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Growing up in Diverse SocietiesThe Integration of the Children of Immigrants in England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden$

Frank Kalter, Jan O. Jonsson, Frank van Tubergen, and Anthony Heath

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266373

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266373.001.0001

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date: 30 May 2020

Social Contact and Inter-Ethnic Attitudes: The Importance of Contact Experiences in Schools

Social Contact and Inter-Ethnic Attitudes: The Importance of Contact Experiences in Schools

(p.201) 8 Social Contact and Inter-Ethnic Attitudes: The Importance of Contact Experiences in Schools
Growing up in Diverse Societies

Ralf Wölfer

Miles Hewstone

Eva Jaspers

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

Despite six decades of research in the field of intergroup contact, the special role of the school setting as a key context for mixing has, after an initial focus on studies of school desegregation in the U.S., received relatively little attention, especially in Europe. In this chapter, we will explain why the school setting can provide particularly effective intergroup contact experiences for improving intergroup attitudes, before we report empirical evidence using the CILS4EU dataset. Our findings demonstrate that the school provides more intergroup contact opportunities than other contexts, and these opportunities are consistently associated with more favorable intergroup attitudes for the majority as well as different minority groups. The present findings highlight the usefulness of early intergroup contact interventions within the school setting due to the specific structure of the school as a setting, as well as the efficacy of outgroup experiences in childhood and adolescence.

Keywords:   intergroup contact, intergroup attitudes, schools, interventions, childhood, adolescence

8.1 Introduction

SINCE THE SECOND HALF of the last century, Western Europe has experienced continuous waves of immigration from other countries, sometimes from former colonies, sometimes as so-called ‘guest workers’ and sometimes as economic migrants, seekers of political asylum or war refugees (Zick et al. 2008). Today, over 40 million people (≈10%) with an immigrant background live in the European Union (EU) (EC 2011) and this development is unlikely to slow down, as indicated by the recent waves of desperate people seeking asylum there. At the same time, we observe ethnic segregation not only into separate neighbourhoods or segments of the labour market, but in intimate relationships such as romantic partners and friendships as well.

Human beings have a well-known preference for relationships with similar others, known as homophily (McPherson et al. 2001), because similar others often have more in common with each other, are more likely to understand each other and are more likely to share similar beliefs and values, which together make it easier to establish and to maintain social relationships with them. While this similarity can be based on almost anything (e.g. ethnicity, sex, age, religion, education, social class, behaviour, attitudes, beliefs, goals or activities), McPherson et al. (2001: 415) concluded in their seminal review that: ‘Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments.’ Moreover, other scholars have emphasised that even when individuals are willing to interact with out-group members, this contact cannot be established when there is no opportunity to interact. Feld (1981) introduced what he called ‘foci’ into the sociological literature on relationship formation. He argues that people who share a focus, that is ‘a social, psychological, legal, or physical entity around which joint activities are organized’ (Feld 1981: 1016), will tend to form relationships with each other. And only within these foci can humans choose with whom to interact. Structural features thus determine to a large extent who interacts with whom.

(p.202) Humans’ tendency for homophily and their limited opportunities for out-group contact produce the risk of ethnic segregation in diverse societies. In fact, in contemporary Western European societies, many ethnic minority groups with an immigrant background are not well integrated socially within their destination country (i.e. the country in which they are an immigrant), resulting in considerable levels of segregation (see Chapter 5). In fact, some research has shown that school segregation in an area is sometimes even more marked than residential segregation in the same area, based on the ethnic background of residents (see, e.g., Johnston et al. 2006).

This situation is worrying, because a lack of integration of ethnic minority groups or immigrants is a risk factor with regard to several societal problems. First, structural segregation excludes migrants from benefits and resources that natives know how to use in order to improve their position in society, such as child-care facilities or how best to apply for a job. Unequal access to social resources and information, in turn, produces educational and economic inequalities (Rothon 2007; Martinovic et al. 2009). Moreover, segregation is likely to be negatively related to the health and well-being of migrants (Verkuyten 2008; Pascoe & Smart Richman 2009). Members from immigrant minority groups that are at the fringe of the societal network in particular will have a higher chance of experiencing the adverse health consequences of social exclusion or structural discrimination (Kauff et al. 2017). Finally, segregation also increases the likelihood that individuals from different groups tend merely to coexist, rather than integrate, which prevents the experience of intergroup contact that has been shown to improve intergroup attitudes (Pettigrew & Tropp 2006). Attitudes have traditionally been the main outcome variable of contact researchers, which is defined as ‘a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity [i.e. an out-group] with some degree of favor or disfavor’ (Eagly & Chaiken 1993: 1). Favourable attitudes towards out-group members are, therefore, taken as an indicator of lower prejudice because a prejudice is defined, specifically, as a negative attitude towards an out-group. In this way, attitudes are of particular importance for understanding and, if favourable, reducing discrimination and intergroup conflict within diverse societies.

