Highly educated people more likely to hide racist views – study

New research finds that among people with third-level education, 27 per cent concealed negative attitudes towards black people coming to Ireland

People who hold racist views or negative attitudes towards minorities are more likely to conceal them if they are more highly educated, a new study suggests.

Among people with third-level education, more than a quarter (27 per cent) concealed negative attitudes towards black people coming to Ireland, according to the survey, which is published on Wednesday by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

Just under one fifth (22 per cent) of those in this education bracket hid negativity towards Muslims coming to Ireland.

In terms of the those classified as lower educated (completed Leaving Certificate or less), 8.5 per cent concealed negative attitudes towards black people coming to Ireland, while there was no evidence this group concealed negative attitudes towards Muslim immigration.


More than 1,600 people were surveyed for the study, called “Hidden versus revealed attitudes: A list experiment on support for minorities in Ireland”.

The study found the extent to which people conceal their negative views on immigration depends on the group being asked about, as well as the gender, age and educational background of the respondents.

Social pressures to exhibit tolerance are much greater when people are asked about black people than when asked about Muslim people coming to Ireland.

Whereas 66 per cent of people openly supported more black people coming to Ireland, this dropped to 51 per cent when respondents could conceal their attitude.

Fewer people openly supported more Muslim immigration, with no evidence that people concealed their attitudes.

While previous surveys have shown that people with higher educational attainment are more positive towards minorities in Ireland and elsewhere, this report reveals that this is largely because highly educated people who hold negative attitudes are more likely to conceal them, the authors say.

In terms of declared views, 19 per cent of the higher-educated group openly held negative views towards black immigration and 33 per cent regarding Muslim immigration. In contrast, 43 per cent of the lower-educated group held openly negative views towards black immigration, and 45 per cent towards Muslim immigration.

Age and gender

Concealing negative views is almost twice (19 per cent) as prevalent among those aged 18-49 compared to those aged 50 or over (11 per cent) regarding the question of black immigration.

However, the younger group are more supportive than the older group even when asked anonymously (59 per cent versus 40 per cent).

There are no age differences in anonymously expressed support for Muslims coming to Ireland – more than half (about 53 per cent) of each age group support this.

In terms of gender, 21 per cent of men conceal negative opinions towards more black people coming to Ireland, compared to 10 per cent of women.

Women conceal negativity towards Muslims to a much greater extent than men. About one fifth (21 per cent) of women hold but conceal lack of support for more Muslim people coming to Ireland, but there is no evidence that men conceal negative attitudes towards Muslims in this survey.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times