Michael Jonas: The downside of diversity

Posted by Kendall Harmon

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.

"The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist.

The study comes at a time when the future of the American melting pot is the focus of intense political debate, from immigration to race-based admissions to schools, and it poses challenges to advocates on all sides of the issues. The study is already being cited by some conservatives as proof of the harm large-scale immigration causes to the nation's social fabric. But with demographic trends already pushing the nation inexorably toward greater diversity, the real question may yet lie ahead: how to handle the unsettling social changes that Putnam's research predicts.

"We can't ignore the findings," says Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "The big question we have to ask ourselves is, what do we do about it; what are the next steps?"

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-Watch* Economics, Politics

Posted August 30, 2007 at 8:08 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Larry Morse wrote:

This sort of research is enough to make someone tear his hair out. This news is said to be shocking, but how can it be, when its conclusions are so obvious? The defects cited of multiculturalism are all patent to all. Where there is great diversity, there is proportionately limited identity, and the virtues cited, now lost, are all those which require a strong central identity. How can anyone be surprised - except of course, and American, who has been brainwashed by liberalism for years and years, even as this MOTR citizen watched the American identity evaporate under the factitious heat of “diversity.” So, once again,  we have an epiphany of the obvious.  Larry

August 30, 8:46 am | [comment link]
2. CharlesB wrote:

In our church cell (home) groups, we strive for as much homogeneity as possible.  People tend to open up and become more willing to share and care with someone close to them in age, culture and other factors.  Our group is for married couples with no children living at home, and it works fine.  Also, since I live in a foreign country, I can attest to the fact that Americans almost always tend to make other Americans or Canadians their closest friends.  It is fun to know people from many other cultures, but to get up close and personal, you want someone you feel comfortable with.

August 30, 9:55 am | [comment link]
3. Ralinda wrote:

Should diversity be considered the cause of low civic health or is it possible that high population density in those diverse areas is a contributing factor?  Just something to consider.

August 30, 10:21 am | [comment link]
4. evan miller wrote:

What a no-brainer.

August 30, 10:21 am | [comment link]
5. Mike Bertaut wrote:

LM and All….I think the real value of this research and its revelation is more about the source than the results.  This is a striking example of the “Only Nixon Can Go to China” scenario, i.e. nobody would have noticed if one of us had said these things, but when the poster child for Liberal Inclusiveness says it, they have to pay attention.

At least until they start digging and find something in his character that indicates he was a closet conservative all along, and then they can discredit him as well.


August 30, 11:58 am | [comment link]
6. Sue Martinez wrote:

I think it depends on whether people observe their natal culture to the exclusion of becoming American.  In California, first generation immigrants don’t learn English or even try to adapt to American norms, even when they become citizens.  California is fast becoming a province of Mexico; ballots in California are printed in seven languages. The predominant ethnic group is now Hispanic and English-only speakers are finding that they must learn Spanish to get a job.

However, it can go the other way. When my great-grandparents came from Norway in the late 1800’s, they assimilated as fast as they could.  I asked my grandmother if she had been taught Norwegian, and she said, “My mother refused to because ‘We’re Americans now; we speak English.’”  They also didn’t pass on any family recipes or customs; even their Lutheranism was left behind. The same thing happened with my German ancestors.  Nothing remained but my name, and even that was anglicized.  My German and Norwegian roots may have been torn out, but I’m thoroughly American. My husband, on the other hand, had about 350 years of Spanish culture to draw on. He was decended from original Spanish settlers in New Mexico, was bilingual, and considered himself both American and Spanish (not Mexican) after all those years. I’m the richer for it; I can cook a mean enchilada, and have no desire to even taste lutefisk.

August 30, 12:00 pm | [comment link]
7. The_Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

“Bowling Alone” was a really interesting work. That came out when I was working on a Poly Sci degree, so I am quite familiar with it. I am going to have to read this study. If it is anywhere near the insight of Bowling Alone, its worth its weight in political science gold.

August 30, 12:02 pm | [comment link]
8. Larry Morse wrote:

An interesting nom de plume, #7. Where did it come from? Larry (masked as Larry)

August 30, 1:07 pm | [comment link]
9. Alice Linsley wrote:

Cultural anthropologists have observed that greater pluralism in a society leads to more secularization of the culture.