As a consequence of this reasoning, a key challenge is to increase the opportunities for and efficacy of integration or positive intergroup contact between people from different groups. Based on the seminal contact hypothesis (Allport 1954), positive intergroup contact experiences promote social, emotional, cognitive and behavioural processes (i.e. changing behaviour, generating affective ties, learning about the out-group and reappraising the in-group) that stimulate attitude change over time and, thereby, decrease the likelihood of prejudice and segregation.

Although six decades of research have provided compelling evidence for the contact hypothesis (for a meta-analytic summary see Pettigrew & Tropp 2006), the special role of the school setting for providing regular and particularly effective intergroup contact experiences has been rather understudied. This is surprising given that this setting is one in which contact experiences can be structured (p.203) relatively easily, so that one can effectively implement the conditions that Allport (1954) highlighted for producing positive outcomes from contact. Allport proposed that contact would be more likely to reduce prejudice and improve intergroup relations if four conditions were met (see also Hewstone & Brown 1986; Hewstone & Swart 2011). First, there should be equal status among the individuals in the contact situation. Secondly, the situation should require cooperation between different groups. Thirdly, the contact situation should offer common goals for both groups. Finally, contact should be legitimised through institutional support.

In this chapter, we will outline why contact experiences within the school context are particularly important. Thereafter, we will review evidence from the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey in Four European Countries (CILS4EU) data set regarding: (a) the opportunities for and experiences of intergroup contact in schools; (b) the average level of students’ intergroup attitudes; and (c) the effects of intergroup contact experiences in schools on students’ intergroup attitudes. Finally, we will discuss the potential of contact experiences in schools in order to overcome ethnic segregation, create integrated societies and reduce the risk of prejudice and intergroup conflict.

8.2 The School as a Key Context for Mixing

We highlight here three reasons why intergroup contact experiences in schools are of particular relevance. The first is of a structural nature and concerns students’ regular and systematic opportunity to experience contact within this stable and supervised setting. That is, the school setting creates continuous contact opportunities between individuals, who have to meet the same students over a long time period. In the case of a diverse setting, the school systematically brings together individuals from different groups, supported and supervised by the school staff, who aim to create a positive climate in order to facilitate the learning process and achieve desirable educational outcomes. In this way, intergroup contact experiences in the school setting are, as explained in Section 8.1, more likely to meet the optimal conditions of intergroup contact as defined by Allport (1954). In contrast to other settings, all of these conditions are more likely to be realised within schools, where students are treated similarly, are encouraged to work together in groups, have a similar goal of mastering the educational challenges and can experience institutional support for intergroup contact. Moreover, the school setting weakens selection effects, which are likely to reinforce negative individual dispositions, such as intergroup prejudice. That is, students have less opportunity to choose their school (or their classes within it) compared to, for example, individuals’ options to choose their places of residence. In the latter case, individuals with higher prejudice scores are likely to prefer neighbourhoods with a low proportion of out-group members. In contrast, this selection effect does not exist as strongly in the school setting, so that contact effects can be experienced (p.204) relatively independently of students’ initial prejudice scores (of course, students’ parents may well choose their children’s schools based on ethnic criteria, but that influence is an indirect effect that comes from the parents rather than from the students themselves). And finally, it is more difficult for students to ‘escape’ from the out-group within the school context, especially in small classes (and even more so when teachers explicitly encourage intergroup interaction through more collaborative learning). That is, children who are in classes with out-group members do not have much opportunity to segregate themselves, compared to adults in neighbourhoods (see Figure 8.1) and are, therefore, more likely to experience intergroup contact on the individual level.

