Journal Article

The interplay of migration and cultural similarity between countries: evidence from Facebook data on food and drink interests

Coimbra Vieira, C., Lohmann, S., Zagheni, E., Vaz de Melo, P. O. S., Benevenuto, F., Ribeiro, F. N.
PLoS One, 17:2, e0262947 (2022)
Open Access


Migration has been proposed as one of the factors that shape cultural similarities across countries. However, studying the relationship between culture and migration has been challenging, in part because culture is difficult to quantify. The traditionally used survey questionnaires have a number of drawbacks, including that they are costly and difficult to scale to a large number of countries. To complement survey data, we propose the use of passively-collected digital traces from social media. We focus on food and drink as markers of a country’s culture. We then measure similarities between countries in terms of food and drink interests using aggregated data from the Facebook Advertising Platform. Methodologically, we offer approaches to measure the similarity between countries with both symmetric and asymmetric indices. Substantively, we assess the association between migration cultural similarity between countries by comparing our measure of cultural similarity with international migration data. In most countries, larger immigrant populations are associated with more similar food and drink preferences between their country of origin and the country of destination. Our results suggest that immigrants contribute to bringing the culture of their home countries to new countries. Moreover, our study identifies considerable variability in this pattern across countries.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.