By Enrico Bertacchini, Alessandra Venturini and Roberto Zotti


Migration has become in the last decades one of the most overarching phenomena at the global level. Much of the academic and policy debate has focused on the determinants of economic and social integration at receiving societies, but very little attention has been devoted on migrants’ engagement in arts and cultural activities and in general on their cultural integration. Using Italy as a case study, we find that, rather than personal cultural capital, cultural participation is significantly and primary driven by the process of acculturation which takes place during the staying in the host country. At the same time, the effect of migrants’ cultural background is more complex, varying across cultural groups and depending on the type of cultural activities considered.

An extensive literature in both economics and sociology has theoretically and empirically unveiled the determinants of cultural participation. Jointly with standard factors linked to market conditions and households’ time and economic resources, theoretical models have highlighted how engagement in arts and cultural activities crucially depends on the process of taste formation, that can be in turn explained by some forms culture-specific consumption capital. Despite the substantial cultural participation research, the majority of works has rarely studied and provided evidence on factors that affect the variation and accumulation of culture-specific consumption capital by migrants, thus explaining the accessibility to cultural goods and activities available in the hosting society by this group of population.

In our study, we tried to shed light on these factors by identifying two additional channels specific to immigrant population, namely the individual process of acculturation and the heterogeneity in cultural traits at immigrant group level. The former relates to the level of integration in the new society (Berry, 1997) and is generally captured through several dimensions, such as the years of residence in the destination country, proficiency in the language of the host country and the degree of socialization with natives. The latter channel refers instead to the effects of cultural values and beliefs (or their proximity with the culture of the host country) on the variation in behavior and outcomes of individuals who share the same institutional environment (Fernandez, 2011). Common measures to capture migrants’ cultural values are the nationality or religion, while one of the most commonly adopted measures of cultural proximity remains the similarity among languages.

We empirically test the influence of these channels on immigrants’ decision to engage in leisure and cultural activities by using data from a unique survey conducted by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) in 2011-2012 on living conditions on a sample of 25,000 individuals from households with foreign-born members.

Italy represents an interesting case study because, compared to other western European countries, it is characterized by a more recent history of immigration flows, which makes possible to better analyze the behavior of first-generation immigrants and their degree of adaptation in the new context. In addition, the Italian language is scarcely spread globally enabling to better isolate the effect that linguistic barriers have on immigrants’ cultural participation in the destination country.

In our empirical analysis we use a latent class model (zero-inflated ordered probit) to jointly estimate non-participation and intensity of engagement in cultural activities, and we control for a large set of individual and environmental characteristics. The analysis is carried out for distinct leisure and cultural activities, namely sport events, dancing venues, cinema, theater and music concerts.

Our findings indicate that, even after controlling for individual characteristics usually used to explain cultural participation, immigrants’ level of integration and, to a lesser extent, the cultural background play a role in explaining differences in cultural consumption. Cultural participation is significantly and primary driven by different dimensions of integration in the host country, suggesting that the acculturation process is crucial to build culture-specific consumption capital and favor the accessibility to cultural products in the host society. Conversely, participation in cultural and leisure activities is more ambiguously explained by differences in cultural traits peculiar to immigrant communities, as measured by immigrants’ country of origin, religion or linguistic proximity to the Italian language. Although not always significant across groups, we find lower predicted rates of participation for individuals from Asian and Arab countries and higher predicted rates for migrants from Eastern Europe and Latin America. This pattern is confirmed also when considering religious faith. However, when we consider linguistic proximity as an alternative indicator of immigrants’ cultural traits, this tends to be negatively associated with the probability to engage in cultural and leisure activities

The use of zero inflated models to analyze cultural consumption also offers some insights as to the role and effectiveness of cultural policies aimed at immigrants’ inclusion in the Italian context. Far from pursuing assimilation of migrant minorities, standard integration policies that favor the long-term economic and social adaptation in the host society might still matter to increase average propensity to participate in cultural and leisure activities. At the same time, for some cultural activities (as in the case of Cinema and Theater) our results suggest that there is a large share of non-attendance among potential participants that could be reduced with targeted interventions to mitigate the constraints (i.e. time, economic, information) to cultural consumption. Moreover, these audience development policies need to be tailored on specific minorities as the observed rate of non-consumption is often not strictly linked to a cultural barrier to participation.

This article is based on:

Bertacchini, E., Venturini, A. & Zotti, R. Drivers of cultural participation of immigrants: evidence from an Italian survey. J Cult Econ (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10824-020-09405-0

About the authors:

Enrico Bertacchini is Associate Professor at Department of Economics and Statistics “Cognetti de Martiis”, University of Torino, Lungodora Siena 100, Torino, Italy

Alessandra Venturini is Professor at Department of Economics and Statistics “Cognetti de Martiis”, University of Torino, Lungodora Siena 100, Torino, Italy

Roberto Zotti is Assistant Professor Department of Economics and Statistics “Cognetti de Martiis”, University of Torino, Lungodora Siena 100, Torino, Italy

About the image: Cobs of corn (2005)


Berry, J. W. (1997). Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Applied psychology, 46(1), 5-34.

Fernández, R. (2011). Does culture matter?. In Handbook of social economics (Vol. 1, pp. 481-510). North-Holland.

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