A second reason why intergroup contact experiences in the school setting are so important is based on literature suggesting that intergroup contact is particularly effective at school age. More specifically, in childhood and adolescence, fundamentally important cognitive and psychosocial changes occur, such as the development of social-cognitive skills and moral beliefs (Rutland et al. 2010), a better understanding of group norms (Abrams & Rutland 2008), the increasing relevance of peers (Brechwald & Prinstein 2011) and the development of an ethnic self and identity (French et al. 2006). Moreover, the ‘impressionable years hypothesis’ (Krosnick & Alwin 1989) implies that attitudes crystallise during a period of mental plasticity at a young age before they tend to stabilise in adulthood. All of these developing aspects shape intergroup attitudes and ‘soft-wire’ children and adolescents for intergroup contact experiences. That is, positive intergroup contact at school age is likely to be particularly helpful for reducing prejudice and for creating a tolerant climate within the increasingly diverse workplaces, neighbourhoods and communities of tomorrow’s, and sometimes also today’s, societies. Findings of a recent paper support this reasoning and indicate that intergroup contact experiences in adolescence are particularly effective, perhaps even necessary, for acquiring favourable intergroup attitudes in adulthood (Wölfer et al. 2016). This study followed a large Swedish sample of 3,815 individuals (aged 13 to 26 years) over four years. All participants answered questions on their intergroup attitudes and social contacts over repeated measurement waves, which allowed an accurate study of individuals’ intergroup contact within their social networks (see also Wölfer et al. 2015; Wölfer & Hewstone 2017). This study showed different developmental processes in adolescence and early adulthood, in that intergroup contact positively changed intergroup attitudes in adolescence, but not in early adulthood.

A third reason why intergroup contact experiences in school are so important concerns adolescents’ agentic role with respect to the socialisation of their parents. Based on social learning theory (Bandura 1969), research has traditionally focused on intergenerational transmission effects from parents to children. To date, it has been well documented that parents’ attitudes influence the development of their children’s attitudes (e.g. Sinclair et al. 2005; Castelli et al. 2009; Degner & Dalege 2013), but the opposite effect, from children to parents has been surprisingly understudied (Glass et al. 1986; Jaspers et al. 2008). Based on (p.205) developmental science, however, it is plausible to assume a bidirectional socialisation effect between parents and children. The rationale for expecting a child– parent socialisation effect is based on the psychosocial and cognitive changes during adolescence. First, adaptively developing children and adolescents gradually become autonomous and independent of their parents, which puts them in a more active position, for example during discussions with the latter. At the same time, peer relationships continuously become more important from early childhood through to late adolescence (LaFontana & Cillessen 2009), which results in a qualitative reorganisation of young people’s social networks, favouring interactions that are based on symmetry and equality. As a consequence, young people start to become active socialisation agents and (have to) learn how to persuade others of their values and beliefs. And finally, children’s and adolescents’ growing cognitive and moral skills, increasing knowledge and developing system of values and behaviours equip them with the necessary resources to actively influence others, including their own parents. In this way, adolescents’ agentic role can change adults’ intergroup attitudes, which is particularly beneficial if children and adolescents, in contrast to their parents, experience intergroup contact within diverse school settings.

To summarise, we argue that intergroup contact within the school setting is more accessible and more effective than in most other settings and, thereby, provides an ideal opportunity for improving intergroup attitudes in increasingly diverse societies.

8.3 The Present Contribution

All analyses in this chapter rely on wave 1 of the CILS4EU data (Kalter et al. 2014). The survey included a number of questions that measured, among others, intergroup contact and intergroup attitudes of adolescents in all four countries. The sample included majority group members and minority group members, who were categorised based on their ‘country of origin’ (for more details see Dollmann et al. 2014). Intergroup contact was measured by three questions (‘How often do you spend time during breaks at school with students from [out-group] background?’, ‘How often do you spend time in your neighbourhood with people from [out-group] background?’ and ‘How often do you spend time in clubs with people from [out-group] background?’) on a scale from 1 (never) to 5 (every day). In all contact items, the term ‘out-group’ never appeared in the questionnaire, but was replaced by the largest country-specific immigrant minority groups for majority students and by the country-specific majority group for immigrant minority students (e.g. in the UK, ‘people from a Black or Black British background’ or ‘people from an Asian or Asian British background’). Intergroup attitudes were measured by using the so-called feeling thermometer, which ranges from 0 to 100, with ‘warmer’ scores indicating more favourable attitudes. All students were asked to indicate how they felt about the country-specific majority group as well as (p.206) the largest country-specific immigrant minority groups. This feeling thermometer has been used in many studies before: it provides a reliable measure of attitudes towards different groups and is closely associated with related concepts such as out-group trust or anti-immigration policy preferences (see Lolliot et al. 2014).