August 30, 3:12 pm | [comment link]
10. MargaretG wrote:

I think the study is undoubtedly valuable but it would be interesting to look wider than just diversity in America to other diverse societies around the world. It seems to me that the societies where diversity “works” are where there are sufficient common basic understandings about the meaning of life for people to feel comfortable marrying. If like in New Zealand, the major racial groups feel comfortable enough that far more marriages are inter-racial than racially the same, then the society can get the best out of diversity. If on the other hand you have a situation like Fiji were inter-racial marriages are almost unknown, then you get the worst.

It is interesting, and I think significant, that what divides the two dominant races in Fiji is not colour (they are both brown) but religion, and what unites the major races in New Zealand is a christian outlook (even from those who are non-church-goers). I think where America is unusual in having such a strong racial divide when you are united in faith.

August 30, 7:05 pm | [comment link]
11. Larry Morse wrote:

What to do about it, the author asks? Here is one answer, complex and nuanced: Let people join with and keep company with whom they please. How about this solution?  Larry

August 30, 7:57 pm | [comment link]
12. Adam from TN wrote:


Let people join with and keep company with whom they please. How about this solution?

I agree with you to an extent, and I don’t mean this to be as pejorative as it sounds, but in the days of segregated lunch counters and buses, we had that.  Segregated neighborhoods would work too.  Maybe it doesn’t go that far, but does it argue for separatism?

What I’m seriously wondering is this: are the positives worth that?  I honestly don’t know.  Maybe it was obvious to you, Larry, that mixing races and cultures was bad, but it wasn’t to me.  If that makes me liberal, so be it.

August 30, 8:56 pm | [comment link]
13. Adam from TN wrote:

Upon further reading, let me emphasize that I don’t mean to be as pejorative as that sounds.  My apologies.  The written (or typed) word does not convey my emotions or intent as well as I would like.

August 30, 8:58 pm | [comment link]
14. Reactionary wrote:


I will agree with you that Jim Crow laws are unjust and evil.  However, private citizens should be free to discriminate on whatever basis they wish.  That is the very essence of property rights.

The ugly truth this study reveals is that multicultural societies are held together by force.  Perhaps a voluntary multicultural society is possible, but in my opinion it would only be in the absence of the civil rights laws that take away everyone’s safe harbors.

August 30, 9:08 pm | [comment link]
15. Adam from TN wrote:

However, private citizens should be free to discriminate on whatever basis they wish.  That is the very essence of property rights.

In principle, you may be right.  And to a certain extent, we have that right as citizens.  It’s just not equal.

As a white man, I can live in a neighborhood with all white people (not enforced, but as a practical matter I can).  I can go to church with only white people.  I know where I can go to stores that are white-owned, and have very little interaction with non-white folk.

However, African Americans (as an example) generally can’t do that.  There aren’t enough black-owned businesses for them to only support those.  Churches?  Yes.  Neighborhoods?  Maybe.

Should private businesses be able to discriminate based on race or culture when making hiring decisions?  Whom they serve?

The ugly truth this study reveals is that multicultural societies are held together by force.

It appears there’s no argument to counter this.  I’m not happy with it, though.  I don’t think it has to be that way.  I think people can stretch themselves beyond such constraints.  I think the study just shows that we aren’t doing so.

I’m not saying whether it’s right or wrong either way; I’m just saying I’m not happy with the status quo.

August 30, 9:20 pm | [comment link]
16. Reactionary wrote:


Private businesses should be free to discriminate on whatever basis they wish, and if they could, it would be the only “Homeland Security” we would ever need among many, many other things.  Obviously, this would result in a lot of tax savings and unemployed bureaucrats and lawyers so it’s not going to happen.

Multicultural societies existed and functioned long before Title VII and birthright citizenship, and my hypothesis would be that it was because people had safe harbors to which they could retreat.

August 30, 9:29 pm | [comment link]
17. Alice Linsley wrote:

Religion both unites and divides. It has always been this way. In a pluralistic society that wants to avoid division, it is best to avoid tensions over religion. That is why the Supreme Court tries to interpret the Constitution without religious bias or the imposition of a “religious” position. Allow me to illustrate from a recent experiment.

My Ethics class was divided into 2 groups.  One group was a primitive tribe and the other was the Supreme Court.  Both were presented with the same situation: a young mother has accidently killed her first-born son. The groups were to decide what was to be done.  What should happen to/for the woman?

