Culture, a welfare policy

Participating in or enjoying cultural activities promotes the formation of cross-cutting skills, which are increasingly in demand in the labor market. And therefore it facilitates economic integration. Cultural policies thus turn out to be welfare policies.

The segmentation of the labor market

In the labor market, some categories of workers – and especially foreigners – are characterized by higher unemployment. And even when employed, these workers have jobs in sectors with below-average wages. In many cases, the phenomenon must be linked to a lower level of education, but it is often manual work where the qualification is not very relevant, while more important is the linguistic distance, which measures both the difficulties encountered in speaking the language. The country of destination is a form of cultural distance that makes communication difficult and the capacity for employment growth limited. This creates a segmentation in the labor market, where employed foreigners – and some national workers – work in sectors with low capacity for wage growth and poor job security.

However, a work of my work with Claudia Villosio shows that in the sectors where foreigners are concentrated in Italy (73 per cent), national workers also have the same wage profile. It therefore appears that, on the one hand, there is no question of wage discrimination, and on the other hand, that linguistic and cultural distance is not the cause of the segmentation.

But if we analyze the likelihood of leaving the low-wage sectors, linguistic and cultural distances become crucial, as well as residence in the country of destination, which contributes to the knowledge of its language and culture, understood as a means of communication and socialization, and social and individual values.

In other words, segmentation – and all that follows from it – can be attributed to the lack of soft skills, which are very difficult to build, requiring time and familiarity with events that evoke emotions capable of accelerating the cultural approach.

The importance of culture

For these reasons, there is more and more attention to cultural activities. And the empirical research, however infinite it is, shows the important effects that both passive participation – such as museum visits – and active participation – as being part of a choir produces on individuals. For example, physiological indicators reveal a reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone, while endorphins rise: This creates a positive effect on health, but also on people’s mood. Psychological indicators, in turn, show a growth in self-esteem, which turns into a growth in self-efficacy, and this means that people are able to face their problems in a more constructive and determined way. For example, they use more effective job search strategies.

But participation in cultural activities also tends to change relationships with others and create solidarity (bonding) with colleagues with whom it is shared. Not only that: openness to cultural activities bridges the culture of the destination country (bridging). The list of activities that shorten cultural distances can be very long: for example, cinema, theater, concerts, dance, sporting events.

Cultural approximation therefore seems to promote the creation of cross-cutting skills that promote economic inclusion. The high number of studies reaching this conclusion compensates for the limited rigor in ensuring a certain effect that tends to reverse the traditional order in which the search for work was a prerequisite for social and cultural integration. These studies, on the other hand, emphasize how cultural approximation represents a precondition for economic integration, and how cultural policies also turn out to be welfare policies.

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Alessandra Venturini

Alesssandra Venturini is currently Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Turin. She studied economics at the University of Florence and received her PhD from the European University Institute in 1982. She was a visiting professor at Brown University (Providence, RI), where she taught work economics and microeconomics. He began his academic career at the University of Florence (1985-92), which continued at the University of Bergamo (1992-98) and in Padua (1999-2002) before arriving at the University of Turin. His research interests are labor economics and since 1986 migration in its various implications. She has been a visiting researcher at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Essex in Brighton, at the ILO’s International Institute of Labor Studies in Geneva several times. He has collaborated with the OECD, the International Institute of Labor Studies at the ILO, with the ECA at the World Bank and in recent years with the CARIM project at the EUI. He is a member of several scientific associations AIEL, EALE, ESPE, Sociata ‘degli Economisti, but also of international research centers: by ICA since 1999, by CHILD since 2000, by FIERI since 2002.

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