I’ve just discover a more concrete study to back that up, analysing data from the Department for Communities and Local Government’s biannual Citizenship Surveys.
It’s often been suggested that ethnically diverse areas are less cohesive, but one response to this has been that such areas tend to be poorer, and that it may be poverty that erodes cohesion.
The research directly addresses this, using as its measure of community cohesion people’s answers to the question “to what extent do you agree or disagree that this local area (within 15/20 minutes walking distance) is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together?” Here are a few findings:
- Once other factors are accounted for ethnic diversity is, in most cases, positively associated with community cohesion.
- However, the relationship between diversity and cohesion is complicated and the nature of this relationship is dependent on the type of ethnic mix in an area.
- Living in an area which has a broad mix of residents from different ethnic groups was consistently shown to be a positive predictor of cohesion. However, having an increasing percentage of in-migrants born outside of the UK, is a negative predictor.
- Irrespective of the level of ethnic diversity in a community, disadvantage consistently undermines perceptions of cohesion and operates in a similar fashion for all communities.
- However, not all deprived areas have low cohesion.
- Deprived, diverse areas have higher average cohesion scores than deprived, homogeneous White areas. It is thus deprivation that undermines cohesion, not diversity.
So: deprivation is bad for cohesion; ethnic diversity is not bad nor even neutral, but positively good; but increasing local immigration is not good.
This fits quite well with Chris’s take:
the existence of immigration throws the very question of social cohesion and social norms into open discussion. The questions "what does it mean to be British?" and "how can we increase social cohesion?" are responses to mass migration. And the effect of discussing these questions might be to increase trust among people by making hitherto implicit, tacit social norms more explicit.
It's possible, therefore, that immigration might actually be a force for social cohesion, at least in the long-run. Could it be then that the lack of social cohesion as a result of immigration is (just?) a temporary disequilibrium?
I agree that the visible fact of immigration serves to raise the questions about identity and cohesion. But these were questions that would have needed asking anyway, even if there’d be no postwar immigration and increase in ethnic diversity.
Following the rise of social liberalism since the 1960s and the economic liberalisation from the 1980s, British society has, very simply, become more diverse. People’s lifestyles have diverged, and there are fewer shared assumptions. White Britons have become, if you like, more multicultural. There’s been comparatively little discussion of this in itself, so the advent of new racial and religious minorities may have been very helpful indeed in getting us thinking about what can bind us all together.