Is diversity good or bad for community cohesion?

Notting Hill Carnival entertainers Entertainers at this year's Notting Hill Carnival

When I met the legendary American social scientist Robert Putnam a decade ago he took me aside and revealed, almost conspiratorially, that birds of a feather flock together.

The academic, who famously chronicled the decline of US social capital in his book Bowling Alone, was trying to explain research that in the short term at least, showed a negative correlation between diversity and community cohesion.

"In ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to 'hunker down'," Putnam's study concluded. "Trust (even of one's own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer."

But now comes new academic research looking at London which turns this idea on its head.

Social cohesion in the capital, it concludes, is "significantly higher in more ethnically diverse neighbourhoods", once deprivation has been taken into account.

This is a startling assertion. The accepted wisdom among academics and policy makers, as the paper reminds readers, is that "ethnically diverse communities are characterized by distrust, low levels of social cohesion and disputes regarding the equitable provision of public goods".

Start Quote

London, despite its ethnic diversity, is among the least segregated parts of England”

End Quote

But diversity may not be the cause of social tension. "In fact, in the highly diverse neighbourhoods that characterise modern London, the opposite appears to be the case," the research finds.

Diversity emerges as a positive predictor of social cohesion, the paper asserts, a finding that runs counter to the large majority of published studies.

We need to unravel what is going on. As immigrants try to gain a toehold in their new land, they tend to live in poorer communities. We know that poverty is negatively associated with social cohesion.

It is also well understood that communities that are highly segregated tend to have much lower levels of trust. Think Beirut for example.

In order to understand the part diversity plays in the community life of a neighbourhood, you need to extract deprivation and segregation from the equation. And the research team did just that in what they suggest may be the most ethnically diverse conurbation on earth.

Mapping diversity and segregation
Diversity map of London Diversity map of London - diversity represented by darker areas
Segregation map of London Segregation map of London - segregated (dark) areas are few and far between...
Segregation map of England ... and a segregation map of England

"If living in an ethnically diverse neighbourhood causes people to distrust and avoid one another, then we should be certain to find evidence of the phenomenon in London," the researchers muse.

Using very detailed population data, what emerges is that London, despite its ethnic diversity, is among the least segregated parts of England. The one red slash across the yellow wash of the map looks to be where some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the East end rub up against the wealth of docklands and the city.

What the new research calculates is that ethnic diversity helps improve community life, "once adequate account is taken of the spatial distribution of immigrant groups within neighbourhoods and the degree of social and economic deprivation experienced by residents".

It turns out that the positive effect of diversity is strongest among younger people and weakest among the oldest people - actually becoming negative for people over 85. Segregation works the other way around - the impact of a more segregated community is most negative for young people while, for those over 65, segregation is a positive.

In many ways, the capital is a poor model for what happens in the rest of the UK. Professor Patrick Sturgis is director of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods and the study's lead author. He accepts that London's unique immigrant and ethnic make-up "renders it sui generis" (one of a kind).

But what this paper suggests is that where you have non-segregated and relatively prosperous communities, diversity is likely to improve community life, not damage it.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

'Don't give up on us,' police tell ministers

A typical day in a typical force has been calculated - and an increasing amount of time is being spent on public safety and welfare work.

Read full article

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    What exactly is the unit of social cohesion which this alleged scientific study used? How does one measure it in an objective fashion as the scientific method dictates?

    I'm sure it's a coincidence that it fits in so neatly with the BBC agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I notice that the research is based in London not in the UK .....and as we all know London is a special case attracting a unique population who deliberately seek diversity as part of their environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Unless you live in a city such as Bradford in West Yorkshire you are not qualified to comment on the affects of immigration.

    In any event no one takes any notice of any BBC article on immigration. Their agenda on the issue is well known.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    At best this is another waffle article.

    A community with good integration and social cohesion will prosper regardless of whether or not it is ethnically diverse.

