‘The downside of diversity’

Well, that’s kind of a loaded title, isn’t it? (I read this article originally at TKAN.)

IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for “Bowling Alone,” his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

Boston Globe article here.

Well, that sounds like an argument against diversity, doesn’t it? I had to go read the original article, which I wouldn’t recommend because it’s overly long and boring. But sure enough, the author writes “The more ethnically diverse the people we live around, the less we trust them.”

One of the figures illustrates how “racial homogeneity” increases “inter-racial trust.” One small problem here–the areas listed as being high in “inter-racial trust” are ones I assume are white. The areas include rural South Dakota, Bismarck, New Hampshire, Montana and somewhere in Maine. If I wanted to see how “racial homogeneity” increases “inter-racial trust,” I think I might want to sample some African American communities or other communities of color.

But I was also thinking about what it is like to grow up in a place where everybody knows you and knows your family and has lived there for generations. Although the author does mention that diverse locations tend to be more mobile, he doesn’t really address how long those same homogeneous groups have been in place.

Additionally, I wasn’t able to find if the majority of the people surveyed were white. (What if this study simply proves that white people feel better when in all white neighborhoods?) It looks as if race is the proxy for “diversity,” since the  categorizations that were used were “Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black and Asian.” I assume they were all English-speakers, since no mention is made of surveys in another language. There is a brief mention of controlling for language spoken.

There is also no mention of racism. I tend to think that I would be more involved with my community if people in the various civic organizations weren’t racist. And I’d probably trust them more, to boot.

Finally, it’s possible that ecological fallacy comes into play here. Although this guy surveyed lots of folks, I’m not really sure that 604 people from Boston are representative. Nor do I know if each person considers the other 603 part of their community.

All I know, I feel better in a more diverse environment.

One thought on “‘The downside of diversity’

  1. Good post. Every time I read something, I always have more questions after reading the article. I never take things at face-value, especially is the writer or reporter is white. People of colour, I find, seem to be less biased in my opinion. I seem to find I ask less questions when reading their articles because it seems to be more intelligently presented. However, it does depend on the person of colour that is righting though. Even though the writer is a person of colour, I still question the articles, but as I said above, I have less questions because the reporting feels more honest. Please, keep on posting and informing us.

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