatment’ group of respondents was informed about the average educational attainment of refugees in Germany, following which all respondents were asked about their: (i) beliefs about refugees’ education level; (ii) concerns about competition in the labor market; (iii) concerns that refugees increase the overall cost (‘fiscal burden’) of public services; and (iv) general attitudes toward refugees.

Information about the educational attainment of refugees is drawn from the IAB-BAMF-SOEP Survey of Refugees in Germany published in 2016, which finds that 32 percent of asylum seekers in Germany aged 18 years and older have a high school degree and 13 percent hold a university degree.

Main findings:

  • Providing information about refugees’ educational attainment strongly increases the share of respondents who think that refugees are well educated.
  • Providing information about refugees’ educational attainment increases concerns about labor market competition and decreases concerns about the fiscal burden.
  • Providing information about refugees’ educational attainment improves general attitudes towards refugees, which may suggest that decreased fiscal burden concerns on average more than outweigh increased labor market competition concerns.
  • The general pattern of results is very similar for non-tertiary-educated and tertiary-educated respondents.
  • Several non-economic factors (e.g., refugees’ willingness to integrate or humanitarian aspects) are more important for respondents than economic considerations in shaping attitudes towards refugees.

The authors suggest two policy implications of these findings. First, correcting misperceptions about refugees through information provision can improve attitudes toward refugees, which may in turn improve the political feasibility of more progressive asylum policies. Second, non-economic aspects are important for shaping the attitudes toward refugees, which suggests that policy makers may increase public acceptance of refugees by highlighting humanitarian aspects or their willingness to integrate, rather than economic factors.