Here is what was decided:  The tribal council ordered that the woman must remain with an older female companion outside the community until a decision was rendered. Then they decided that the woman’s guilt needed to be addressed, so they asked the holy man to sacrifice an animal and put her guilt on the animal.  Then they were concerned about the child’s soul so they carved the baby in effigy and allowed the mother to bury it with the community gathered around. Then it was agreed that she would be fully restored to the community, but if a subsequent child born to her should die, she would be expelled from the community.

The Supreme Court decided that the women should receive counseling for her grief.  It avoided any discussion of guilt or the soul because these are what we moderns regard as “religious” and potentially a cause of division.  The students in that group went on to explain that religion is a private matter left up to the family.  When asked, “What if the family is not religious?” they merely shrugged their shoulders.

August 30, 11:23 pm | [comment link]
18. Larry Morse wrote:

Very good and thoughtful entries here Adam from Tennessee. This problem is so thory that it is impossible to sort A from B finally. My entry was too simple, of course, to do anything except cut a Gordian Knot, which was its purpose.

I see it thus: Citizens must be free to cluster in whatever groups best serve them. The alternative is coercion which will, sooner or later, create social war of some sort. I do not favor separatism, however, that is, legally enforced or established separatism.

Now, can a store rule that it will serve whites only? No it cannot because the store is not a social structure, it is a business one, and customers must be viewed as essentially equal since the standard is money. Can a church restrict is membership? It can, because its existence may not be aimed at inclusivity, and the state cannot interfere. 

Can the schools? Well now. Can they exclude blacks? They cannot, unless they are private. Can they be all one color if the served neighborhoods are all white - or all black. Yes they can, for there is no discrimination. Can one color demand bussing so that the uniformity is broken? No; this is social coercion. Can blacks and white in one neighborhood set up two schools, one that is essentially black and one white, because they prefer to stick with their own? Yes, it must be so. And if the black school is inferior and underfunded and the white school not so, what then. Integration? No indeed, but rather the legislature must see to it that the funding is equalized. ANd if the black school is illrun and the white school is not? Then the community that put the black school together must be answerable to its own decision. Is separate but equal tenable. I think so, for the same reason that all-girl colleges and all-male colleges are permissable and answerable to their constituencies.
(I went to an all-male college, and I still grieve that the liberal forces in the 60s and 70s destroyed it forever.)

But how to postpone the suffocating effects of a homogeneity that becomes oppressive? The simple answer is still the best one: Let the enthnicities and races cluster in common communities and then let each get pleasure from engaging the others for their ethnic characteristics. (I shall go to Little Latvia because I want their cooking or their crafts, or the like.) Many cities are like this, and have been for a long time. Does this not work?

The problem for our current notion of diversity and multiculturalism is that it is enforced both by law and by social coercion. And look at the results.

I don’t know. Have I merely been stating the obvious at too great length?  Larry

August 31, 10:09 am | [comment link]
19. Reactionary wrote:

“The problem for our current notion of diversity and multiculturalism is that it is enforced both by law and by social coercion. And look at the results.”

Here is the thing:  the social engineers don’t really want “diversity” so much as they want a uniformly bland consumerist culture, punctuated by ethnic food festivals, of citizens whose loyalty is not to Family or Tribe or Church, but to the non-familial, non-tribal, secular State.  Nations are just administrative entities in a global marketplace.

That is also why the white liberal leadership of TEC has lately begun to emphasize sexual diversity, i.e., deviancy, rather than ethnic diversity.  Homosexuals tend to be urban white people and registered Democrats and, like most folks, the bishops prefer to hang around their own kind.  They know very well that Hispanics and Africans and Arabs are not going to march under their universalist, pro-choice banner.

August 31, 12:03 pm | [comment link]
20. John Wilkins wrote:

I don’t think that’s perfectly right, reactionary. 
The “diversity” cult became a problem when it lost its focus:  political and economic rights for all citizens, regardless of race or culture.  That’s it pure and simple.  As the study notes, the welfare state in Europe was established more easily because of homogeneity.  In this country, political rights were not established fairly because of our racism.  To detach diversity with the fair application of law makes diversity a religion.  Alas. 

