Attitudes matter—welfare work and migration in Sweden
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This paper investigates the factors that influence Swedish welfare workers’ attitudes towards migrants and how these attitudes are associated with their encounters with migrant users. Due to increased migration over the last decade, Sweden is now considered an immigrant nation. Migrants with the right to reside in Sweden are included within the larger welfare system. This paper argues that preconceived notions about migrants can affect the welfare services that they receive. Results from an online survey with a sample of 1,319 welfare practitioners reveal that welfare workers’ attitudes play a significant role when it comes to how they perceive their encounters with migrant users. The findings demonstrate that more favourable attitudes towards migrants were predicted mainly by personal contact with migrants and that different organisational contexts result in different experiences of encounters with migrant users. Less favourable attitudes towards migrants were primarily predicted by a strong ethnic national identity. Most importantly, the findings show that welfare workers’ who have more favourable attitudes towards migrants are less likely to perceive their encounters with migrant users as difficult. This paper contributes to welfare and migration research in two ways. First, this study provides additional support for previous claims from qualitative research by supporting the assumptions that preconceived negative ideas about migrants have meaning for practical welfare work. Second, this paper integrates two streams of research—attitude formation theory and street-level bureaucracy theory— thus expanding existing assumptions about what determines welfare practices with migrants.