The Social Effects of Diversity

John Leo discusses Robert Putnam’s (Bowling Alone) latest research (via Rod Dreher).

Putnam’s study reveals that immigration and diversity not only reduce social capital between ethnic groups, but also within the groups themselves. Trust, even for members of one’s own race, is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friendships fewer. The problem isn’t ethnic conflict or troubled racial relations, but withdrawal and isolation. Putnam writes: “In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’—that is, to pull in like a turtle.”

In the 41 sites Putnam studied in the U.S., he found that the more diverse the neighborhood, the less residents trust neighbors. This proved true in communities large and small, from big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Boston to tiny Yakima, Washington, rural South Dakota, and the mountains of West Virginia.

I can see how that happened in southwest Houston over the past twenty years.

But there is a silver lining. There is a rebound in the young, who grow up with diversity, befriend kids of all different races and religions, and learn to trust. I see that happening in churches like the one I am at, which has members from 50 different countries, and is growing and thriving in this diverse community.

I see it happening in the lives of my children, whose friends are black and white, Hispanic and Filipino, Chinese and Vietnamese, Nigerian and Indonesian, Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist. I tell the story of my daughter, who, a few years ago, on a trip to Vermont, asked after a few days of observation, “Why is everyone here white?”

I’ll be interested to read Putnam’s work, to see who he talked to in Houston.