From welcome culture to welcome limits? Uncovering preference changes over time for sheltering refugees in Germany

Ulf Liebe, Jürgen Meyerhoff, Maarten Kroesen, Caspar Chorus, Klaus Glenk

PLOS One, Volume 13, Issue 8 (2018), Article Number e0199923


This paper explores the acceptance of refugee and migrant homes in citizens’ neighborhoods in Germany and how attitudes change over time.

The analysis is based on responses to a ‘stated choice experiment’, where respondents were asked to consider different attributes of refugee and migrant homes, including: (1) main country of origin and religion of the refugees/migrants; (2) number of people; (3) type of housing; (4) distance to respondent’s home; and (5) whether mainly single people or families would live in the homes. There were 861 respondents in the November 2015 survey, of whom 573 took part in a repeated survey in November 2016. Respondents were close to representative of the German population with respect to sex and age, but not educational attainment.

Main findings:

  • Most respondents were ‘rather disapproving’ of refugees’ and migrants’ homes in their neighborhood, and a decreasing minority were ‘rather approving’ of refugees and migrant homes in their neighborhood.
  • Individuals who were ‘rather approving’ were indifferent between refugee and migrant homes, indifferent between Muslim and non-Muslim refugees/migrants, and indifferent to the number of refugees/migrants in the homes, and preferred shorter distances between refugee/migrant homes and their own homes.
  • Individuals who were ‘rather disapproving’ preferred refugee homes over migrant homes, non-Muslim refugees/migrants, maximizing the physical distance to refugees or migrants, and minimizing the number of refugees or migrants.
  • Both categories of respondents preferred: better housing conditions; refugees and migrants from Syria compared to other origin countries considered (India, Nigeria, Serbia); and families over single persons. Decent housing conditions and family migration were more important drivers of preferences for refugee or migrant homes than country of origin and religion.
  • Overall, there were stable preferences for refugee and migrant homes over time across the whole sample. However, one fifth of the sample population, who were initially ‘rather approving’ of refugee and migrant homes being established in their neighborhood, were more likely to change their preferences to ‘rather disapproving’ in 2016.
  • Experience of contact with refugees and migrants, higher education, and general pro-immigration attitudes explain acceptance of refugee and migrant homes as well as preference stability over time.

Overall, the results highlight the importance of humanitarian aspects of sheltering and integration of refugees and other migrants into society.