Family History and Attitudes toward Out-Groups

Evidence from the European Refugee Crisis

Can leveraging family history reduce xenophobia? Building on theories of group identity, we show that a family history of forced relocation leaves an imprint on future generations and can be activated to increase sympathy toward refugees. We provide evidence from Greece and Germany, two countries that vividly felt the European refugee crisis, and that witnessed large-scale forced displacement of their own populations during the twentieth century. Combining historical and survey data with an experimental manipulation, we show that mentioning the parallels between past and present differentially increases pledged monetary donations and attitudinal measures of sympathy for refugees among respondents with forcibly displaced ancestors. This differential effect is also present among respondents without a family history of forced migration who live in places with high historical concentration of refugees. Our findings highlight the role of identity and shared experience for reducing out-group discrimination.