    A community with mutual suspicion, poverty and no cohesion will have problems. Those problems will be magnified in ethnically diverse cases as unfortunately it's human nature that people will tend to pick on those different to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Am I being simplistic in viewing diversity simply as the inverse of segregation ? I'd like to see how these are defined in the original paper (I'm too lazy to read it all to find out ;-)

    On another - possibly related - note I see on the national segregation map various rural areas - notably in the north - where the ratings are 0 (zero) or 5. Odd! What is the methodology that led to this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Mark in my view I have no problem with diversity but I do with positive descrimination ie image telling Sir Alex Ferguson to select a team with proviso of how he should make it up. I think the answer would be I pick on ability and who is fit or inform and thats how it should be so forget pandering to this nonsense yes have your culture but you must not need to fit in and be judged on ability

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    If 'diversity' was all about street parties and great times it would be great. The reality is unenlightened cultures are given far more credence than they deserve and rights of others are ridden roughshod in an attempt to force this fantasy upon us all. Tell my gay friend who had to move out of Tower Hamlets recently because he was sick of being spat at in the street that diversity is so great.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    One category you have mentioned is a lifestyle choice, the others afford the subject no choice. Guess which is the odd one out (pun intended)?

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Lack of integration brings with it a great deal of cultural dissonance. Sadly the notion that all diversity is good diversity tends to dominate debates as in this article. Until we look dispassionately at the problems we are failing the entire population. The inculcation of majority value systems is crucial and MUST be hammered home to all communities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    27. JamesStGeorge
    Those Normans, so misunderstood, they only wanted a new life, our land, to integrate, fighting back was so deluded, totally un-PC. Now look how we all love them. Only taken nine centuries and they seem almost one of us.

    Time for a revolt.
    As a Paul, James. I am with you all the way. But they did have Wisdom. Will we win?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    26 PoliceStateUK

    Gay people exist.
    Women exist.
    Handicapped people exist.
    Elderly people exist.

    You can't ignore them all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Those Normans, so misunderstood, they only wanted a new life, our land, to integrate, fighting back was so deluded, totally un-PC. Now look how we all love them. Only taken nine centuries and they seem almost one of us.

    Time for a revolt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I am not for gay rights
    I am not for womens' rights
    I am not for handicapped rights
    I am not for elderly rights
    Simply by identifying people as gay, straight, male, female, black white, asian, jewish, handicapped or elderly
    William DeBurgh

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    12 Rabbitkiller
    "One reason why the UK seems to have achieved so little in the past 30 years?"

    No, I'd say a bigger reason would be our tendancy to put the blame on Johnny Foreigner rather than looking at our own failings. Germany has a bigger foreign-born population than the UK, and they seem to be doing well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Yeah, key is how to maintain prosperity as we have known it in a resource depleted world, especially oil. What you need is the adoption of a united day of rest (secular and religious) - and build on that for a second...where reading and learning and resting replaces buying/selling stuff as a accepted social activity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Integration happens almost imperceptibly but happen it does. Unlike rhubarb it doesn't do well when it is forced. Rammed down the throats of the existing native population asked to bend over backwards to give priority to the needs & accept values of minorities that we rejected decades ago its likely to take a very long time indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Some use the excuse of past history of influxes of immigrants as a basis for today.
    However they ignore the fact this was the result of war, slavery and mass cultural destruction for the losers.
    Ignorance is bliss for some and a nightmare for the rest of us.

    Too many rosey eyed ignorant

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Of course, the BBC is in no way biased.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Integration of immigrants in to communities is obviously beneficial, segregation because of race, religion or culture is bad. Unfortunately there are areas of the UK that are ghettoised and this has lead to mistrust and fear.


Page 5 of 6



  • FridgeCool customer

    The village that has just got its first fridge

  • Lincoln Perkins (in the middle of the image) carried Churchill's coffin with seven other menNear miss

    How pallbearers almost dropped Churchill's coffin

  • Josef Mengele in SS uniformThe twins of Auschwitz

    How a Nazi doctor experimented on identical siblings

  • Alok'Red market'

    The desperate patients in India turning to illegal blood donors

  • Bank House, 27 King Street, LeedsIn pictures

    Some of the office buildings new to the National Heritage List

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.