Theory that ethnic diversity undermines social cohesion ‘not clear’, says Man Uni

Individuals can become detached from their community as it diversifies around them, according to research by the University of Manchester (UoM).

The University’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) conducted the research to examine the relationship between ethnic diversity and community spirit, with the final paper, written by Dr James Laurence and Dr Lee Bentley, set to be published in the European Sociology Review this week.

It was found that when neighbourhoods became increasingly diversified, original community members enjoyed living there less, whilst individuals who moved out of diverse communities into homogeneous ones reported feeling happier.

Despite this, it was found that those who moved into diverse neighbourhoods did not feel any less comfortable than did in their previous communities.

And it was this discrepancy that led Dr Laurence to state that there is ‘no clear rule’ when discussing the subject.

“There has long been an ‘assumption’ that increasing ethnic diversity in an area undermines residents’ social cohesion,” he said.

“On one hand, our study supports this, for example where people report feeling happier when they move out of diverse areas and into neighbourhoods where they are surrounded by more people like them.

“However, we find that there are people happily moving into diverse areas who are unaffected by the presence of different ethnicities and social groups.

“Also, diversity actually has a relatively weaker effect on people who stay in a community in which diversity is increasing around them.

“Essentially, there’s no clear cut rule that ethnic diversity harms social cohesion, and huge amounts of churn is occurring between neighbourhoods which can lead to stable, cohesive, diverse communities.”

Such information could prove important as the UK becomes increasingly diverse, as could the way that it is interpreted.

And Dr Laurence was keen to impress that any change of happiness due to diversity was not necessarily predicated on prejudice.

“An important point to note is that just because ethnic diversity can undermine neighbourhood cohesion it doesn’t mean people are necessarily prejudiced or that increasing diversity causes conflict between groups,” he said.

“There are a lot of reasons why local cohesion may decline with increasing diversity – rapid social changes in people’s environments can make people feel less sure of the area around them, and anxious about what the change might mean for the future.

“In general, to spend time with others they perceive to be more like them.

“Increasing diversity may reduce cohesion as people simply see their neighbours as being more different to them, that they may have different values, different interests and different norms, which can hold up contact.

“However, these effects of diversity are likely quite short term.

“Getting to know neighbours from different groups over time can go a long way to replenishing short term dips in cohesion.”

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