Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



Many western democracies witnessed roaring levels of immigration and inequality in the past four decades. In spite of speculations that immigration is a contributing factor of the rising income inequality, existing studies do not have a consistent finding relating to this relationship. This dissertation utilizes new data sources to explore the relationship between immigration and inequality.My initial exploration points to the fact that immigration significantly leads to increases in post-redistribution income inequality in 16 OECD countries, but does not have any effect on pre-redistribution income inequality. I contend that it is because immigrants as non-citizens are often times not entitled to welfare benefits that are easily provided to citizens. Since immigrants are systematically disadvantaged in the distributive process, their presence inevitably widens the income differentials after redistribution. In order to test this thesis, I first study the evolution of immigrant welfare policy in the 16 OECD countries from 1970 to 2007 to verify that immigrants are largely excluded from the welfare system. I create an indicator-the “Immigrant Welfare Eligibility Score” - to measure the strictness of immigrant welfare policy. I find that immigrants only had limited access to the welfare systems, and their access had been further restricted in 16 OECD countries since 1970’s. I also explore the determinants of immigrant welfare policy and find that factors like partisan control of the government and other factors influence the strictness of immigrant welfare policy.Then I explore why western developed countries would exclude immigrants from the welfare system from the public opinion perspective. I use survey data from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) and find that how much the public likes immigrants directly determines public support for welfare spending on immigrants. In other words, the prevalent anti-immigrant sentiment is a motivation for the policy-makers to limit or even exclude immigrants from participating in certain welfare programs. Lastly, I use data from 16 OECD countries to test if the extent to which immigration brings up inequality differs in countries with strict and relaxed immigrant welfare policy. I have found that the strictness of immigrant welfare policy does influence the extent to which immigration influences post-redistribution income inequality.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Clark, William