8.4 Availability of Intergroup Contact Experiences in Schools

Participants’ self-reported amount of intergroup contact in school, in the neighbourhood and in clubs (e.g. sports clubs, music clubs etc.) allowed us to compare these settings with regard to students’ mean quantity of intergroup contact experienced in each setting. Members of minority groups report having, on average, higher intergroup contact scores in the school (t(18,695) = 52.06, p < 0.001), in the neighbourhood (t(18,524) = 57.94, p < 0.001) and in clubs (t(10,247) = 60.53, p < 0.001), as one would expect, given that they have more contact opportunities than the numerically larger majority group. Despite this group difference, the results consistently indicate that the school seems to be the context that offers most opportunities for intergroup contact experiences, followed by clubs and then the neighbourhood (for more details see Chapter 7). This pattern of results is stable across both the majority and the minority groups and across all countries, with one exception (i.e. for the minority groups in the Netherlands clubs seem to be slightly more important than schools).

All differences between the school setting and the other two settings are statistically significant for the majority and for the minority across all countries (p < 0.05, paired t-test). This is of little surprise given the large sample size of the current data set, which substantially increases the likelihood of reaching a level of statistical significance using conventional test statistics. However, effect sizes that contrast means independently of the sample size underline that most differences are not just statistically significant, but also are of a size to be treated as practically important. An effect size is a standardised difference between means or a measure of the association between variables. Cohen (1988) suggested the following guidelines to interpret the size of an effect: effect sizes of about d = 0.2 denote ‘small’ effects, effect sizes of about d = 0.5 denote ‘medium’-sized effects and effect sizes greater than d = 0.8 denote ‘large’ effects. In more detail, we reveal medium to large effect sizes for the majority when comparing the frequency of intergroup contact in the school with the frequency of intergroup contact in the neighbourhood (d = 0.72) and in clubs (d = 0.52), as well as for the minority when comparing the school with the neighbourhood in this respect (d = 0.61). In contrast, the comparison of minority members’ intergroup contact frequencies in the school and in clubs reveals only a small effect size (d = 0.16).

Initially, this finding seems to suggest that clubs are an alternative setting for the minority with similar mixing opportunities as the school. It is important to note, however, that many children and adolescents from minority groups are not members of a club. In our sample, only 43% of the immigrant minority groups (p.207) reported belonging to a club. Moreover, it is plausible to assume a systematic selection effect in this regard, because quite well-integrated minority students are likely to join a club and increase their intergroup contact opportunities compared to less-integrated minority students. That is, while the school obliges everyone to attend on a regular basis and actively participate, clubs can recruit only some adolescents and probably only those who are already well integrated.

To sum up, the school context seems to be a key setting for promoting mixing between different groups, because it provides more intergroup contact opportunities than the neighbourhood and clubs, while reaching almost every young person. In Sections 8.5 and 8.6, we will explore the level of students’ intergroup attitudes and examine the extent to which intergroup contact affects intergroup attitudes.

8.5 The Level of Intergroup Attitudes in Majority and Minority Group Students

Table 8.1 presents a comparative summary of students’ intergroup attitudes among the majority group and the largest minority groups, separately for each survey country. The first column presents the means and standard deviations for the country-specific majority towards the country-specific minorities groups listed in the table rows, while the second column presents the means and standard deviations of these country-specific minority groups towards the majority. In England, for example, the white British majority reports having a mean attitude score of 68.98 (SD = 28.15) towards the Asian British minority, who, in turn, reports having a mean attitude score of 69.46 (SD = 24.98) towards the white British majority.

