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".

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

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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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Hamish Cameron @118
    "reek of ignorance"

    Whichever way we might look, over the garden fence, none will wish as neighbour the ignorant or desperate or exploited by merchants of addiction or prostitution or violence or political misdirection. Whatever our national and personal histories, allowed to belong, truly, equally, we stand the best chance of most expressing good conscience, the weak helped

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Some of the opinions expressed in opposition to migration reek of ignorance, both of our history and our present state. Some people express vile hatred In the name of opinion. Most likely result of this hatred is they will live in pain, cause pain to others and ultimately die in pain. A waste of life. But at least they will never be beaten in an argument, and that only because they keep repeating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Easton you idiot you have totally put the bbc multiculturalism spin on this,
    We all know that England has been changed for the worse.

    Someone tell me one positive to come from mass immigration.

    We now have most densely populated country, 4million unemployed, shortage of housing, shortage of resources, lack of infrastructure, schools and NHS at breaking point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    "What the new research calculates is that ethnic diversity helps improve community life"
    What exactly does that mean ? What is the evidence Easton says that improves community life ? Absolute leftish nonsense again . Why does he think that white communities who comprise of numerous different characters,faiths etc can only be good with a large dose of immigration added ?

  • Comment number 115.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    @70 was removed
    I would love to know what you found wrong with the comment.Was it because i named a Zoo so classed as an advert.
    Or was it the bit about my mates Dog sled team.
    Or how i said The Garden of Eden was diverse.?????????????????????????????

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    From my experience, question is really whether it is income inequality (deprivation/impoverishment vs. middle income +) rather than diversity per se that serves to estrange people. I believe it is different levels of income. The poor do not socialize with the same groups as do middle income plus. And the rich keep to the rich. If you are poor, how do you fit with income levels above you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    @109 Chris. "What's often missed in this debate is that we have our own culture. Western culture has a beauty all its own and British culture, warts 'n' all, is also worth preserving."

    No, British culture is simply the culture composed from everyone living here and is therefore in flux. And we can do without the warts, e.g. the remnants of our class culture that still skew the lives of millions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    I think you should connect with the real world Mark

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I think diversity compares quite closely with aryanism. Both are based on mysticism. Both have a social Darwinian under text. The genetic purity as strength of aryansim has merely been replaced by genetic strength of diversity (see comment 68 by sean for example). Both are social engineering by seriously deranged people. Its neo-nazism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    What's often missed in this debate is that we have our own culture. Western culture has a beauty all its own and British culture, warts 'n' all, is also worth preserving.

    There comes a point at which immigration/integration erodes that to the point of non-existence which is unacceptable to many. We are at or close to that point now.

    Coming here to work need not grant permanent residence rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    AfA @107

    Harsh or helpful, in 'education' who ever told that adult unemployment would be 'necessary & acceptable' for some (5-6% 'the ideal') to keep up the 'commitment' of the rest? Or that wealth happily taken from abroad, and happily given by our own many to our few, would attract 'retiring' mafiosi, & their many many victims, from across the world? Or about equal partnership?

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    watriler @103

    In a snapshot view from Mars, "diversity is a fact of life". What matter that some dress-up as kings, a few as lieutenants, and many as pawns: at the next night's party the fancy-dress will presumably be different. The anxiety & misery & horror missed of people driven into & stuck in 'roles', ill-educated, unemployed, child-soldiers, only their mass-migrations 'noticed'

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    The author, Mark Easton was born into the 7th wealthiest part of the UK, then moved to Winchester, another affluent area, and now lives in a very exclusive part of London. He has never seen the effects of 'diversity' as the rest of us have seen, and the only immigrants he will know are doctors, scientists and the like.
    Mark, it isn't all like that lad, yet people like you force this upon us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Whoever thought that this was a good idea got it totally wrong, my parents (long gone) could not understand how a country with a culture could change so much and became very right wing in their views as a result. Diversity does not work at this pace, integration does not happen at a fast speed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Mr Easton epitomises the privileged minority who tend to steer these debates to their own ends, espousing their dogma through sketchy stats and rose tinted glasses.

    If only he knew the hatred those outside this cancerous lump feel for the values and dogma spewed out daily to assist in the dispossesion of the indiginous across the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I suppose it was inevitable that this subject would give rise to a 'feeding frenzy' of UKIP style views. Cultural and ethnic diversity is a fact of life and will continue to be even if fortress UK pulled up the immigration drawbridge for ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    The UK today reminds me of the wild west mistakenly seen as the land of milk and honey where all are welcome and resources are bountiful.

    Whilst in reality the indiginous who gave no mandate for this invasion fret over the development of ever more segregated communities with values so far from their own that they worry about the future we are creating for our children.

    Condemlab traitors!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Please read #80 Rolf.

    He has said what I have long been saying, and it's not just confined to litter. If the public can see that the powers that be don't give a damn about them and have no respect for the country, is it any wonder the public have no respect for their surroundings or others. Forcing migrants on to the indigenous people is the epitome of not giving a damn about your people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.


    I didn't realize we had once colonized Poland. Is what you are suggesting, 'colonialism biting us on the bum'? i.e. they are getting their revenge. Colonialism brought culture to these people, and generally made their lives better, once slavery was abolished. Why are we allowing this revenge? Secondly millions died in WW2 to liberate Poland why do they want revenge on us?


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