Ethno-religious neighbourhood infrastructures and the life satisfaction of immigrants and their descendants in Germany

Ethno-religious neighbourhood infrastructures and the life satisfaction of immigrants and their descendants in Germany


Written by:

Jonas Wiedner, Merlin Schaeffer and Sarah Carol

First Published:

09 Feb 2022, 10:25 am


Ethno-religious neighbourhood infrastructures and the life satisfaction of immigrants and their descendants in Germany



Ethno-religious enclaves, that is, urban areas with a concentration of people of a certain ethnic descent, are often seen as problematic by members of mainstream society: they tend to be located in deprived inner-city areas and are frequently described as segregated ‘parallel societies’ that are disconnected from the majority. Urban migration scholars, on the other hand, have long argued that such enclaves also harbour support networks, ethnic labour markets, and infrastructures that build the foundation of a rich social, religious, and cultural life among recent immigrants. But do they also matter for members of more-established groups and the descendants of immigrants?

In our new study “Ethno-Religious Neighbourhood Infrastructures and the Life Satisfaction of Immigrants and their Descendants in Germany”, we, Jonas Wiedner (WZB), Merlin Schaeffer (University of Copenhagen) and Sarah Carol (University College Dublin), study this question using novel data. To this end, we compiled detailed measures of ethno-religious infrastructures in Germany, mostly using various semi-automated web-scraping techniques. The final dataset consists of the precise geolocations of more than 13,000 associations, supermarkets and religious sites catering towards over 40 of the most important immigrant groups in Germany. We also draw on existing spatial datasets of neighbourhood socio-demographics. We link these rich socio-spatial data to the German socio-economic panel survey, an established longitudinal study covering many areas of life of a sample of residents across Germany, among them more than 9,000 immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. We estimate statistical models to link life satisfaction, as reported in the survey, to the presence of co-ethnics and of ethno-religious infrastructures, while adjusting for a wide range of other characteristics of both respondents and places.

Our analyses reveal a statistically significant but relatively modest positive association between ethno-religious associations and life satisfaction, but neighbourhood affluence, the mere presence of co-ethnics, ethnic grocers, or minority places of worship do not hold an influence on life satisfaction. Once we stratify our analysis by generation, a clear and somewhat surprising pattern emerges: it is the descendants of immigrants, particularly those who retain a strong identificatory connection to their parents’ country of origin, who clearly express higher life satisfaction when living in areas with denser ethno-religious infrastructures.

This finding is important for the debate on the role of neighbourhoods in immigrant integration:  ethno-religious enclaves in Germany act less as temporary bridgeheads for little adapted newcomers than as community hubs for established ethno-religious minority communities in an increasingly multicultural Germany – at least with respect to life satisfaction.

It also suggests that researchers should aim to measure infrastructures directly—and not to rely on demographic shares alone, which, as our work documents, are not the driver of positive enclave-effects. Finally, our research underlines the importance of taking immigrants and their descendants subjective experiences seriously: neither of the factors informed by mainstream debates on enclaves, i.e., socio-economic and ethnic population composition, seem to affect immigrants’ and their descendants’ subjective life-satisfaction in clear-cut or at least detectable ways.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.