These descriptives provide three key insights. First, the mean attitude scores between the different groups have some room for improvement.1 Only 11 of 28 mean attitude scores reach a value above 70 and only 2 of 28 reach a value above 80, while the remaining attitude scores range between ‘cold’ (< 50) and ‘mild’ (50–70). Secondly, the majority and minority groups differ in terms of their mean intergroup attitudes in that minority groups across all four countries consistently report having more favourable attitudes towards the majority than the majority reports having towards each minority group, with one exception (i.e. the black British minority group in England is perceived as more positive by the white British majority than vice versa). This finding is in line with the higher intergroup contact reported by the minority (see Section 8.4), which furnishes them, in line with the contact hypothesis, with more positive out-group experiences that might contribute to improved levels of intergroup attitudes. In fact, comparing the general correlation between contact and attitudes across all countries reveals a stronger association for minority students (r = 0.36, p < 0.001) compared to majority students (r = 0.23, (p.208)

Table 8.1. Country-specific attitudes between the majority and the largest minority groups

Majority (Attitudes towards minorities)

Minority (Attitudes towards majority)






   Asian British





   Black British




































































Note: Unweighted means are reported. M = Mean; SD = Standard Deviation.

p < 0.001). A third key insight from Table 8.1 regards the country- and group-specific differences. That is, intergroup attitudes differ substantially across the different countries. For example, the average intergroup attitudes of the majority are more favourable in England than in Germany (d = 0.91), while the average intergroup attitudes of the minority are more favourable in Sweden than in the Netherlands (d = 0.58). Beyond that, Table 8.1 also demonstrates considerable differences between the different minority groups, whether as target groups or as respondent groups, within each country. For example, ex-Yugoslavs in Sweden are perceived as more favourable by the majority than are Turks (d = 0.37) or Somalis (d = 0.39), while Antilleans hold more favourable attitudes towards the Dutch majority than do Turks (d = 0.57) or Moroccans (d = 0.52). These country-and group-specific differences highlight the importance of differentiating between different minority groups when studying intergroup attitudes.

Table 8.2 presents intergroup attitudes between different minority groups in each country. The columns indicate the reported intergroup attitudes of a minority group towards other minority groups that are listed in the rows of each country-specific block (i.e. how a group rates other minority groups), while the rows indicate the intergroup attitudes expressed towards each minority group by other minority groups (i.e. how a target group is rated). For example, Turks in Germany report mean attitude scores of 37.07 (SD = 31.52), 33.01 (SD = 30.12) and 41.00 (p.209)

Table 8.2. Country-specific attitudes between different minority groups

Social Contact and Inter-Ethnic Attitudes: The Importance of Contact Experiences in Schools

Note: Each column indicates a group’s view regarding other groups listed in country-specific rows; i.e., columns report how a group rates while rows report how a group is rated. Unweighted means are reported. Standard deviations are reported in parentheses.

(SD = 31.98) towards Russians, Poles and Italians, respectively, while these other minority groups express attitudes towards Turks of 46.51 (SD = 29.89), 46.32 (SD = 29.47) and 44.35 (SD = 33.33), respectively.

Aside from England, for which the research applied a relatively broad minority group categorisation, different minority groups are perceived differently and perceive other minority groups differently. For example, Turks in the Netherlands are rated colder by Antilleans than by Moroccans, while Somalis in Sweden have (p.210) much more favourable attitudes towards ex-Yugoslavs than to Finns. Moreover, minority group respondents usually have much less positive (less ‘warm’) attitudes to other minority groups compared to respondents in the country-specific majority groups (see Table 8.1). These findings further underscore the need to differentiate separate minority groups, because their pattern of intergroup attitudes indicates that the total minority population does not form a coherent group.

Finally, Table 8.3 summarises, separately in each row, the in-group attitudes for all country-specific majority and largest minority groups. Moreover, the final column of Table 8.3 reports a measure of in-group bias, which was calculated by taking the difference between the in-group score and the out-group score (i.e. in-group attitude minus out-group attitude, separately for each respondent group). For the majority, out-group attitudes represent the average attitude towards minority groups (i.e. members of the largest country-specific minority groups as well as all other minority group members), whereas for the minority, out-group attitudes represent the attitude towards country-specific majority group members. A positive in-group bias value, therefore, indicates that this particular group holds more positive attitudes towards the in-group compared to the out-group.

Table 8.3. Country-specific in-group attitudes of the majority and the largest minority groups

In-Group Attitudes

In-Group Bias





   White British




   Asian British




   Black British



































































Note: IG-OGΔ‎ = ingroup minus outgroup attitude score

(p.211) As expected, in-group attitudes are high across all groups and countries, while only 5 out of 18 groups have an in-group attitude score below 80. Relatedly, most groups have a positive in-group bias when comparing their in-group attitudes with their out-group attitudes, which helps to put the cold to mild intergroup attitude scores from Table 8.1 into perspective and further confirms that they have some room for improvement. Moreover, it is worth noting that Table 8.3 indicates considerable differences regarding groups’ in-group attitudes as well as their in-group bias, which highlights the need to control for in-group attitudes when studying the link between contact and intergroup attitudes reported in the Section 8.6.