I’m a liberal who is against “multiculturalism” and even affirmative action - but because as a country we don’t invest in EVERYONEs education or health or work across the board, I think they are useful, and cheap alternatives.  Government supported full employment, for example, would eliminate the need for affirmative action, and making sure all schools were well-funded would make multiculturalism irrelevant.  We don’t do this as a country, so we use band-aid solutions.

August 31, 12:49 pm | [comment link]
21. Alice Linsley wrote:

Very true, Reactionary.
Larry, I’m not sure that I understand what you mean by “the suffocating effects of a homogeneity that becomes oppressive.” It isn’t necessarily true that homogeneity makes for a bland or simple society. Tribal societies are homogenous but far from bland, and as studies of tribal societies have demonstrated, they are actually more complex than modern pluralistic and technological societies.  I believe that this is seen in the experiment that I mention above. The tribal council addressed a wider range of issues related to the accidental killing of the child, and in a more psychologically and spiritually profound way.

August 31, 12:56 pm | [comment link]
22. Reactionary wrote:


Here is the paradox of the welfare state you envision:  the panoply of political and economic rights it extends inevitably results in confiscatory taxation and public deficits.  This leads to the social phenomenon of low birthrates and increased secularization and moral breakdown, and the welfare state resorts to immigration to shore itself up.  The welfare state hopes to enlist the newcomers in loyalty to its secular, liberal institutions by encouraging a seamless multicultural society where everybody joins hands in a nice, non-sectarian citizenship and thousand-year differences are not supposed to matter.  The problem of course is that Africans, Mexicans, Hindus and Muslims are having none of it, and will maintain their loyalty to their non-secular institutions.  (They also get old and sick too, but that’s another problem.)  Homosexuals by contrast cannot get validation from the pre-State institutions, and thus are ideal citizens of the welfare state and its enablers, such as TEC.  Hence, the increased emphasis on inclusion of homosexuals as the paramount “diversity,” and a quiet tiptoeing away from things like ethnic pride.

August 31, 1:25 pm | [comment link]
23. Adam from TN wrote:


Thanks for the equally thoughtful response.  I agree with much of what you said.  The key is that coerced diversity does lead to bitterness IMO, and that may go along way towards explaining the results of this study.

I spent my last two years in high school at a school that was probably 60% white, 30% black, and maybe 10% latino, asian, native american, etc.  One of the principals would harp on the fact that whites tended to hang together and blacks tended to hang together.  I thought then as I do now: you can’t force people out of their comfort zones all of the time.

I also bemoan the fact that we can’t have an open dialogue about our differences for fear of not being politically correct.  I want to be sensitive, and don’t want to deliberately offend others, but we so often have to tiptoe around issues of race and ethnicity (among other things) for fear of being labeled as intolerant.  But when we can cut through the political correctness, defensiveness, and fear, I think we have a lot to gain by our diverse experiences.  It’s just rare to get to do so.

August 31, 1:46 pm | [comment link]
24. Larry Morse wrote:

#21. I xpressed myself poorly. A homogenous culture, one which has enforced its own isolation for whatever reason, often becomes suffocating and oppressive because its need to maintain isolation becomes a need to maintain a purity, and this need becomes an oppressive demand for conformity. Now, this is not always true, but it is common.

To be sure, a homogeneous culture is not be definition an oppressive one and so your point is both important and well-taken. That this is so is what shook the researcher. Much of Maine used to have - and in some places, still has - a homogeneous culture. These towns still face inward, inspite of television and Blue Tooth and TEC and other nematodes, and so each takes care of each, even those who hate each other. The homosexuals are left alone; the attitude is, “Don’t push me, and I’ll leave you alone.” So unlike gets along with like, and subtly become more like than unlike.

  And then the schools hire outsiders - outastaters - and they bring in the religion accorting to TEC, the Celebrity, the realty TV. The rich buy up the old farms and the waterfront property, hispanics move in, in desperation, and Spanish is a second language in the schools - all this and much more - and the community ceases to exist. Increasingly they face outward and there is no core belief. ALthough the left would deny it, diversity becomes disorganization so easily, and then anomie.

