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Politics & Current Affairs

Why working class people are more empathetic (and not prejudiced against migrants)

A new study argues that the working class are not prejudiced against immigrants and are more likely to help people.
The greased and dirty hands of a working class person. (Getty Images)

President Trump was elected with strong support from working-class people, promising to restore their pride and livelihood while stopping all the supposed illegal aliens who he claims are stealing benefits and jobs. Besides the fact that many immigrants tend to take jobs Americans don’t want in the first place, a study published earlier in 2018 paints a much more complex portrait of the working class. It shows that people in the working class are not only more empathetic but do not have the kind of mistrust of migrants politicians claim.

The study, authored by Antony S. R. Manstead from Cardiff University in the U.K., argues that the material conditions in which people are brought up leave a “lasting impact on their personal and social identities,” influencing how they feel about their social environment and their behavior in society. Perhaps that’s not too groundbreaking but Manstead further proposes that in comparison to members of the middle class, lower or working class folks are “less likely to define themselves in terms of their socioeconomic status and are more likely to have interdependent self‐concepts.”

Used to having less control over their lives, they are more inclined to look at events around them from a situational standpoint. As such, working class people tend to score higher on empathy measurements and are more likely to help out people experiencing distress.

The study stands on its head the widely-held view that working class individuals are more prejudiced against migrants and minorities. Instead, Manstead suggests that the apprehension held towards these groups by the working class is there but as a “function of economic threat”. What is the greatest predictor of prejudice is not income, but the level of education. Similarly, the study demonstrates that higher-educated people show the same kind of attitudes towards these groups if they are described as being highly educated. You fear the one who will take your job and your money.

Whether that fear is justified at all is another matter. Analysis, like this one by the Brookings Institution Senior Fellow William Frey, show that immigration is linked to positive economic growth and innovation.

What does hold working-class people back, points out Manstead, is a class-reinforced mindset that prevents them from taking advantage of educational and employment opportunities that may be available, which would “increase social mobility and thereby improve their material circumstances.” He cites the example of some working-class students not applying to elite universities for fear they would feel out of place there. And this lack of mobility strains “social cohesion”, something we have all observed recently in the United States.

Check out the new study here, published in the British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.


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