8.6 Effects of Intergroup Contact in Schools on Students’ Intergroup Attitudes

Table 8.4 presents the models, which tested the effect of available contact opportunities, operationalised as school diversity (i.e. immigrant proportion in percentages), on students’ intergroup attitudes, while controlling for relevant socio-demographics (i.e. sex and age), in-group attitudes and migration generation (categorised as first versus second generation) for the minority groups.

The majority columns in Table 8.4 summarise the effect of diversity for the majority’s attitudes towards separate minority groups that are listed in the rows of each country-specific block, while the minority columns summarise the effect of diversity for minority groups’ attitudes towards the country-specific majority group. For example, the diversity effect for the white British majority towards the Asian British minority reveals a positive effect of B = 2.51. This effect is interpreted as the change in intergroup attitudes, assessed in terms of ‘degrees’ on the feeling thermometer, if diversity increases by one standard deviation, which ranges between 26% and 28% across the different countries. The diversity effect for the Asian British minority towards the white British majority, in contrast, reveals a negative effect of B=-5.07, which is in line with our expectations given that a lower immigrant proportion implies a higher out-group proportion for the minority. Thus for Asian minority students, if diversity increases by one standard deviation, this indicates a proportional decrease in the size of the majority group (and hence a proportional decrease in opportunities for contact with members of that group), which is, as expected, associated with a decrease in attitudes.

Overall, the effects in Table 8.4 suggest the beneficial effect of available contact opportunities in schools for intergroup attitudes of the majority and different minority groups. That is, more out-group contact opportunities in schools (i.e. more diversity for majority students and less diversity for minority students) are associated with more favourable intergroup attitudes. This result seems to be independent of the control variables considered. Most effects reach a considerable size of B > 4, indicating that an increase of diversity by one standard deviation (i.e. 26–28%) is associated with a change of students’ intergroup attitudes by, on average, more than four points. Diversity effects become statistically significant, (p.212)

Table 8.4. Diversity effect on attitudes for the majority and country-specific minority groups










   Asian British







   Black British






















































































Note: A z-standardised predictor of immigrant proportion (SDENG = 28%, SDGER = 26%, SDNL = 28%, SDSWE = 28%) is used; multi-level modelling that considers the clustering was not necessary given that the design effect was consistently below 2 in all models due to small ICCs and cluster sizes; two-tailed test of significance, * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001. ICC = Intraclass Coefficient, B = Beta, SE = Standard Error.

apart from most groups in Germany and some minority groups in Sweden. A possible explanation for these non-significant effects could be the overall relatively low attitudes of the German majority and the overall relatively high attitudes of the Swedish minority groups, which might have produced floor and ceiling effects in these cases, respectively. This argument receives empirical support in a univariate analysis of variance, which reveals significant country differences in intergroup attitudes for the majority, F (3.9816) = 443.03, p < 0.001, and minority, F(3.6783) = 137.72, p < 0.001. The respective post hoc tests demonstrate that the German majority has significantly lower intergroup attitudes than the majority in every other country, while the Swedish minority has significantly higher intergroup attitudes.

8.7 Conclusion

The aim of this chapter was to examine the important role of the school setting for providing intergroup contact experiences that are of particular value in order to (p.213) overcome ethnic segregation and to improve intergroup attitudes, which, in turn, reduce the risk of discrimination and intergroup conflict. The main findings indicate that: (a) the school provides, compared to other settings, more opportunities for and experiences of out-group contact; (b) students’ intergroup attitudes still have some room for improvement; and (c) students who experience more out-group contact opportunities in schools hold more favourable intergroup attitudes.

