Immigration Is Surging from Countries with Starkly Different Cultural Values

By Jason Richwine on November 18, 2016

Donald Trump's ascension to the presidency means that he will have a chance to implement the "extreme vetting" of immigrants he proposed during the campaign. In a speech at Youngstown, Ohio, back in August, Trump suggested that immigrants would be evaluated not only for their possible connections to terrorism, but also for their commitment to First World values.

The new policy would be timely. As I noted a couple of months ago, no one will be surprised that social views in traditional societies differ from those in the post-industrial West, but the degree of divergence can be striking. Immigration is surging from countries where that divergence is especially large.

Table 1 lists the top 10 "immigration surge" countries – meaning the foreign-born populations in the United States that have increased the most (in percentage terms) between 2010 and 2015. (The table is limited to foreign-born populations with a minimum of 100,000 people in 2010 to avoid including tiny populations.)


Growth of U.S. Foreign-Born Population Between 2010 and 2015, by Country of Birth

  Country of Birth U.S. Pop.
U.S. Pop.
Growth Included in
World Values Survey?
1 Bangladesh 153,691 228,682 49% no
2 Nigeria 219,309 323,635 48% yes
3 Venezuela 184,039 255,520 39% no
4 Egypt 137,799 185,872 35% yes
5 Iraq 159,800 215,193 35% yes
6 India 1,780,322 2,389,639 34% yes
7 Ethiopia 173,592 228,745 32% no
8 Pakistan 299,581 379,435 27% yes
9 Ghana 124,696 155,532 25% yes
10 Dominican Republic 879,187 1,063,239 21% no


Source: American Community Survey.
Restricted to foreign-born populations of at least 100,000 people in 2010.


The figures below use questions from the World Values Survey to illustrate the differences in cultural values between the United States and the "surging" countries that are included in the survey. The first three figures on gender equality are reproduced from my previous post on the World Values Survey, while the rest are new.













Obviously the figures indicate profound differences in cultural values between the United States and the countries that are sending us an increasing number of immigrants. But how might these differences be overstated? The most obvious answer is immigrant self-selection. As I noted in the previous post:


Immigrants are rarely a cross-section of a sending nation's population, and people who do immigrate may hold views closer to the American mainstream than those of their countrymen. Indian immigrants to the United States, for example, are a famously educated and cosmopolitan group pulled mainly from India's upper classes. Indian-Americans clearly do not hold the same social views as typical residents of India.


Another possibility is that immigrants will rapidly assimilate American values. One could argue, for example, that immigrants from the surge countries will stop believing that men should have preference for jobs once they enter a society in which a large number of households are headed by women.

Of course, no one knows how long and to what extent cultural differences will persistent among immigrants or the extent to which these difference will cause social friction. Immigration is a discretionary policy, and we can change the selection criteria or the level of immigration in any direction if we wish to reduce the possibility of social friction in the future.