National Identity and Brexit

58 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2019 Last revised: 28 Jun 2023

See all articles by Peter Howley

Peter Howley

University of Leeds - Faculty of Business

Muhammad Waqas

University of Bradford

Date Written: June 16, 2020


This paper studies the relationship between inflows of migrants into local areas and the self-reported well-being of natives. We document a negative association between inflows of migrants and the mental health of natives, but we uncover no significant relationship for life satisfaction. These estimated population level impacts masks considerable heterogeneity according to patterns of attachment to national identity. For people with an ethnic form (here proxied by Englishness), we find the disutility associated with immigration can be substantive, whereas for those with a civic form (Britishness) the estimated impact on mental health is not statistically significant (or substantive) and for life satisfaction positive. Our proposed explanation draws on identity economics which suggests that people assign themselves into social categories (e.g. English or British) with each category having different norms relating to how people should look and act. These findings can help explain the sharp variation in public attitudes towards immigration.

Keywords: economics of happiness, immigration, national identity, social identity theory, immigration attitudes

JEL Classification: I31, J11, A12

Suggested Citation

Howley, Peter and Waqas, Muhammad, National Identity and Brexit (June 16, 2020). Leeds University Business School Working Paper No. 23-03, Available at SSRN: or

Peter Howley (Contact Author)

University of Leeds - Faculty of Business ( email )

Leeds LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

Muhammad Waqas

University of Bradford ( email )

Bradford, West Yorkshire BD7 1DP
United Kingdom

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