Using an international, large-scale data set that included almost 20,000 European students nested in different schools with a varying level of diversity, our findings demonstrated that the school offers more opportunities for experiencing intergroup contact compared to clubs and neighbourhoods. Although clubs tend to provide similar levels of intergroup contact experiences for the minority, they can only—in contrast to the school setting—recruit some adolescents. At the same time, our data also suggest that intergroup attitudes between students of the majority group and different immigrant minority groups tend to be neutral or mild in most cases, which highlights the importance of improving the intergroup climate in schools given that favourable attitudes are of crucial importance for improving intergroup relations in increasingly diverse societies. Finally, the present findings indicate the largely beneficial effect of school diversity on students’ intergroup attitudes. That is, if the school context provides more opportunities for out-group contact, students report having more favourable intergroup attitudes. This effect could be shown for the majority in all countries except Germany and for minority groups across most models. The few non-significant effects of diversity on intergroup attitudes suggest that diversity improves intergroup attitudes, unless the overall intergroup climate within a society reaches a positive or negative threshold, which might override the effect of a specific setting. This interpretation, however, is not based on strong empirical evidence and deserves further exploration.

On the whole, however, the present results highlight the beneficial effect of diversity in schools, which is probably due to the particularly effective intergroup contact experiences that this setting can provide. In contrast, the main effect of diversity is less straightforward in other settings such as neighbourhoods (cf. van der Meer & Tolsma 2014), in which it is easier for individuals to segregate in diverse settings despite many out-group opportunities on the contextual level (see Figure 8.1). Recent literature suggests that diversity can still have a beneficial effect in neighbourhoods, but only if the existing contact opportunities are associated with actual intergroup contact experiences on the individual level (Schmid et al. 2014). In the school setting, however, out-group opportunities in more diverse schools have a higher likelihood of creating effective intergroup contact experiences and a positive effect on students’ intergroup attitudes.

As outlined in Section 8.1, these particularly effective intergroup contact experiences in the school context are based on the specific structure of the school and the efficacy of early intergroup contact experiences in childhood and adolescence. That is, the school systematically brings together individuals over a long period of time by minimising selection effects (at least for the students, if not for their (p.214) parents), while the size of the school or the classes in particular make high levels of segregation difficult. Moreover, the school aims to create a favourable climate among students in order to facilitate educational success and, therefore, succeeds quite well in meeting the optimal conditions of intergroup contact (i.e. equal status between groups, intergroup cooperation, common goals and institutional support) compared to other settings. Finally, previous research has found that intergroup contact is especially effective at school age due to specific cognitive and psychosocial changes during adolescence, such as moral development, identity formation, importance of peers, a better understanding and higher salience of social norms or a higher plasticity of intergroup attitudes, which altogether seem to increase adolescents’ sensitivity to and the effect of intergroup contact experiences (Wölfer et al. 2016).

The implications of these findings are promising to the extent that prejudice-decreasing school interventions can be realised in a relatively easy way, because researchers or teachers do not have to conduct individual-level intergroup contact programmes in schools. Given the positive main effect of diversity on intergroup attitudes, it seems to be sufficient to create optimally diverse school classes, in which intergroup contact is encouraged as a natural by-product of schools’ goal to create a positive climate among students that facilitates learning success. In this regard, the challenge is rather to work out and define this optimal level of diversity in classes. The reverse effect of immigrant proportion on intergroup attitudes for the majority and minority indicates that neither low nor high levels of diversity seem to be ideal. That is, a low immigrant proportion in classes favours the minority (in terms of promoting more positive out-group attitudes or lower levels of prejudice) but not the majority, while a high immigrant proportion in classes favours the majority but not the minority. Thus, an optimal balance of majority and minority students within a moderately diverse school class might be the most beneficial way to allow both groups to optimally benefit from a diverse environment. Due to the numerically larger majority group it is, of course, impractical to aim for equally distributed groups across all school classes in a country. However, avoiding class compositions that have either very high or very low immigrant proportions in schools is likely to be most effective.

To conclude, the present chapter outlined the important role of schools for providing and experiencing particularly effective forms of intergroup contact. In this way, schools have a key role to play in integrating the children of immigrants in increasingly diverse European societies, while this effect is—due to the bidirectional socialisation effect between parents and children—even expected to have a positive side effect for the parents of these students. We believe that schools can help to create more integrated societies, improve intergroup attitudes and reduce the risk of intergroup conflict if the increasingly diverse societies in Europe manage to create optimally diverse classes that are characterised by a positive school climate among students.

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(1) The low in-group value for Turks and ex-Yugoslavs in Sweden, and their negative in-group bias, is most likely due to internal divsions within these groups—compare, for example, Chapter 3, Table 3.5, for the composition of the Turkish group in Sweden.