The role of religious background in the acculturation of second-generation immigrants in Europe

Executive summary of the master thesis of Ismail Lamamra. MA in Public and Corporate Communication, University of Milano.

Supervisors: Dr. Giulia Dotti Sani and Dr. Francesco Molteni


This thesis examines the association between religious background in the country of origin and attitudes and beliefs of second-generation immigrants in Europe, specifically regarding religiosity, attitudes towards gender roles, and attitudes towards homosexuality in the context of acculturation.

Theoretical background

Acculturation refers to cultural change resulting from sustained contact between two distinct cultural groups. It involves three main actors: individuals, the host group, and the immigrant group. The immigrant group can adopt four acculturation strategies based on their attitudes towards two main issues: preserving their origin culture and enhancing intergroup contact. These strategies include integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalization. This study uses the difference between native and second-generation subgroups as an indicator of the level of assimilation.

The attitudes and beliefs of second-generation immigrants are considered a significant indicator of a country’s success in integrating immigrant populations and implementing effective integration policies, given that these individuals are culturally socialized in the destination country.

Data and methods

The dataset is composed of 10 rounds of the European Social Survey (from 2002 to 2020) merged with information from ARDA’s World Religion Project. While the former provides individual-level data on natives and migrants in Europe, the latter gathers data from 193 countries on devotees for each faith, thus allowing me to identify the predominant religion in the country of origin of the migrants under study.

The final sample used in the analysis included 422,718 respondents from 39 European countries. Out of those, 365,572 were natives – born in the destination country just like both of their parents -, 29,156 were first-generation immigrants – born abroad -, and 27,990 were second-generation immigrants – born in the destination country, with at least one parent born in a foreign country. I applied a simple grouping method for second-generation immigrants. The approach does not include a distinction among same-country, mixed, and mixed-native second generations, but the group is rather studied altogether.

The dependent variables analyzed were religiosity, attitudes toward gender roles, and attitudes toward homosexuality.

In the ESS dataset, religiosity is measured on a scale ranging from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest level and 10 representing the highest.

Attitudes toward gender roles are tapped using the variable “Men should have more right to a job than women when jobs are scarce”, while attitudes toward homosexuality with the variable “Gays and lesbians should be free to live life as they wish”. Both variables were measured on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “Disagree strongly” to “Agree strongly”. I converted them into dummy variables where 1 assembled the progressive stances and 0 the traditionalist ones. Neutral stances (“neither agree nor disagree”) were classified as traditionalist. I also included some control variables in the analysis: gender, age, education, destination country, employment, family status, the feeling of own economic situation, and suffered discrimination.

Multiple linear and logistic regression models were applied to test my hypotheses.


Consistent with earlier studies, I found that the Muslim second-generation respondents demonstrated significantly higher levels of religiosity, with a predicted value of 6.01, compared to their Christian counterparts, who had a predicted value of 4.73.

Interestingly, age differences did not go in the expected direction for Muslims (as shown in Figure 1). In fact, the expected pattern by which older individuals are typically more religious and younger ones more secularized was completely reversed in this case, with younger Muslims exhibiting higher levels of religiosity. Conversely, the second-generation Christian subgroup showed consistency with the trend observed in the native population, despite having much narrower gaps.

Figure 1. Predicted religiosity by migration group, religious background and age group

Regarding gender roles, statistical analysis showed a significant difference only between the native and Christian second-generation subgroups, with the latter holding more progressive views. No statistically significant differences were found between Muslims and either natives or Christians. The gender gap in attitudes remained consistent across all subgroups, as shown in Figure 2, with an average predicted difference of 0.13.

Figure 2. Support for progressive gender roles by migration group, religious background, and gender

Among the subgroups, the Muslim second-generation exhibited the most conservative attitudes towards homosexuality. Furthermore, when examining attitudes by age (Figure 3), we can observe a trend reversal, with younger members of the Muslim subgroup displaying more conservative views, compared to older members. This trend is consistent with the
pattern observed for religiosity.

Figure 3. positive attitudes toward homosexuality by migration group, religious background, and age group

The findings of this study indicate that religion exerts a stronger influence on cultural attitudes in Muslim countries, as evidenced by the greater distance between respondents’ values and those of the native population. Muslim-origin individuals generally experience slower assimilation patterns compared to Christian immigrants, which could be due to either a stronger desire to preserve their origin values and traditions, or to higher levels of discrimination they face. Additionally, younger Muslim cohorts tend to exhibit a trend of blocked acculturation, where they create a parallel culture while rejecting the values of the host one.

Foto di Noah Holm su Unsplash