Long ago, there was a novel about South Africa called “Something of Value,” a phrase from a Kikuyu saying, “Don’t throw away what you have until you can replace it with something of value.” I have probably misquoted this a bit, but my point is clear. The Left’s definition of diversity has caused us to throw away what we have and made us replace it with nothing of value; we have thrown way an identity and replaced it with an agenda.  Larry

August 31, 1:46 pm | [comment link]
25. Larry Morse wrote:

Incidentally, Alice, you Ethic Class solutions were fascinating. So the tribe sought meaning first, not adjudication. What do you choose? How do YOU solve this problem? Did the tribe ignore that the infusion of meaning could be done without regard for “absolute” truth? But let me ask you to answer this: Is one solution a “woman’s solution” and one a “man’s solution?”  Larry

August 31, 1:53 pm | [comment link]
26. John Wilkins wrote:


People do bad things to each other when they are not regulated.  They are sinners, and imitate other sinners when there isn’t some regulation.  If you want freedom, you have to pay for it.  If you want to live in a free country you have to pay dues.  These dues are taxes.  Judges, overseers, firemen, teachers, and the like need to get paid at a salary that makes it easy for them to discourage bribery.  Well thought out taxes are also a disincentive against greed.  Look, I’m a minimalist when it comes to taxes - I think that the main tax should be a severe inheritance tax (to discourage small monarchies and encourage children to create their own value), and the only other tax should be a “rent” (as in Henry George) that acknowledges that we use resources that are public and interdependent (water, roads, etc). 

Um - public deficits like the ones we have now?  If anything full employment increases tax revenue because more people are paying taxes.  And if there is more tax revenue, why more deficits?  The only difference is that instead of the money going to bombs (which is one way the state gives money to corporations) they go to schools and hospitals. 

You call the welfares tate a bunch of names, but it seems to me that it would be better if 1000 year differences didn’t matter. 

As far as other ethnic groups having none of the welfare state, I don’t think that is correct.  Latinos in this country are becoming non-religious, and as someone connected to the Indian community, I think you overstate your case.  They will maintain their loyalty to non-secular institutions because, in this country, secular institutions don’t really care about them.  And that is the author’s point.  In a multicultural society we just don’t care about each other - even the people who look like us.  To me it is a reason to strengthen state institutions, not reduce them to nothing.  Unless we like places like the former Yugoslavia.

September 2, 9:49 am | [comment link]
27. John Wilkins wrote:

let me correct that:  the former yugoslavia, post Tito, with all the war.  If we like that place, let’s diminish our state institutions that encourage us to be nice to each other.

September 2, 9:51 am | [comment link]
28. libraryjim wrote:

However, African Americans (as an example) generally can’t do that.  There aren’t enough black-owned businesses for them to only support those.  Churches?  Yes.  Neighborhoods?  Maybe.

correction: Neighborhoods—definately.  Come to the South (evidentally further than TN, Here in north Florida certainly) and you can find many, many neighborhoods made up exclusively of blacks.

September 2, 12:01 pm | [comment link]
29. Reactionary wrote:


What you are describing is a police state that suppresses organic society, like the Soviet Union.  Such entities eventually fall to the social and economic forces that they go bankrupt suppressing.

September 4, 3:33 pm | [comment link]
30. John Wilkins wrote:

Reactionary,  watch out for terms like “organic” in political theory.  Echoes of Giovanni Gentile….

I am describing nothing of the sort, Reactionary.  I don’t describe anything like the totalizing aspects of one party rule.  When I say strengthen state institutions, I’m much more careful than you are.  I mean a very simple transfer of wealth, and an engagement in places where the market is clumsy (say healthcare or schools). 

One strengthens regulatory institutions to help people who play by the rules, rather than by the might makes right philosophy that passes for the market.  You don’t seem to have much patience for those of us who think that greed is a serious problem in the public sphere. 

If capitalism is not regulated - at least through the rule of law - it is violence that ensues.  Capitalism only succeeds when there is the rule of law first.  The state is responsible for enforcing those rules, because human beings aren’t likely to.  Because they are greedy and self-interested.  They are sinners.  Check your Augustine.

Some of us are Keynsians and social democrats.  To be unable to distinguish between Sweden, USSR and England is to parrot cold war propaganda.

September 4, 3:54 pm | [comment link]
31. Reactionary wrote:


Sweden, the USSR and England enforce or enforced “diversity” the only way it can be:  through brute force.  That is all that government is, actually.

Also, given that are, as you say, humans are uniformly greedy and self-interested, it makes no sense to give a few of them all the nukes and the tax revenues.  At least when Home Depot ****es me off, I can refuse to give them my money.  Try that with government, even democratic government.

September 4, 7:09 pm | [comment link]
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