The happiness of European Muslims post-9/11

11 October 2018

Aslan Zorlu (University of Amsterdam) and Paul Frijters (London School of Economics) conducted research into the happiness of European Muslims in the years since the attacks on 11 September 2001. They found a subgroup of young male Muslim immigrants who report a persistent low level of well-being. This could potentially pose a threat to integration, the researchers concluded.

The terrorist attracts on 11 September 2001 increased social tensions between Muslims and Non-Muslim communities, particularly in European countries where Muslims are a significant minority group. Zorlu and Frijters studied how these tensions affect feelings of happiness and well-being, and how happy Muslim groups are compared to other religious groups (Protestants and Catholics). How do feelings of danger and hostility in one group affect the well-being and happiness of another group's members?

The authors have published this first empirical study into the long-term impact of 9/11 on the well-being of European Muslims in the academic journal Ethnic and Racial Studies.

Cross-national survey

To study happiness among Muslims, Zorlu and Frijters relied on data from the European Social Survey (ESS). This cross-national survey, which has been conducted every two years since 2002, is aimed at cataloguing the attitudes, opinions and habits of the population in various European countries.

Persistent low level of happiness

The authors analysed the surveys from 2002 to 2012 and discovered that Muslim immigrants reported a slight decrease in happiness shortly after the 2001 attacks. This dip was followed by a recovery, which brought the group back to an average level comparable with that of other religious communities. A small group of young Muslim men between the ages of 21 and 25 and originally from the Middle East, by contrast, reported a persistent low level of well-being and happiness.

This group has experienced little increase in happiness and a considerable decrease in overall life satisfaction over the years. This effect was not observed among non-Muslim men from the same countries, such as Coptic Egyptians or Christians from Iraq.

The researchers did, however, note a return to an average level of happiness later in life, which indicates that the young men's feeling of dissatisfaction is temporary in nature.

Potential threat to integration

The negative impact of the 2001 attacks appears to affect Muslim immigrants from the Middle East to a much greater extent than Muslims from other parts of the world or non-Muslim immigrants from the Middle East. Factors such as discrimination, immigration status, demographic and socio-economic characteristics, country and length of stay do not provide an explanation for the sharp decrease in life satisfaction, or the differences between groups.

Zorlu and Frijters conclude that the results of their study can promote a better understanding of Muslim immigrants’ position in society and prospects for integration. The persistent dissatisfaction in the subgroup in question could potentially pose a threat to integration in European societies, and therefore to social cohesion and safety as well.

Publication details

The happiness of European Muslims post-9/11, Aslan Zorlu & Paul Frijters, Open Access 12 Sept. 2018, Journal Ethnic & Racial Studies, Taylor & Francis Online, doi: 10.1080/01419870.2018.1519587

About the authors

Paul Frijters

Paul Frijters

Paul Frijters is a researcher affiliated with the London School of Economics and specialises in applied micro-econometrics, including labour, happiness and health economics. His major area of interest is the analysis of how socio-economic variables influence the human experience.
Profile page for Paul Frijters

A. Zorlu

Aslan Zorlu

Aslan Zorlu is an associate professor at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on the adaptation process of immigrants in the education, housing and labour markets and the impact of immigration on the receiving countries. He also specialises in micro-econometric techniques and the creation and use of individual, administrative longitudinal data.
Profile page for Aslan Zorlu

Published by  Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences